After a busy day at work and a quick dinner at 6pm, you finally slump on the sofa to watch some TV for a few hours. Then and all you can think about is that packet of chocolate hobnobs hiding in the kitchen cupboard… Late night snacking can be a tricky habit to break for lots of us. We’re also more likely to consume high sugar, fatty or inflammatory foods in the evening, which can spike blood sugar, disrupt our sleep and contribute to acid reflux.
Tackling evening snacking can help you feel more in control with your relationship with food, and improve your sleep, weight management and energy levels. So how can you curb the late night snack habit?
Tips for late night snacking
Get the right foods (and enough of them!) during the day
One reason you might be reaching for calories in the evening is that you’ve not eaten enough nutritionally dense food through the day, meaning your body is craving a quick energy fix at night. If you’re trying to reduce portion sizes this might cause an issue.
Try porridge with berries for breakfast, sugar-free yoghurt with nuts and a drizzle of honey for a snack, or a veggie omelette for lunch. Snacking on nuts, seeds, nut butter on toast, or other high protein snacks during the day will also help you feel more satisfied, and much less likely to reach for the sugary stuff in the evening.
Move dinner time slightly back
If you tend to a quick dinner after work about 6pm, and then you’re not in bed until 11pm, you’re setting yourself up to feel peckish before bed. Try shifting dinner time back an hour or so, so you still have about 2 hours until bedtime.
You’ll be eating early enough so that digestion won’t interfere with your sleep, but a slightly later dinner will help keep you satisfied until the end of the day.
Check in with your hunger
It won’t be news to you that cravings are often emotional. Late night snacking can be the result of boredom, stress or anxiety, and you may well not be hungry at all. When our snacking habits are so ingrained it can be tough to decipher whether we’re actually hungry or not. The trick to increasing this awareness is to start to pay attention to the signals your body is sending you.
When evening cravings kick in, take a breath and check in with your hunger. On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being very hungry, 5 being completely full, and 3 being neutral, where are you?
By checking in with your body over time, you will better tune into your body’s needs, and whether hunger or emotion is driving your cravings.
The Appetite Pendulum by Dr Helen McCarthy is a useful visual version of this tool you can use.
Keep a craving diary
If you are feeling out of control with cravings, keeping a diary can be a great way to regain some control.
When a craving comes on, jot down the time of day, how you’re feeling, what you’re craving (sweet, salty, a particular texture etc) and any other details that feel relevant. The key here is to leave judgement at the door. This is not an exercise to criticise yourself, quite the opposite! Stay self-compassionate and curious. Your body is trying to tell you something through that craving, and taking some time to listen can be very insightful.
Over time, you will start to see patterns that can help you take steps to make changes. Perhaps you notice your cravings are actually tied to a particular time of day, so you can ensure you have a healthy snack ready at that time.
Cravings tied to a particular time of day are actually very common as eating can become habitual, and it serves to reinforce the craving, so the cycle continues. Read more about why we have cravings, and ways to reduce them in this post.
Get good quality snacks in
Snacking in the evening doesn’t need to go out the window completely. We all have different energy needs and different schedules, and if an early dinner is unavoidable for you – you may need a snack afterwards. Just try to have this at least 2 hours before bed.
In place of something with a high level of sugar or something very processed, choose something nutritious (but still delicious!) Once you’ve identified whether you crave something sweet or salty, have a look at healthier alternatives.
If possible, choose something with a bit of protein and healthy fat. As I mentioned earlier, this will help stabilise your blood sugar levels – which will help you get more sound sleep. Eating something very sugary before bed can be a sure fire way to wake up in the night, or feel groggy and unrefreshed in the morning.
These chocolate shortbreads are a great sweet option you can make in one batch for the week, or if you crave something savoury, try a handful of olives, or some avocado on a slice of wholewheat bread.
Get prepared ahead of time by getting your snacks in during your weekly shop. Setting your environment up in the right way will make it much easier for you to make a healthy choice when cravings kick in.
Finally: break snacking behaviour down into bite size pieces
When trying to change any unhelpful behaviours, it’s useful to break them down into individual habits, and work on changing one at a time.
Once you’re aware of why you’re reaching for snacks late in the evening, choose one habit to start or stop to help you make progress toward your goal of reducing late night snacking. Perhaps it’s eating dinner a bit later. Then commit to doing this 2-3 times a week, and see the difference it makes.
Make your goals small and achievable, and you can continue to build on that progress once you achieve it.
Is late snacking an issue for you? What have you tried to help? Let me know in the comments below.