I attribute my twenty-pound post-college weight gain to large portions, not enough exercise, and too many happy hours that involved way too many pints of beers and plates of nachos.
These were the main culprits that caused me to pack on the pounds, but my frequent evening cereal binges certainly didn't help either. A few times a week, once I finished eating dinner, I'd find myself heading to the kitchen for a late night snack, especially if I was just lounging around the house watching TV.
I'd end up eating mindlessly and consume hundreds of extra calories even though I wasn't really hungry. I knew I needed to get control of my nighttime snacking if I wanted to lose weight, so I started to implement some new eating habits—throughout the day—to help me rein in my snacking. Here’s what I did, and what can help you too.
During the day:
- Eat often. I used to skip breakfast as a way to cut calories from my diet, but I quickly learned that it would lead me to overeat later in the day, especially at night when I had easy access to my kitchen. Instead of going all day without eating very much, I eat a meal or a snack every three to four hours to keep my energy up and my hunger at bay. By eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner and planning snacks in between, I'm able to maintain better control of what I'm eating throughout the day and night.
- Add some protein power. For years I thought the “eat tons of protein” trend was all diet hype, so I focused on eating low-calorie and low-fats foods, which, not surprisingly, never satisfied me. Eventually I learned that a healthy mix of protein, fat, and whole grains were key for controlling how much I eat in the evening after dinner. Now I make a real effort to include more protein in my diet—my favorites are chicken, eggs, avocado, beans, nuts, and nut butters. Not surprisingly, I feel a lot more satisfied after meals and less tempted to raid my kitchen.
- Indulge a little. Before I lost weight, I'd manage to resist various food temptations all day long, like the office donuts or the cupcake shop I walked by on my commute home every day, but this usually ended up backfiring on me because I'd binge on cookies or cereal at night. If I don't allow myself a small treat during the day, I'll go crazy with my cravings at night, so I plan for a small sweet snack in the afternoon, usually a flavored Greek yogurt or a banana with almond butter to satisfy my cravings.
- Prepare healthy snacks ahead of time. I usually workout in the evening, which means I often don't eat dinner until fairly late. After a workout, instead of stopping for greasy take-out or chowing down on whatever I can get my hands on in my kitchen, I make sure it's stocked with quick and easy, healthy options, like canned tuna and beans, raw veggies with hummus or plain Greek yogurt, so I can just grab something when those nighttime munchies strike.
- Drink up and slow down. Sometimes, a glass of water, unsweetened coconut milk, or a warm mug of tea stops my evening munchies in their tracks. Instead of rifling through the pantry for snacks, I make myself a beverage and sit down on the couch with it. I slowly sip, and try to relax. It usually does the trick!
- Pick a "stop eating time". To avoid those extra, unnecessary nighttime calories, I pick a "stop eating" time about two or three hours before I go to bed.
- Brush your teeth. If I'm feeling especially snacky in the evening after dinner, I'll brush my teeth, floss, and use mouth wash to stop my mindless munching. My whole mouth feels clean and fresh, so I wouldn’t want to ruin that (or repeat the hygiene routine again) by eating.
- Distract yourself. A lot of the time, I find that I snack in the evening out of boredom. To prevent this, I keep myself busy with activities that distract me from mindless eating, such as painting my nails, organizing a junk drawer, creating a board on Pinterest, walking my dog, calling a friend, taking a warm shower, or practicing yoga.
- Go to sleep. I find that if I stay up really late into the evening, I'll inevitably want to snack, so instead of burning the midnight oil, I head to bed at a reasonable hour. I also notice that I’m hungrier when I'm sleep-deprived, so it’s a no-brainer that more sleep is the key!
- Keep it out of the house. When all else fails, I stop buying the foods that I tend to snack on in the evenings. For instance, I used to not be able to keep granola or sugar cereals in the house because I'd eat more than half of the box in one sitting, so I stopped buying it as a way to put a stop to that night eating habit.
More: Read Tina's daily food and fitness blog, Carrots 'N' Cake.