How to Cut Down On Late Night Snacking
Your grandmother probably told you not to eat late at night because you didn’t burn off as many calories and it made you fat.
Today, nutritionists disagree on whether late night eating in and of itself can cause weight gain, but recent studies at Northwestern University show that mice that ate when they should have been sleeping gain weight twice as fast as mice that at on a more natural schedule.
As much as 85% of our Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which aids in metabolic function, tissue growth and muscle repair, is produced at night during deep cycle sleep. Late night snacking, especially on carbohydrates, can create insulin spikes limiting the production of HGH and leading to fatigue, slower recovery times and weight gain.
Nutritionists all agree, though, that late night eating can cause insomnia, indigestion, acid reflux AND weight gain if you’re consuming more calories than needed in the form of calorie dense carbohydrates. And let’s face it, nobody’s sitting in front of the tube all night stuffing their face with brocoli and kale. It’s ice cream and Doritos, baby. All night long.
I’ve been a night owl since before I even knew what a night owl was. I used to jump into bed when I heard my dad’s alarm clock so he wouldn’t know I had stayed up all night. Late night snacking was a major factor in my weight creeping up into the 300 pound neighborhood. It wasn’t unusual for me to consume a third to half of my daily calorie intake AFTER dinner, sitting on the couch watching crappy TV til 3 in the morning.
For the first time in my life, though, I feel like I’ve gotten a handle on the late night munchies. Here’s how:
Eat For Fuel
The first hurdle, and the hardest, is convincing yourself to eat for fuel. Not for fun. Not out of habit. Not because it tastes good. Eat to provide your body with the fuel it needs.
When you find yourself in front of the fridge trying to figure out what you want, understand that you’re not there because you’re hungry. You don’t need much fuel to sleep through the night, and ice cream and Doritos aren’t exactly rocket fuel anyway. You’re there out of habit. You’re there out of boredom. And you’re there to satisfy your addiction to sugar.
Starting to think of food as fuel for the engine of your life is half the battle.
Brush Your Teeth
Brush your teeth right after dinner. As you’re standing in front of the fridge, your minty fresh breath will serve as a reminder to close the door. If you eat, you’ve just got to brush them all over again!
Drink More Water
Most of us are chronically dehydrated and it’s easy to confuse hunger for thirst. Your body wants so your mind seeks. And once you actually get up and start seeking, that carton of Haagen Dazs looks like a pretty good choice.
One trick I use is to keep water bottles in the refrigerator door and every time I open the fridge, for any reason, I’ve got to drink at least half a bottle. Them’s the rules.
Do Something Other Than Watch TV
A lifetime of bad habits conditioned me to sit in front of the TV and eat crappy food. If this then that. It’s basic programming. I spent almost 50 years programming myself to be fat and lazy.
And then of course, there’s the commercials. The junk food/fast food/ packaged foods industrial complex spends billions on television advertising.
You wanna know why? Because it works.
The sole purpose of commercial TV is to make you feel dissatisfied and sell you shit to ease the pain. More ice cream and Doritos, anyone?
Take a walk. Read a book. Clean the house. Talk to your family. Anything to keep the TV off for just a few more minutes.
And if you do have to watch the tube, use the DVR so that you can watch something you actually want to watch instead of wasting time surfing channels, desperately looking for something interesting, and then mistaking your mind-numbing boredom for hunger.
Eat Real Food
Did you ever wonder why Cheetos are puffy? Because in addition to the billions Big Food spends on advertising, they spend billions more on research to determine exactly how to make you eat the most of their product without ever getting fully satisfied.
You call Cheetos puffy. The “food” scientists say that they have Vanishing Caloric Density. It turns out if something melts down in your mouth quickly, your brain assumes that it doesn’t have any calories and you can eat it forever without getting full. That’s just one of their tricks.
If you just have to eat something late at night, eat real food. Protein from meat and vegetables. Fruit. Nuts. You’re still consuming calories, but at least it’s real food, fuel. Not some giant corporation’s chemistry experiment.
And the best way to avoid all the junk food crap late at night? Don’t bring it home from the store in the first place.
If it’s not in the house, you can’t eat it
If you do eat at night, or anytime really, you can dramatically cut down on the amount by being mindful of what you’re eating.
The TV is the perfect distraction. While you’re engrossed in that Law and Order rerun, your brain is barely even aware of the full carton of ice cream you just ate.
Be fully aware of what you’re eating, why you’re eating it and how much of it you’re eating.
Dish a single serving of Haagen Dazs, sit down at the table and savor it. If you’re paying the caloric price, you might as well enjoy it instead of wolfing it down before you even realize it’s gone. Taste the rainbow!
Relish your little transgression. Put everything back away. Wash the dishes. And brush your teeth, again!
Give Yourself A Gold Star
In addition to jokes about nothing, Jerry Seinfeld is famous for inventing the Seinfeld Technique, where you set a goal and every day you reach the goal you put a big red X on the calendar and see how many days you can go without breaking the chain.
I keep a chart of my Daily Dozen goals on my desk and number 11 is NO FOOD AFTER 9 pm. Last week I got six gold stars. Yay me!
So there’s a few tweaks I’ve used to curb my late night snacking, and here’s my final bit of advice: If all else fails, and you still feel the urge to snack…
Go To Bed
There’s nothing worth watching on TV anyway.
Terry Lancaster is the VP of Making S#!% Happen at Instant Events Automotive Advertising, father of 3 teenage daughters and a Beer League Hockey All Star, as if there could ever be such a thing.
You can connect with Terry on FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+.