Read This Before You Reach Into the Fridge for a Late-Night Snack

It’s 9 p.m. and the day is just starting to wind down. You think back on all the things you accomplished during the day and the fantastic choices you made for healthy snacks and meals and you think, “I deserve a treat!”

You open the fridge and stare blankly for a few seconds before walking over to the pantry to grab a few handfuls of cereal, a mini chocolate bar, a few nuts and ultimately decide to pop a bag of popcorn. You take it with you to the TV to relax.

Unfortunately for many of us, this scenario is all too familiar and our evening snack becomes higher in calories than many of the meals we may have during the day. In the example provided above, the snacking done in just a few minutes exceeded 500 calories! While the effect eating at night has on weight loss may still be controversial, we know exceeding our daily calorie needs any time of the day will lead to weight gain.

How do we break mindless evening snacking? Here are some tips to help you change some unfavorable eating habits:

 1. Think differently! So many of the goals we are able to execute start before we even try to do them. Catch yourself saying negative things and try to put a positive twist on it. If you find yourself saying, “I always overeat when I’m watching TV”, try something like “I am able to choose healthy snacks” or “I can be successful when I put my mind to it.” Mindset is everything!

2. Determine if you are really hungry or not. Try getting back in tune with your body’s natural signals for hunger and satiety. As Grace Derocha wrote in her blog, the hunger scale is a great way to identify how hungry you are before you reach for that snack. It is also a great tool to use to evaluate when to stop eating. Tuning into body signals provides an opportunity to really decide if we need a snack or if we are eating because of other reasons like boredom, habit, stress, fatigue, or as a reward. If you are truly hungry, decide what it is you want and how much you are going to have before you start munching on everything.

3. Set some ground rules. Many of the calories that sneak in are from those we don’t remember. Remember the two handfuls of cereal we had while we were deciding what to have as a snack? Challenge yourself to try to avoid eating while you are standing in front of the fridge or pantry. If you tell yourself you have to eat at the kitchen table you may find you really don’t want that snack at all!

4. Try a new location. If you find yourself thinking about having a snack even when you aren’t hungry when you do a certain activity, like watching TV, try making a new evening habit in a different room you don’t associate with eating. Since habits are influenced by external cues, changing routines and locations can help break the first part of the cycle which may start your eating. For example, when I find myself watching TV and wanting a snack even though I’m really not hungry, I will grab a book and head to my bedroom to read it. Disaster averted.

5. Distract yourself. Often the urge to snack is one that will pass if we try to avoid it for 10-20 minutes. Try doing something which is not conducive to eating. Things which work for me are going for a quick walk, folding a load of laundry, painting my nails, or organizing a kitchen or desk drawer.

6. Look for support. You may find other members of your family or close friends are looking for a little extra motivation or accountability, too. Having a conversation with a trusted friend or family member about what it is you want to accomplish can be an extra little push on tough days.

7. Try a health challenge! One tool which worked for my husband and I was a healthy snacking challenge!For one month, we both agreed to eat (or drink) only 100 calories worth of snacks after dinner. We could eat unlimited fruits or vegetables if we were still hungry after the 100 calorie snack. If we ate or drank outside of the 100 calories and fruits and veggies, it would count as a strike against us. The person with the most strikes at the end of the month would lose. If I won, we were both going to take swimming lessons. If he won, I had to do dishes for the next month.

At the end of the month, we tied. Neither of us wanted to give up bragging rights by not sticking to the challenge rules! Setting non-monetary rewards or something active is a cost-effective way to incentivize your good health intentions.

It takes time to change a behavior, so don’t forget to forgive yourself for those slips that happen along the way!

What do you do to keep yourself from snacking when you aren’t hungry?

Photo credit: Michelle Tribe

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