Are evening hours a dangerous time for your diet?
Has after-hours snacking at home in your apartment become the norm, rather than the exception?
Eating behaviors can be some of the most challenging to change. For many of us who relate to the pleasures of food, it’s a long road. Failure, at times, is all but a guarantee.
This is true of my personal experience. I can’t say that I have successfully engaged any of the behavioral suggestions that follow for any length of time, though all have worked for me in moments.
Snacking success comes on a sliding scale. You’ll win some, and you’ll lose some. Think of snack control as a mental exercise, in addition to a physical one. You can hone how you think, especially when you understand why you eat when you do. Think about why you like to snack in the evening, and consider these tips to keep your mind off-menu.
Reward yourself with non-edible incentives.
After a long day, a delicious snack and maybe even a tasty beverage certainly have their appeal. Depending on your health goals, enjoying these can make a lot of sense. But there is no rule that says your “reward” has to be in the form of food. You might establish your own activity scale where you honor the day you’ve had in other ways.
Enjoy an activity you find engaging, not mindless.
Rather than relating to the thing you want to avoid – namely, eating food – try changing the channel altogether. Channel surfing, after all, likely won’t give the satisfaction necessary to make you forgo the fridge. For me, the activity is singing (check out my avatar), and I’m quite serious about it. When I’m taken away by a musical experience, I feel alive – even when I’m just singing at home. Consider how reading, creative DIY work, conversation, anything that engages your mind might provide the kind of excitement that completely takes your focus off of food.
Watch your self-talk.
A related idea requires changing your mind about what food means to you. Food is best seen, really, not as a reward, but as yet another experience to be enjoyed as part of life. If you tend to beat yourself up about food misdemeanors, you can engage a little self-therapy by changing the messages you tell yourself about eating. I think it’s boring to get too excited/upset/anxious about a snack.
Set zero hour for snacking.
Imagine how food is handled by your body, when you chow down after-hours. Unless you take a brisk midnight walk around the block, that snack you eat during “Late Night” is going to stick with you. (Beware, especially, food-related TV programming. Watching Anthony Bourdain makes me want to drink wine and eat cheese, at any hour, always.)
If you don’t buy it, you can’t eat it!
This one works well for me. I’ll go for periods of time when I will not buy bread or cheese at the grocery store. I love both bread and cheese, so why the denial? Because I will eat said bread and cheese, and ignore other healthy food choices until that stuff is gone.
If you can successfully alternate some of your fave foodstuffs, however, you might be able to eat healthier and still enjoy a favorite. Stagger your grocery procurement by the week to aid this process.
Or… buy really healthy snacks.
If you tend to want to eat at night, keep healthy stuff on hand to limit the damage done. Raisins, yogurt or a serving of nuts can curb the munchies without adding empty calories to your diet. Of course, you can still go overboard. Though it is more expensive, buying individual serving-size packages can help mentally with portion control (unless you eat more than one pack!)
If you hate the sight of the snack, all the better. (Celery, anyone?)
Much ado about peanut butter…
So, what’s a body to do about peanut butter? This is a healthy, if higher-fat, option, when taken like medicine in the right dosage. Note the serving size: 2 tablespoons is typical, the size of a ping-pong ball. The protein in peanut butter does help to fill you up. Two graham crackers and a serving of the peanut stuff is an excellent snack — if you can keep it to just one round, no reps!
So, there’s a little tongue-in-cheek in these tips for keeping your mouth shut when you want nothing more than to pig out. Like I said, I struggle with snacking temptation just as you might. (Hey, I’m eating a cookie as I write this.)
But naming the struggle is an important part of taming it. I hope tips like these help both you and me come to grips with eating, perhaps, a little too much, a little too often, in the night.
Photo credit: Shutterstock / LoloStock, Yuganov Konstantin, Diana Valujeva, kryzhov