Does this sound familiar? “I am fine during the day but after dinner I always find myself snacking!”
I hear this all the time from clients, followed by “How do I stop the late night snacking?” So your not the only one, let’s talk about strategies that can lead to a change in habits.
Here is the typical scenario, you made it through a long and hectic day. You followed your plan, exercised willpower and determination to stay on track! You feel successful, accomplished, and proud of yourself. Now it’s time to unwind, watch some t.v. and relax…But you just want something sweet or maybe a little salty to finish off your night. Next thing you know you’re half way through a bag of chips after a handful of chocolate chips. You’re frustrated because the day went so well and now you feel your efforts for the day slipping away. Don’t be too frustrated with yourself, you want to change, that’s the first step. Now you just need some strategies to allow you to be successful. Here are five of my favorite tips to finish off the day strong and successful.
1. Plan Your Late-Night Snack Ahead of Time
Yes, it always comes down to planning, but that sounds so simple? Simple should always be your first option when it comes to behavior change so don’t underestimate it.
If you know you are going to want a dessert snack or a late-night treat, plan it into your day. Make that snack or treat part of your eating plan by adding it into MyFitnessPal (or your food tracker app) ahead of time. This allows you to design the rest of your nutrition around this special treat. If you want more spontaneity and you aren’t tracking so precisely then consider what you have eaten earlier in the day and what you plan to eat at night. For example, if you typically want a higher fat treat with some carbs (i.e.- brownie) after dinner, keep your fats and carbs lower through the morning and afternoon. This will give you some relative balance in your day.
I promise you the 5 minutes you spent planning will be worth every second when you can have your treat guilt free that evening because eating a brownie AND feeling guilty about it is putting your head in a terrible place when it comes to your relationship with food.
2. Make the “Bad” be “Good”.
Who doesn’t love a protein ice cream dessert(please link to video)? A creamy, thick and HEALTHY protein dessert? Not that eating any food should make you feel guilty but lets face it, eating a dessert usually comes with guilt. When it’s healthy and it’s helping you hit your macros, there is no guilt involved, just a delicious, preplanned treat. Use the basic recipe above and make it your own:
“What protein flavor do I want tonight?”
“Should I toss in some chocolate chips or stick to my favorite - PB?”
“What other toppings do I want to add? A few grams of sprinkles? 10-15g of granola? 5g of nuts? Maybe a few grams of whip cream?”
Once you have made your delicious treat, take a picture and put it on Instagram. I guarantee you will have friends asking all kinds of questions about it.
Now that you have your treat in hand, make sure to eat it slowly and savor the moment. Put down your phone and do your best to limit distractions so you can fully enjoy your special treat. When we eat while distracted (Netflix and chill much!?), it can be tough for our bodies to register being satiated (happy and full). This is a key step to intuitive eating, listening to your body.
3. Avoid Associating “Relaxing” at the end of the day with Late-Night Snacking
Every habit we have in our lives follows the same loop: Cue, Craving, Response, Reward. Think about this question for a few minutes… is your late-night snacking on autopilot? Is it just a habit to clean up the kitchen, turn on the t.v. and snack? In this example the cue is dinner is over and the day is done, the craving is something salty or sweet, response is grab an easy snack like chips or candy, and the reward is a late night snack. So how do you break this habit loop?
Incorporate other things into your nightly routine instead of snacking in response to the cue of relaxing. These “rewards” need to be better align with your goals and not food-related like...
Stretching instead of sitting on the couch
Going for a walk after dinner
Reading a book instead of watching t.v.
Journaling about the day
Making a list of things you want to do tomorrow
Establishing a new habit that replaces snacking is the key to removing the cue that is causing you to reach for food. This new habit could be the answer to help you stop late-night snacking for good. It will be uncomfortable but give it several weeks and integrate it into your lifestyle.
4. Set up your environment for success
If you have food in the house you have trouble saying no to, don’t buy that food anymore! It really is that simple. The truth is, by the end of the day you have decision fatigue. Your will power is all used up and you simply can’t make complicated decisions so you default to...an old habit. This reinforces the last tip and makes it significantly easier to execute. Out of sight might not be out of mind but it will be out of the way to get in the car and drive to the store just to get a dessert.
Depending on where you are in your journey in relation to your goals these foods don’t have to be gone forever...But, when you’re trying to create a healthy habit like stopping late-night snacking, keeping the healthy choice the easy choice is key to your success.
Look at it like this, It will be a lot easier to say “no” at the store one time, than saying it every night at home.
I understand if this isn’t an option because your kids, spouse, roommate, etc..loves to have a specific snack at home, try creating a separate spot for that food like a really high shelf or hidden spot in the pantry. Even better, have them hide it so you don’t even know where it’s at. When it is out of sight, you are less likely to eat it. This step starts with having an open and honest conversation with your friends/family members so they can understand your goals and help support your efforts. Ultimately, set up an environment that facilitates the choices you want to make! It makes a huge difference.
5. Who is Future You?
It’s helpful to frame every activity you do with the phrase, “I am the type of person who…” So that you become this person. Now you are framing your habits with a purpose. This is future you and future you doesn’t snack late at night because they are healthy, fit and a good example to their kids, friends, and family.
What else does future you do? Visualize what you want to look like, feel like and be like in the future. Use this future thinking to not only see how you want to feel months and years down the road but as soon as tomorrow. Ask yourself, “How do I want to FEEL when I get out of bed tomorrow?” What decision will you feel proud of? Sometimes a small pause and considering how you want to feel can help reframe your thinking and mindset. Turn nutrition into something you GET to do vs. something you HAVE to do. This is what separates us from every other living thing on the planet. The ability to think about the future and see different outcomes. Call it free will or premeditation but I like to think of it as that split second of time where we have a choice of how we are going to respond to the moment. You have a choice of who you want to be in the future. Decide who that is and start doing the things that are going to get you there.
To wrap this topic up, I will say this, objectively learn from what you do, don’t beat yourself up and mentally put yourself down. Learn from your habits and what you do in different situations. We all do things we can learn from and the key is to apply this knowledge the next time you want to make a change. This is an important and necessary part of a successful nutrition journey and ultimately a new lifestyle. Making a different and healthy choice you’re proud of at the next available opportunity will remind you that you have the power to make a change. So remember that everything is a choice and if you treat each experience as a chance to grow and learn, you will be very happy with future you.
Eat Well, Live Well