You know the routine. You eat dinner, maybe do a few chores around the house and then settle in for the evening. Suddenly, you’re standing in the kitchen searching for something to eat. But wait, you just ate dinner not that long ago – why are you already seeking foodonly to take in unnecessary calories and likely to make unhealthy choices?
Late night snacking defined as food eaten between dinner and before you go to bed at night, is a tough habit to break. If this is a regular nightly indulgence, try some simple tips to curb evening cravings before excess pounds creep up on you.
1. Plan your meals
We all get in a hurry at times due to various obligations. Unfortunately meal planning often is low on our priority list. Simply thinking ahead throughout the week of healthy meal options makes a huge difference. Taking a few minutes to plan a meal using the myplate method will point you in the right direction ofhealthy eating while steering away from sporadic meals and unhealthy eating.
2. Pack protein into each meal
Aim for between 25-30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Protein is digested more slowly leaving you feeling fuller longer which can last several hours after a meal. Most of us are not protein deficient but we tend to have an uneven distribution of protein during the day. Usually breakfast meals contain the least amount of protein with maybe 10 grams while protein intake at dinner can be as high as 60 grams. Spreading protein intake more evenly at each meal allows the availability of amino acids our muscles need throughout the day.
Breakfast can be the hardest meal to get in substantial protein so it’s okay to strive for 20 grams and then have a mid-morning snack with another 10 grams of protein. An example of this might be a bowl of oatmeal with milk topped with walnuts to provide approximately 20 grams. Then have a mid-morning snack of a container of Greek yogurt providing approximately 10-12 grams of protein.
3. Fill up with fiber
If there’s one component lacking in most individuals diet, it tends to be fiber. The average American takes in 14-15 grams of fiber daily far lower than the recommended intake which for women is 25 grams a day and for men, 38 grams daily. The best foods for fiber are plant-based food such as fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and whole grains. Eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables each day. Replace refined white bread with 100% whole wheat breads and whole grain cereals. Look at the amount of fiber on the nutrition facts label and choose foods with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
Why is fiber so important? Foods high in fiber take longer to digest helping you feel fuller longer after a meal preventing overeating and weight gain. Fiber rich foods can also help prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and help with irritable bowel syndrome.
4. Play the waiting game
Never heard of this game? It’s probably not a commonly played game but all it requires is you and some sort of a device to set a timer. To play the game, next time you get a craving for a late night snack, set a timer for 15 minutes and go do something else to take your mind off the craving. When the time elapses, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry or is it boredom, habit or stress making me want to eat.” We often eat due to various other factors not related to true hunger. But, if indeed you are hungry, choose a lighter snack such as a fruit or vegetable like an apple or carrot sticks with hummus. It’s unlikely you’ll eat a whole bag of apples but youjust might eat a whole bag of chips.
Also evaluate what you ate for dinner. Sometimes if a well-balanced dinner wasn’t planned, that could be the reason for the tendency for snacking throughout the evening. Make sure for dinner you have a lean protein, vegetables, fruit, whole grains and a low-fat dairy source which should tide you over until the next morning.