If every night looks like a good TV show and the bottom of a chip bag, you’ll love this article on how to stop snacking at night and start nourishing your body!
Feeling hungry before bed? Nighttime snacking may not be the healthiest habit, but it's not as bad as you think. The occasional late-night snack is unlikely to affect your health or weight (despite what diet culture may have you believe).
Snacking in the evening may even be a healthy habit, especially if you eat an early dinner or you’ve been particularly active throughout the day. But, if your nighttime snacking feels out of control or you have difficulty sleeping after eating before bed, you may want to look at this eating habit.
Instead of trying to stop snacking at night, look at why you think this habit is problematic and what you can do to make your nighttime snacking more nourishing and satisfying.
So, if you're wondering how to stop snacking at night, read on. We'll talk about what triggers this common habit, the reasons it may be harmful, and how to turn it into a healthy habit.
Reasons you’re snacking at night
In a recent survey, about 67% of people admitted eating in the evening, with salty snacks, candy, chocolate, and cookies being the most popular choices. Roughly one-third said they prefer fruits as their favorite bedtime snack.
Perhaps not surprisingly, only 34% of respondents reported snacking because they were hungry. Most participants did it out of habit or because they needed a boost of energy.
The more active you are, the higher your energy needs. So, if you have a physical job or hit the gym regularly, you may feel the urge to eat more often, including at bedtime. But, sometimes, this habit has an underlying cause, such as boredom, stress, or sleep deprivation.
With that in mind, here are some possible reasons you're snacking at night.
You're overly stressed
Chronic stress can throw your hormones out of balance, affecting your appetite and food preferences. For example, some people crave high-fat or sugary foods and eat more than usual after a tough workday.
The stress hormone cortisol stimulates appetite and increases the desire to snack. At the same time, it triggers cravings for really tasty foods like potato chips and ice cream.
Stress and emotional eating go hand in hand. Chronic stress fuels anxiety, depression, guilt, and other negative feelings, further affecting your appetite.
You're not getting enough sleep
Sleep deprivation raises cortisol levels, taking a toll on your appetite and metabolism. Poor sleep can also affect energy levels, increasing hunger and cravings for high-calorie foods.
A 2017 review found that just one night of sleep deprivation can cause people to eat 385 extra calories. A lack of sleep can also negatively impact ghrelin and leptin, the hormones that regulate appetite. As a result, it may lead to increased hunger when your body doesn’t need the extra food.
You're bored or feeling lonely
Most people eat out of boredom now and then. If you’re one of them (like I am!), that’s okay!
The same can happen when dealing with loneliness, anger, sadness, or anxiety.
Food makes us feel good, and, for some people, it may fill a void or give us some distraction from negative feelings. If you feel hungry after eating often, it could be because you’re trying to fill an emotional hunger.
In such moments, it's important to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. Pay attention to how you feel, and then ask yourself, "Do I really need a snack right now?"
Take a warm bath, do a few stretches, or meditate for 10-15 minutes, and then see if you still want a snack. Listen to your body's hunger cues instead of heading to the kitchen immediately.
Your diet lacks essential nutrients
Late-night munchies can also be a side effect of a restrictive diet.
If you're not eating enough carbs, you may feel the urge to snack on crackers, chocolate, chips, or other high-carb foods at the end of the day.
Skipping meals may contribute to late-night snacking, too. This habit can result in low blood sugar, increasing hunger and cravings.
Why snacking at night can be harmful
Late-night snacking isn't all that bad, and there's no reason to feel guilty after eating. However, you should listen to your body and determine whether you're actually hungry or if you’re eating out of habit or boredom.
If sitting down on the couch and flipping in the tv is your signal to grab a snack, it’s likely that you’re eating out of habit instead of addressing physical hunger. Routinely doing this can lead to overeating, causing your weight to be higher than it naturally wants to be, and strengthening the disconnect between you and your body’s hunger and fullness signals.
Eating before bed can disrupt your sleep and impair digestion. As a result, you may feel tired and sluggish the next day, leading to increased hunger. This is especially true if you’re eating high-calorie or high fat foods before bed, as these foods take time to digest, waking you up throughout the night.
What is intuitive eating?
Your body can tell you when it's time to eat and when to stop. This doesn't mean it's okay to eat whatever you want, anytime you want, but rather make food choices that honor what your body needs, support your health goals, and leave you feeling satisfied.
Most diets are not sustainable in the long run and won't necessarily help you build better habits. A smarter approach is to practice intuitive eating and learn how to honor what your body needs while keeping your tastebuds happy along the way.
When you eat intuitively, you work with your body, not against it. You'll know when you're hungry and when you're not, and what to eat to feel your best.
With this approach, you'll find it easier to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger and make peace with food.
How to stop snacking at night with intuitive eating
There's nothing wrong with late-night eating as long as you listen to your body.
For example, it's okay to reach for a snack before bed if your body signals that it’s hungry. Because just like eating too much before bed can keep you up, going to bed hungry can do the same thing!
Here are some tips on how to stop snacking at night by tapping into your body's hunger and fullness cues and nourishing your body throughout the day.
Identify your triggers
If you're constantly snacking at night without feeling hungry, it might be time to dive into some self-reflection.
Take note of how you feel before, during, and after eating. A food journal can be helpful when you start this process. I’m not talking about tracking everything you eat, but rather writing down how you feel, what signs and levels of hunger you feel before you eat, and how full and satisfied you feel afterward. This can help you to find out how your body tells you it's hungry or full and what types of foods seem to be more or less satisfying.
Next, determine what triggers your late-night snacking habit, whether it's stress, anxiety, boredom, or specific activities. Once you know your triggers, you can find alternative ways to address them without turning to food.
Tune into your hunger signals
First, make sure you're actually hungry. Take a few moments to reflect on your feelings and determine what type of hunger you’re feeling.
Also, consider the timing of your meals. If it’s been 3-4 hours since you ate dinner, and you’re starting to feel hungry, reaching for a small snack is probably a good choice. If you recently ate a large dinner and are heading to bed in 30 minutes, a large snack could be more detrimental than helpful. It’s up to you to decide and then learn how eating before bed affects your sleep.
Drink a glass of water
Many people mistake thirst for hunger and reach for food when their bodies need more water.
The important thing is to make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day, not to avoid eating by drinking water.
If you suspect your nighttime cravings are due to habit or boredom, think back on how well you’ve hydrated throughout the day and grab a glass of water to sip on. In 15-20 minutes, if you’re still hungry, grab a snack and eat it mindfully.
Keep yourself distracted
It's common to eat at night out of habit or as a coping mechanism. For example, some people snack while watching TV or reading a book. While this is ok to do sometimes, your body may not need those extra nutrients at night.
What you can do to stop nighttime cravings is call a friend, take a hot shower, or engage in activities that keep your mind busy. If you are still hungry 10-20 minutes later, grab a snack.
Practice mindful eating
Mindfulness and intuitive eating go hand in hand. These practices can improve your connection to the food you eat, and how your body feels and change how you think about food.
Mindful eating makes it possible to honor your hunger cues and rediscover the satisfaction factor. Choose foods that make you feel good, and enjoy each bite with all your senses.
Pay attention to the flavors and textures of the food you eat, think about how it makes you feel, and be fully present during your meal. Slow down and chew thoroughly, allowing yourself to truly enjoy your meal or snack without feeling guilty.
Create a balanced meal plan
Chances are, you'll feel the urge to eat late at night if you skip lunch or dinner. Skipping meals can affect blood sugar levels, disrupting your body's hunger and satiety signals.
Whether you skip meals intentionally (dieting) or unintentionally (busy at work), you’ll likely feel the effects of experiencing increased hunger in the evening.
Even if you are eating, if your meals are unbalanced and lacking in calories, carbohydrates, protein, or fat, you may still experience an increased hunger at night as your body tries to make up for nutrients lost during the day.
Eating a balanced meal at least every 4-6 hours and including snacks when you need to go longer stretches can help you head into the evening hours fully nourished and satisfied from the day’s meals.
Fill up on fiber and protein
Some foods, especially those rich in fiber and protein, are more filling than others. Protein increases satiety, making it easier to feel full for longer periods after a meal. The same is true for fiber, which can create feelings of fullness quickly and keep hunger at bay. Oatmeal and other foods rich in soluble fiber can keep you full for hours compared to low fiber options like a slice of white toast.
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Recap of healthy ways to manage late-night snacking
Snacking at night when you’re hungry is 100% okay and the perfect solution to hunger. But if you're snacking out of boredom or habit, you may start to notice some of the unwanted side effects of overeating.
Cutting out distractions while eating, eating balanced meals throughout the day, and finding alternative ways to deal with emotions like boredom and stress are great places to start.