Many of our patients lament that they are fine with following their bariatric meal plan during the day, but as soon as they get home from work or school, they start snacking and it is hard to stop.
Night time snacking is a common problem and can sabotage your hard work. Let’s look at some of the causes of night time snacking and what you can do to stop.
Causes of Night time Snacking
There are many reasons people snack during the evening hours. Some of the causes are:
- Having an erratic eating schedule or skipping meals and/or planned snacks
- Confusing thirst for hunger
- Depriving yourself
- Mindless eating
- Confusing head (false) hunger for belly (true) hunger
- Staying up too late
What you can do to stop night time eating for good
The first step is to figure out if you are setting yourself up for night time snacking. Do any of the scenarios below sound like you?
1. Is your eating schedule erratic?
Do you find yourself skipping meals? You may wind up hungry later on in the evening.
Solution: Start planning out your meals and snacks the night before. Make sure you eat three protein based meals daily and if your meals are more than 5 hours apart, plan a healthy snack to tide you over until the next meal. What is a healthy snack? 100 Calorie Greek yogurt, low fat string cheese, 1 small fresh fruit or a 100 calorie pack of almonds.
2. Ask yourself if you are hungry or thirsty
Sometimes we confuse thirst for hunger. You may be eating when you really need to hydrate.
Solution: Did you get your 64 ounces of fluids in? If not, drink a calorie free beverage instead of eating something. Make yourself a hot cup of herbal tea or low calorie hot chocolate to sip on when you get home from work/school — it may quench your thirst and keep you from snacking while you prepare your dinner.
3. If you always deprive yourself
If you always deprive yourself of all the foods you enjoy, you may find yourself craving them even more.
Solution: Allow yourself to have a small portion of a special treat once in a while. Your diet does not have to be perfect, but as long as you are following your bariatric eating plan most of the time, the occasional treat should not prevent you from reaching your goal weight and staying there.
4. Mindless eating
Do you eat in front of the TV/computer, while you are driving, on the phone, etc.? Do you graze and nibble on things throughout the day? This type of eating is called mindless eating. When we mindlessly eat, we are distracted and not paying attention and lose track of how much we eat. We are also not truly enjoying our food and we never really get “full” or satisfied after eating. Mindless eating leaves us more likely to snack at night.
Solution: Commit to undistracted eating. When you eat, the TV is off, the phone is put away. You are sitting at the table focusing on eating (tasting) and paying attention to your pouch “telling” you when you are full.
5. Confusing head hunger for belly hunger
Sometimes we confuse head (false) hunger for belly (true) hunger. We feel “hungry,” but do not always question the cause of our hunger. When we eat in response to head hunger, we eat when we do not need to eat. What causes head hunger? Many things can cause head hunger. Emotional eating and associative eating are two forms of head hunger. Emotional eating is when we eat in response to an emotion such as stress, boredom, anxiety, fear, etc. We may also eat due to association — for example if you always eat in front of the TV at night — simply turning on the TV can make you think of eating. We may be snacking at night to relieve the stress of the day or because we associate watching TV with eating.
Solution: Learn to separate head hunger from belly hunger. If you think you are hungry ask yourself: When did I last eat? If you ate within the last 2 hours, most likely your hunger is head hunger. Try to find something else to do that does not involve food — go for a walk, read a book, listen to music, call a friend or take up a new hobby.
If you find your “hunger” is from an association between food and an activity you often do while eating
Change your routine. Instead of watching TV find another activity you can do in the evening. Preferably an activity that requires you using your hands — crafting, gardening, wood working, etc. These all take your mind off of food, keep your hands occupied and do not have the association with eating.
6. Staying up too late
Do you burn the midnight oil? The longer you are awake the more likely you are going to get hungry (or think you are hungry) and snack at night.
Solution: Go to bed earlier. Not only is getting more sleep keeping you from eating at night, getting enough sleep aids in weight loss and weight maintenance.
The Bottom Line
If you tend to snack at night, figure out what is causing the night eating. Logging all foods eaten, getting tempting foods out of the house and eating regular meals can aid in reducing night time snacking. Once you know the cause you can come up with a solution!
Dietitian’s Corner by Lori Skurbe
Dietitian’s Corner is a monthly column for post-op and pre-op patients of bariatric surgery in NJ written by Prime Surgicare’s Lori Skurbe. Lori has been a dietitian for over 20 years with an extensive background in weight management, bariatric nutrition and diabetes education.