Patients often tell me that their eating habits are good during the day, but at night it all falls apart. Night time snacking is something many people do, but the calories add up quickly and it can prevent you from achieving your weight loss and health goals. Eating later at night also disrupts your sleep pattern and can increase unwanted symptoms like reflux, nausea and bloating, especially if you have had a weight loss procedure e.g. gastric balloon or endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty. This is because the body is still trying to digest food while you are laying down to sleep.
Why do we eat at night?
Usually it’s not because we are actually hungry, since most of us have just eaten dinner. The more likely cause could be skipping or delaying meals during the day, boredom, stress and habit. Once the day is over, it’s easy to let go of the discipline you might have had while you were busy and distracted with work or other tasks.
How can you beat it?
- Think about your meal pattern during the day
If you regularly skip or delay meals, this can lead to an overconsumption of foods at the end of the day as your body learns to ignore its appetite cues. Try to eat at regular times over the day so you aren’t left starving by the time the evening rolls around.
- Think about what you ate for dinner
Feeling physically hungry right after a meal can be a sign that the meal was out of balance. Ensure you are including enough protein, fibre and smart carbs, as these nutrients act like natural appetite suppressants and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Consider the healthy plate model and try to build your meal in line with this [graphic of healthy plate].
- If you’re not physically hungry, think about why you want to eat
Are you feeling tired? Is it a routine to sit down and share some chocolate or a cheese plate with your partner in front of the TV? Try to notice what has happened in the lead up to you wanting to snack. Identifying the why can help you to develop strategies that target the cause of your snacking.
- Think about what you can do instead
Distancing yourself from known ‘trigger foods’ is the easiest way to avoid snacking, so try not to have those foods in the house regularly. It can also be helpful to distract yourself with another non-food related activity, such as reading a book, having a bath, or going for a walk. Drinking a glass of water or a cup of tea will temporarily fill the stomach and often delays the snacking urge for enough time for it to pass.
- If you can’t put off the urge to snack, choose a healthy alternative
Instead of high calorie and processed snacks, opt for something that contains protein and/or fibre so that it’s more satisfying, and keep it to 100cal/420kJ or below. You could try a few tablespoons of low fat Greek yoghurt with mixed berries, 30g of unsalted nuts or ½ cup of chopped fresh fruit salad. Try to leave at least 2 hours between your last meal and your bedtime.