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Snack Attack at Night - What Research Shows

Bedtime Network nutritionist Gayle Reichler is back with six tips for healthy eating and snacking before bedtime.  It's Spring, the perfect time to make some changes.  These are all do-able, and you just find yourself six pounds lighter.


A study in the journal Obesity, concludes that our internal clock, the circadian system, prompts us to reach for sweet, starchy, and salty foods in the evenings, especially around 8:00 pm. Throughout history, this built-in need to feed may have helped our ancestors store fat to survive when food was scarce, but today, it can take a hefty toll on your health and your waistline. So, how do you fight it? Here are six tips to prevent going overboard in the evening.

Change your pattern
If your nightly routine involves a habit of fixing a nighttime snack, or eating before bed, change the routine.  My daughter has a very fast metabolism and is always hungry before bedtime. When she was very young we would give her a “healthy before bed snack” in her room. Now, we are working to help her break the habit, and change to a drink of water before bed and, to have her snack at the table instead of in her room.  I like to ask my clients to make, “habit change” cards. Take a minute to write down a habit you want to break and then write down some alternative behaviors you can substitute for the unwanted habit.  Simply breaking the connections between certain activities and eating can help your brain let go of the notion that it doesn’t feel, “right” not to follow through. Setting up new routines may seem forced or awkward at first, but before long, a healthier pattern will become your new habit.

Pre-plan meals
If you’re worn out after a long day, thinking about what to make for dinner can feel like a burden or like adding one more item on the “to do” list.  Preparing in advance to have a few items on hand or in the freezer can make all the difference, because the work is taken out of the equation and the convenience factor is installed. Have the ingredients for a few quick go-to meals on hand, so you can whip them up in a jiffy. One of my favorite quickies is a bean dip like hummus with whole grain crackers and some vegetables or fruit. Or you might want to try yogurt and fruit.  Plus, I always keep veggie burgers in my freezer for emergency times when I can’t get to the store. While not as fancy as my usual fare, within minutes, dinner is done, and far more nourishing and satisfying than a frozen entrée or bowl of cereal.

Keep a journal
Journaling helps you get your emotions out, so you don’t end up eating to bury them or respond to feelings. It may sound cumbersome, but it works!  Another type of journal keeping is tracking what you eat. One recent study found that women who kept food diaries lost about six more pounds than those who did not. Another discovered that keeping a food diary doubled weight loss results. If you’ve been overestimating your body’s needs, underestimating how much you eat, and engaging in a lot of mindless eating (three common missteps), journaling can allow you to identify unhealthy patterns, which is the first step toward changing them.

Believe you can
If you believe you can change your habits and routines, you will. It sounds oversimplified, but that’s the conclusion of a recent study that analyzed data on the diet, exercise, and personality types of over 7,000 people. Those who believed they have the ability to change their lives through their own actions tended to eat healthier, exercise more, smoke less, and avoid binge drinking. Reminding yourself of your past successes can help you feel more confident about your ability to transform your lifestyle. Support can make all the difference; often those who are most successful are those who had the most support. So, reach out for it. Friends, family members, co-workers, or even an online community to connect to can help immensely, especially during those moments when you just want to fall back into your old (unhealthy) comfortable routines!

Good night and Good Luck.

Gayle