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 nutritious 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. "Eating balanced meals and snacks throughout the day provides your body with a steady source of energy to fuel daily activities," says Torey Armul, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, who is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "It also helps to maintain blood sugar levels and ensure greater intake of nutrients that are important for your health."
Boost Protein and Load up on Fiber
Armul advises individuals to try to eat 20 to 25 grams of protein at each meal, although needs vary by person.
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.
"Research shows that sleep deprivation can impair glucose metabolism and affect hormones linked to hunger, appetite and body weight regulation," says Armul "We often confuse hunger and tiredness, especially at night. If you're tempted to keep snacking after a balanced dinner, your body may be signaling that it needs rest." 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.
"Eating in front of a TV or mobile device makes it harder to detect your body's satiety signals," says Armul. "It also can reduce the enjoyment and mindfulness of your meal. Avoid these types of distractions during mealtime, and sit down at a table to eat so you can focus on your food and practice mindfulness. You also may feel a greater satisfaction with your food and notice satiety cues that are otherwise missed when you're distracted."
Still Starving after Dinner?
People often eat out of boredom, or because of stress, or just out of habit rather than from true hunger. Consider 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're still hungry after dinner and have ruled out other factors, it's OK to have a small snack," says Armul. "Opt for something with protein or fiber to provide satiety and nutrients. Good choices are Greek yogurt, fruit, nuts, veggies with hummus and air-popped popcorn. If you're craving dessert, keep your portion small and eat slowly and without distractions."