Ah, the late-night snack. Such an innocent little thing. A cube of cheese here, a peanut butter cookie there. Surely that can’t be too bad for you?
A study recently revealed that late-night snacking can actually be pretty harmful to us. Not only is it linked to weight gain, more importantly, it can also negatively affect our memory, sleeping patterns, and increase our risk of heart disease and heart attack (source). Funnily enough, late-night snacking can also make us hungrier the following day!
Now, while I don’t think the occasional 10 pm biscuit will undo everything healthy I’ve done during the week, I do try my best not to eat after I’ve finished my last meal. Sometimes it’s easy, but more often than not, I struggle with it. Over the last year or so, I’ve come up with a game plan for preventing late-night snacking urges. So if you’re anything like me and can’t go to bed without opening the fridge three times post-dinner, maybe these tips will help you too.
Plan your meals in advance
Planning your meals in advance of the week is a surefire way to prevent late-night snacking. When you plan your meals, you know exactly what you’ll be eating all week and can ensure that each meal contains the correct amount of protein and fibre to keep you satisfied and full. I find when I don’t plan my meals, I end up cobbling something together from what I have in fridge and cupboards. I won’t wait to cook a proper meal, so I’ll just toss a few crackers, pickles, carrot sticks, and cheese on a plate and call it dinner. Two hours later, my stomach is grumbling and I’ll snack on anything I can find.
When I plan what I’ll be eating, I hardly ever end up snacking late at night. I’ve eaten enough food throughout the day to stay satisfied, so I can prepare my dinner without major hunger pains. My previously planned dinner, which will include the right portions of protein, fibre, and nutrients, will keep me going until breakfast the following day. No 10 pm snacks required.
Know your red-light foods and keep them out of the house
If you haven’t heard this term before, red-light foods are foods that you cannot say no to under any circumstances. They can be sweet or savoury and don’t necessarily have to fall into the junk food category.
This is a tough one for many households because everyone’s red-light food is different. Growing up, every member of my family had a different red-light food: my brother’s was ice cream and pizza, my mom’s was nachos, my dad’s was cookies, and mine has always been cinnamon buns (or really anything sweet and cinnamony, let’s be real). Knowing which foods are addictive to you is an important step to prevent late-night snacking.
Here’s some tough love: do not buy your red-light foods. If you’re trying to stop eating post-dinner, make sure to keep these foods out of the house. If you know they’re there, you are so much more likely to go for them, even if you don’t feel hungry. If they need to be in the house, ask whoever they’re for to hide them from you. That way, you won’t be tempted.
Eat more throughout the day
Let me be clear. I think snacking is a good thing, but it depends on the time of day that you’re doing it. Eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day will help prevent late-night snack cravings from cropping up. This tip works happily alongside tip number one as you can easily plan and prepare healthy snacks to grab as you need them. On Sundays, I’ll take forty minutes to whip up a batch of protein truffles, prep some hummus and veggies, and put together a couple jars of Greek yogurt and berries. That way, when I’m in a rush before work, all I have to do is chuck a few containers into my backpack and I have protein-packed snacks to keep me going between meals.
Eat your last meal an hour later
I don’t agree with the notion that we must eat our last meal before 8 pm. It’s such a generalised piece of advice that doesn’t adapt to everyone’s life or work day. When I worked shifts, sometimes I wouldn’t get home before 9.30 or 10 pm and I would still need dinner. If I worked at 1 or 2 pm the following day, I would go to bed quite late and sleep late. If I’d eaten all my meals by a predetermined time, I would have starved.
I think a good rule of thumb is to avoid eating 3-4 hours before going to sleep. It gives your body time to digest the food you’ve eaten during the day and prevents cramping and acid reflux. Chris and I generally eat between 6 and 7.30 pm most evenings. Late-night snack cravings for me will set in around 10, so eating dinner a bit later in the evening prevents those cravings.
Also keep in mind how much protein is on your dinner plate. If I don’t eat enough protein at dinner, I tend to crave later as well. And please, if you want carbs at dinner, EAT THEM. Just make sure they’re complex carbs like potatoes, sweet potatoes, brown rice or pasta, wholemeal bread, etc. I don’t care if it’s not “recommended;” eating carbs at night won’t kill you and the fibre will help prevent late-night snacking.
Drink a glass of water or herbal tea
If you’ve followed all of the above advice and are still getting snack cravings, don’t worry. It’ll take some time for your body and mind to adjust to the lack of late-night binge fests. If this happens, drink a glass of water or brew a mug of herbal tea. Our mind will trick us into thinking we’re hungry when we’re actually dehydrated. This happens in our house too often. We get super busy during the day, forget to drink water, and by the time 9 pm rolls around, we’re “starving.” You can even make your water more fun by adding a squeeze of lime or muddled strawberries and mint.
Do something to stimulate your brain
Sitting down and watching telly at night is my chance to relax. I unwind, unplug, and mindlessly watch as Saul Goodman attempts, yet again, to quit his criminal ways. But doing this can also elicit snack cravings for me. I binged while watching TV for so long that my mind now associates the two activities with each other.
To combat this, do something that stimulates your brain. Switch up your night-time routine by playing a board game, reading a book, or taking a relaxing bath. Making your brain think a little bit will negate the hungry signals and you’ll forget all about the cookies in the cupboard. Try to do something your body doesn’t normally associate with food but it still feels like a treat and helps you unwind.
Brush your teeth
If all else fails, this is my go-to way to prevent late-night snacking. Somehow, growing up, I’ve managed to convince myself that as soon as I brush my teeth, it’s game over. No more eating. And I never do! I can probably thank my mom for this one.
How do you prevent late-night snacking? Share your tips below – I’d love to hear them!