The hour is late, but your stomach grumbles. A bag of chips tantalizes you from the pantry. Somehow—it’s a mystery that defies explanation—the bag is empty by morning. What happened, and why do you feel equal parts guilty and sluggish? In truth, late night snacking is a common occurrence, especially on those nights when you feel extra stressed. As good as snacking feels in the moment, it’s not good for your health, your fitness goals, or your waistline. How can you stop late night snacking?
The answer isn’t just about willpower or keeping chips out of your home. Eating can be tied up in a tangle of emotions, coping mechanisms, and habits. In order to figure out how to stop snacking at night, you’ve got to dive into the heart of the issue.
The Problem of Late Night Snacking
Snacking isn’t inherently bad. In fact, grabbing a handful of almonds a few hours before lunch or mixing a tasty protein smoothie in the afternoon are excellent ways to manage your hunger and blood sugar between meals. Snacking can be a force for good and help you stay on track with your eating and fitness goals. Even a small helping of dessert can be a richly deserved reward for a day completed.
However, mindless or emotional late night snacking is not a harmless pastime. This type of snacking often involves high-calorie, high-fat, and high-sugar processed foods that hit all the pleasure centers of your brain. Munching on chips, candy, ice cream, pretzels, and the like doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but repeating this behavior over time can dramatically increase your daily calorie intake and flood your body with lots of sugars and carbs right before bed. Your body won’t know what to do with all this excess, except to turn it into fat.
So, if late night snacking is your guilty pleasure or your go-to stress reducer, it’s time to embrace some better habits. Here is how to avoid snacking at night.
Figure Out Why You’re Snacking
For many people, eating is about more than just addressing an issue of hunger. To learn how to stop late night snacking, it’s important to be honest and ask yourself why the snacking is happening. Are you bored? Do you snack when you’re stressed? Has late night snacking simply become part of your nightly routine? Maybe you actually do find that you feel really hungry at the end of the night.
Once you figure out what is causing you to gobble the goodies after dark, you can begin to figure out how to stop snacking at night.
2.Figure Out Your Triggers
Humans love their routines, and it’s easy to fall into a pattern. Certain actions automatically trigger other actions, like how sitting down at the breakfast table in the morning can make you crave coffee. Snacking is no different. Perhaps you’ve developed snacking triggers. For one person, dropping onto the couch at night to watch a favorite show wouldn’t be the same without a bag of chips next to them. For someone else, waking up at night is a trigger to lean against the kitchen counter and scoop up some ice cream from the container. If you really want to learn how to stop late-night snacking, identify your triggers. What types of action make you start craving your favorite snack food?
3.Replace Your Snacking Habit
If you’ve figured out that certain actions tempt you to snack, the next step is to track your triggers and replace your snacking habit. For example, let’s say that you often wake up at night, which leads you right to the freezer and the container of ice cream. The next time you wake up, start a new habit. Consider lying in bed and performing ten minutes of meditation or mindfulness. If snacking calms your busy mind, meditation may be able to do the same thing. When you first begin switching your habit, you may need to work hard to resist the temptation to snack. Over time, your brain will recognize a new pattern, and it should become easier and easier to perform the more healthful habit instead of grabbing the ice cream scoop.
4.Check on Your Emotions
Isn’t it the truth that people “eat their emotions”? It can be difficult to deal with feelings of stress, anxiety, and frustration. Instead of confronting these challenges, many people distract themselves by eating. Snacking is a fast and easy way to get some needed dopamine hits when you are down.
If you are a stress-eater, a great option is to start a food and mood journal. Record your meals and feelings. See if you can link snacking binges with stressful days or unhappy feelings. If you know that emotions send you running to the freezer or pantry for your favorite treat, focus on replacing that action. Your emotions are the trigger. Exercise is one of the best ways to work through anxiety and stress. So is meditation or a mobility practice, like yoga.
5.Create A Meal Plan
Are you snacking at night because you are ravenously hungry? That means you aren’t eating enough during the day or not eating the right kinds of foods. Many people “forget to eat” because they are busy at work or with family life. Others are trying a strict diet, which leaves them famished and mentally exhausted by the end of the day. Planning your meals is the right solution here. Start by eating at least three solid meals a day. If you’re still hungry, add in planned snacks. You can still eat healthily and moderate your calories without starving yourself. Do that by eating foods that make you feel full. Introduce lots of lean protein and fiber into your daily meals. Try chicken, eggs, lentils, broccoli, quinoa, and more. Foods high in healthy fats, like nuts, avocado, and peanut butter also make great snack options. By planning your meals, you can make sure you finish your night feeling sated. Learning how to stop snacking at night could be as easy as a little planning.
Need Help Learning How to Stop Snacking at Night?
Confronting your emotions, putting together a meal plan, identifying triggers, and changing your behavior take time and effort, but these are the best ways to learn how to stop late night snacking. If you find you are still struggling to quench your hunger by bedtime or having difficulty unwinding your emotions from eating, you may need to seek professional help. A nutritionist can help you develop a healthy and fulfilling meal plan to leave you feeling less hungry at night. A licensed therapist may be able to help you better understand your emotions surrounding food. Finally, if changing your eating habits is part of a larger fitness plan, a personal trainer can often guide you on improving your overall nutrition and diet.