Many people struggle with getting the midnight munchies, earlier on in the evening, so to speak. Be it boredom eating, emotional eating or actual hunger, there are many things that you can do to prevent frequent evening snacking. Here are a few pointers:
1) Analyze your daytime habits. Do you skip meals, forget to take mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks (if necessary – you should try to eat every 3-4 hours for optimal appetite control) or are your meals imbalanced? If so, this can lead to actual hunger in the evening that causes you to snack, and let’s be honest, usually it’s not on the healthiest things.
2) Try to ask yourself if you are experiencing physical or psychological hunger. The difference?
Physical hunger: arrives gradually (“I’m not hungry”, “I think I may be hungry”, “Yup, I’m Hungry”, “Boy oh boy am I Hungry”, “Holy fruit loops, I’m extremely hungry”, “I’m so hungry I could eat the furniture” would be the progression of your hunger), is due to the emptiness of your stomach, is a physiological response, results in satisfaction, you are physically uncomfortable, typically leads to more mindful eating.
If you are physically hungry, have a healthy snack, like a fruit with some nuts, a smoothie, a few squares of dark chocolate or try this delicious and calming tea.
Psychological hunger: arrives suddenly (“Oh me, oh my, I could eat the furniture”, “I. need. to. eat. now.”), stomach may be full, is a response to a sensory stimulus (the sight of food (i.e. chips, cookies, cheese, etc.), the smell of food, the idea of food), brings about a feeling of guilt, you are psychologically or emotionally uncomfortable (anxious or antsy at the thought of eating, or trying to control your sudden desire to eat), generally leads to more mindless eating (not knowing how many chips or cookies you have eaten, until, before you know it, you’ve had the whole bag of chips or a few rows of cookies).
If you are psychologically hungry, try to pinpoint how you are feeling. Are you stressed, angry, nervous, sad, happy or bored? If you manage to pinpoint the emotion, try to think about the root of your emotion and what a potential solution is. Will eating solve your problem? It may offer temporary relief and pleasure but when you finish eating, that emotion will still be there, and you may even feel worse. A good trick to employ when feeling “psychologically hungry” is to distract yourself or please yourself in ways that do not involve food: put music on your iPod (this is not product placement lol), read a good book, go for a brisk walk, watch a fascinating documentary, play Solitaire, knit, phone a friend or family member you wish you were closer to and enjoy speaking with, spend time with your kids, play a board game, whatever floats your boat. If you truly were psychologically hungry, your hunger should pass within the half hour. It is a grand idea to keep a food diary in which you can also incorporate an emotion log. You can then link certain food intake patterns to certain emotions and think about ways to circumvent this.
- If you feel a craving coming your way, you may wish to brush your teeth, floss your teeth (your dentist will love you) and use mouthwash. People often don’t feel like eating once they’ve done this.
- Stick post-its on foods you are often tempted by, on which you could write things like “Do I really need this?”, “Am I really hungry?”, “Am I hungry or emotional?”, “Will this make me feel better?”, whatever you think applies to you.
- If you tend to crave sweet foods, why not find sweet teas to replace the eating habit with a “drinking habit” that will help you up your fluid intake. My personal favourite is the Bengal Spice tea (orange + cinnamon) which tastes sweet but contains no sugar.
- If you find that you are an emotional eater, consider reading the book “Life is Hard, Food is Easy” by Linda Spangle. It explains how, from a young age, we develop an emotional relationship with food. The mere act of cooking up a home-cooked meal is an expression of our parents’ love, or a way of showing us they care and thus a food can become a manner in which we show ourselves love. Or, it can be an outlet for self-hate and self-destruction. The book also explains how people tend to crave crunchy when they are stressed or angry and soft, fluffy foods when they are sad, lacking affection. I can attest to the validity of this as the other day, I opened up my pantry and mindlessly reached for some nacho chips. I then caught myself and asked myself, “Am I truly hungry, or am I mad at someone”. Turns out, I was upset with someone, so instead contacted that person and attempted solving the problem”. It’s almost as if sometimes, when you reach for certain foods, it can be a sort of emotional barometer which makes you stop and ask yourself how you are feeling in that very moment. It can even help you be more in tune with your emotions. 🙂 The book also talks about how foods can be a comforting and constant presence in your life. Many people resort to food as it is one of the only stable elements in their chaotic and unpredictable lives. The book offers up many solutions and “case-studies” to which you may be able to relate. For a preview of this book, click here (a great preview of the book is available on Google Books).
- If you’ve had a bad day (nutrition-wise) and think “Whatever, I’ve eaten poorly all day so I might as well continue to do so into the evening”, know that that is like saying “Hey, I dropped my phone on the floor, but instead of picking it up, I will jump on it until it explodes into bits and pieces”. Life goes on, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and continue on with your efforts. If anything, occasionally falling off the bandwagon only proves that you’re human (which is a good thing 🙂 ).
Emotional eating or evening snacking once in a while isn’t that huge of a problem at all, but if it happens often, then it can become problematic not only for weight management but also for your health. It can also mean you are not emotionally attuned. I sincerely hope these pointers can aid you to better pick up on and listen to your body’s hunger, satiety and emotional signals.