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What Is The Best Way To Combat Nighttime Munchies?

I received this question yesterday from a coaching client and since it’s one I get quite frequently I figured it would be a good idea to do a blog post on the subject.

Night time snacking is probably responsible for throwing a monkey wrench into people’s weight loss attempts more than anything else.

You do good all day with your diet, eat clean and exercise, then blow it at night after dinner. In this post, I’m going to give you some tips to help curtail night time snacking that will enable you to stay on track towards fat loss.

First, let’s address some common reasons why you tend to have cravings at night.

You want to begin by looking at your habits and routines. If you tend to plop down in front of the TV at night after dinner and find yourself snacking, change up your routines. Do something different to break the habit.

Maybe go read a book, take a warm bath, do anything that switches up your routine. Don’t overlook the fact that often times nighttime snacking is simply a matter of habit.

This isn’t to say there are not physiological triggers with snacking at night, that’s the second reason. Recognize the fact that stress plays an important role in affecting cravings, especially for sugary or salty food.

When you’re stressed your body produces cortisol which impacts serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain. In short, when you’re stressed you’re going to crave sugary or salty foods. Finding alternative ways to manage stress other than vegging out in front of the TV and perhaps having a few glasses of wine, is essential with curbing cravings.

Maybe taking a walk around the neighborhood, doing some meditation, stretching, or something else to calm you down. The point is stress isn’t always something you can eliminate from your life, but you do have a choice in how you manage it.

The other factor you want to look at is your diet habits during the earlier parts of your day. A lot of people make the mistake of eating very little during the day and then having their largest meal at night. This is an instant recipe for increased nighttime snacking.

When you go without eating much during the day your blood sugar levels become unstable. With very low blood sugar coming into dinner, you’ll find a spike in levels after you have a big meal. Insulin levels skyrocket to deal with the surge in blood sugar and this causes cravings shortly thereafter.

If you want to minimize the munchies at night, stop skipping meals and skimping on your nutrition during the day only to eat your largest meal at night.

The practice of eating several small meals during the day will go a long way towards minimizing cravings at night. It’s all about keeping your blood sugar levels stable and providing a consistent supply of nutrients to your cells.

Consuming 4-5 smaller meals and snacks before dinner will definitely help to curtail cravings at night. Getting a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack, like a protein shake, is an excellent way to provide supportive nutrition between meals.

It’s important to remember insulin sensitivity is highest early in the day. This is why you definitely don’t want to be skipping breakfast. It’s also why it’s a good idea to consume starch carbohydrates, if you’re going to eat them, at breakfast and/or lunch.

Insulin sensitivity is lowest in the evenings partly due to the fluctuation of cortisol levels as a natural part of your circadian rhythms. When you skip meals and consume starch carbohydrates at dinner you’re triggering fat storage. Your body simply doesn’t need the excess sugar at this time of day and since insulin sensitivity is naturally lower, you’re more prone to storing fat AND experiencing post-dinner munchies.

As you can see it’s really starch carbohydrates and simple sugars which cause most of the problems at night. This is why I recommend you have a “lean and green” for dinner. A lean protein and veggies, something like a chicken breast, side of green beans, and perhaps a side salad, is a good choice for dinner. The idea is we’re pulling starches from the evening meal because this is when we least need them.

Ok, let’s say you’re following the smaller, more frequent meal strategy and doing a “lean and green” for dinner and you’re still a little hungry an hour or two after dinner. What should you have for a snack?

For starters, it’s typically not a good idea to go to bed really hungry. Let’s say you eat dinner at 6:00PM but you’re not going to bed until 10:30 or 11:00. It’s nine o’clock and you find yourself getting pretty hungry.

What you don’t want to snack on is starches or simple sugars, as you’ve already learned. Yes, this means the popcorn, pretzels, chips, chocolate, and ice cream bars are out. Your best choices will be something with protein and/or fat and fiber. Think along the lines of the following:

Best choices for snacks after dinner…

-          A protein shake

-          Beef jerky

-          Sunflower seeds

-          Handful of raw almonds

-          Celery sticks with some almond butter

-          Shrimp cocktail

-          Couple slices of hard cheese

It’s not even really all about the calories so don’t get mislead with sugar-free pudding, 100 calorie snack cracker packets, and the like. If you’re really having a hunkering for chocolate have a small piece of organic dark chocolate that is low in sugar.

You’re always better off having something that is protein and/or fat and fiber than carbs at night. Eat something light to stabilize your blood sugar levels, but not so much that you’ll be having to digest a full stomach as you sleep.

If you’re still a little hungry after your snack drink a large glass of water or perhaps have a cup of herbal tea (uncaffeinated of course) before going to bed. There are a lot of great herbal teas like Yogi brand bedtime tea which have a sweet taste that can curb your desire for sugars.

That should about cover it. As always is you have any questions please don’t hesitate to let me know. I’m always here to help. Getting a grip on mindless nighttime snacking by using the tips I’ve provided you will help you see the results you want on the scale that much faster. Best of luck.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. If you’re looking for a Charleston fitness center sign up for a FREE no-obligations consultation and experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself today.

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Category: Nutrition.