After-dinner and before-bedtime snacking when not hungry can result in consuming unneeded calories. Often this may be due to boredom, stress or tiredness. Try these tips to banish evening cravings and curb after-dinner snacking; and, if you must snack, go for the healthier options.
End Mealtime Madness
Spend a little time planning ahead and grocery shopping for nutritious meals, including breakfast, and snacks throughout the week. When you eat a variety of foods throughout the day according to your hunger and fullness, you're less likely to overeat at night. "Planning and eating balanced meals at regular intervals during the day helps provide steady fuel and increases the chances of getting all the nutrients you need for good health," says Kim Larson, RDN, CSSD, CD, CHC, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "It helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and provides more energy throughout the day. Regular eating also helps to manage hunger hormones to control appetite and food portions."
Boost Protein and Load up on Fiber
Larson advises individuals to try to eat 25 to 30 grams at each meal, although protein needs vary according to age, sex, height, weight and activity level.
For instance, a breakfast of oatmeal with a cup of low-fat or fat-free milk, small handful of nuts and fruit can provide approximately 20 grams of protein. At lunch, a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter (7 grams of protein), half a can of tuna fish (16 grams of protein), half a cup of black beans (7 grams of protein) or a small 4-ounce salmon filet (25 grams of protein) can help push up protein. At dinner, most people actually get too much protein because portion sizes of popular protein sources are too big. Go for recommended serving sizes such as a small — the size of a deck of cards — 3-ounce chicken breast (27 grams of protein) or a 3-ounce lean top sirloin steak (26 grams of protein).
Dietary fiber also helps us feel full, in addition to being protective of intestinal and heart health. Find fiber in whole grains, legumes such as beans and lentils, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. The Institute of Medicine recommends women strive for 25 grams of dietary fiber each day while men should get 38 grams.
"Sleeping less than six to seven hours per night has been shown in studies to alter gut hormone regulation," says Larson. "Not only can this disruption increase how much we eat during the day, but it also drives mindless eating that occurs when we are tired instead of hungry." Adults should strive for 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
Turn off the Screen before You Pick up Your Fork
Screen time has been linked to mindless eating and increased food intake. Eating in front of the TV, while playing video games or surfing the Internet can distract attention from what and how much is eaten, reduce satiety signals sent to the brain and lessen memory of snacking.
"Multitasking during meals interferes with the enjoyment and satisfaction of eating," says Larson. "Avoiding all distractions, including the TV, helps one to focus on eating mindfully, which leads to greater satisfaction. It also helps to slow our pace of eating and tune in to hunger signals that often are missed when we are distracted and rushing to get done."
Still Starving after Dinner?
People often eat out of boredom, or because of stress, or just out of habit rather than from true hunger. Larson suggests asking yourself the following questions before eating: Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? Am I tired? Am I bored? Am I sad?
If you ate a balanced dinner, go for lighter snacks. "If you do find yourself hungry in the evening, reach for a nutritious snack like air-popped popcorn, yogurt or fresh fruit to quell the need for something sweet," says Larson. If a sweet or heavy food is what you're really craving, enjoy a small portion of it then brush your teeth and wind down before bedtime."