By Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND
Ever find yourself eating nutritious foods all day and then scouring your fridge and cupboards before bed? Late night snacking can undo so much good work in the quest for good health and losing weight.
In clinical practice throughout the years, I have witnessed a regular pattern where people who are struggling with their weight and health attempt to eat a well-balanced diet all day long, commit to exercise then throw it all in with late afternoon or late evening snacking—choosing unhealthy high-calorie foods.
So how can you break these unhealthy habits and move forward?
Check in with your emotions. Are you looking for a reward system for getting through your tough day, coping with the kids, finishing that report or just dealing with your day-to day-life?
Understanding that the habit is an emotional issue and not hunger is your first step toward making a change. Eating emotionally goes beyond physical fullness and is often felt after dinner or a main meal when you want to eat something fun.
Choose alternative rewards such as a good movie or book, try a new hobby, get busy after dinner, take a bath, request a loved one to give you a massage or do swaps, or go for a walk around your neighborhood if you can. Work on positive distractions to help you break the pattern.
Eating too close to bed time can work against weight loss and it can also disrupt good quality sleep. Studies have demonstrated that having large gaps from eating your last meal of the day to your first meal of the next day improves outcomes for diabetes and the associated health complications. Losing weight is found to be more successful when we have at least 12hrs of fasting.
You snooze you lose is a favorite expression in the bid to support the metabolism and lose weight. Staying up late works against your natural circadian rhythm and promotes fatigue and lethargy which stimulates cravings for quick energy releasing foods.
Making yourself a cup of tea is an excellent aid to help sleep, promote relaxation and support healthy habits that can become a positive ritual every night. Use licorice, cinnamon and other spice blends for sweet cravings, relaxing blends for sleep and peppermint, chamomile and fennel for digestion after dinner.
Alcohol can reduce our inhibitions when it comes down to food thoughts and we may find that it increases our desires for less than desirable food choices. If you choose to have a glass of something make it dry, sugar free and stick to just 1-2 servings.
Stick to something fresh and small. A light salad if you are genuinely hungry, a small piece of fruit or a handful of raw nuts are all excellent choices to help change your late-night habits. You can also make a small juice or try these rainbow juice pops.
The habit of eating sweets after dinner certainly can become a habit and your cravings will be stimulated at the same time due to an expectation both physically and mentally.
Cravings often mean something whether it’s emotional or a nutrient that is needed. Understanding your cravings and what they mean can be a great tool for negotiating better choices and means to stop unhealthy habits. Take a moment to pause when you have a craving and think of ways to satisfy it without junk food. See some healthy snack swaps below.
To feel content and satisfied you need to make sure your meal is loaded with vegetables, healthy fats and a healthy protein choice. Making sure you have these combinations can improve satiety and leave little room for physical hunger. If you eat a highly-refined meal that mainly consists of refined pasta, white potatoes/or bread and little of the good stuff, you will feel hungry again, as your blood sugar levels rise then fall rapidly.
Advertisers know that displaying pictures of food stimulates hunger signals in the brain, so that chocolate bar you weren’t thinking about, it is now on your radar and you can’t lose it. Mute the ads, don’t watch TV too late at night or get yourself a tea or something different.
It’s fun to get creative with alternative choices while not disrupting your health goals!