Do you find yourself wandering into the kitchen after dark? Whether it’s because of hunger, boredom, stress, or fatigue, many runners find themselves eating late at night – and they often reach for high-fat, high-calorie junk food. A nighttime eating habit can sabotage your weight loss efforts, and even lead to weight gain if you’re binging at night.
Many runners get into the habit of eating at night because it’s a quiet time, they’re not as distracted as they are during the day, and no one is around to see them indulging in their favorite foods. Sitting down to watch television is a trigger for many people to grab a satisfying snack and drink.
So, how do you put the brakes on the late-night munchies? Here are 11 strategies for getting your nocturnal eating habits under control.
1. Distract yourself.
Most cravings last about 10 minutes so, if you can distract yourself for that amount of time, you can avoid giving in. When you notice a nighttime craving, do some squats and lunges, give yourself a manicure, take the dog for a walk, make a phone call, or do a chore, like ironing. Before you know it, you’re in the middle of something, and your night craving has passed.
2. Go to bed earlier.
If you’re tired, you’ll be hungry, especially for carbs and sugar, and more likely to give into cravings. Make sure you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Getting to bed at a reasonable time will also reduce the amount of hours that you’re tempted to snack at night.
3. Have a cup of tea.
Get in the habit of enjoying a hot cup of decaffeinated tea (or iced tea in the warm weather) at night. Sip it slowly to keep your hands busy. Switch up the flavors so you don’t get bored.
4. Keep healthy snacks on hand.
Stock your pantry and fridge with healthy, low-calorie snacks, so you have a healthy alternative when you start craving a high-calorie, high-fat food. Make smart substitutions, like a mug of low-calorie hot chocolate instead of a brownie.
5. Put lotion on your hands.
Slather your hands with lotion at night. Not only will this act keep your hands busy while you’re watching TV, it will also signal to your mind that it’s time to stop eating and get ready for sleep. Putting lotion on your hands will also make you less likely to want to grab a snack. After all, who wants to stick their freshly-lotioned hand into a bag of chips?
6. Brush your teeth.
Brushing your teeth is a signal to yourself that eating and drinking is done for the day. When your mouth is minty-fresh, you’ll probably want to keep it that way and be less likely to give into a nighttime craving. You may even want to floss and gargle with mouthwash to make your mouth feel even cleaner.
7. Use portion control.
If you’re hungry and really need to eat something at night, practice good portion control. Keep yourself from going overboard by putting an appropriate portion of food in front of you. Put chips in a small bowl rather than eating them right out of the bag, for example. This is especially important on days when you ran long or did a tough speed workout, and you may be thinking that you earned some splurging on high-fat, high-calorie foods.
Make sure you eat slowly and savor the taste of your food. Give yourself 15 to 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal that you’ve had enough.
8. Make sure you have protein and fiber at dinner.
Although some night eating can be mindless, sometimes we eat late at night because we’re legitimately hungry. I find that sometimes my stomach starts growling around 10:00 p.m. and I start looking for something to curb that feeling.
The key is to make sure you have a dinner that fills you up, without being heavy in fat and calories. Fiber will keep you feeling full, so eat a dinner that includes high-fiber foods like whole grains or beans. You should also have some protein, since it has the staying power to keep your hunger at bay.
If you find that a fiber- and protein-filled dinner still leaves you feeling hungry a few hours later, try eating a healthy and satisfying evening snack like low-fat yogurt with fruit or whole-grain cereal with milk.
9. Write it down.
Use a daily food and activity tracker like the SuperTracker to track all your food and drinks. Knowing that you have to record those calories will make you think twice about and hopefully dissuade you from consuming them.
10. Don’t skip any meals.
Skipping entire meals usually backfires. If you don’t eat breakfast, for example, you’ll save calories in the morning, but you may end up compensating for that and go overboard with high-fat, high-calorie foods later in the day.
11. Eat only in the kitchen or dining room.
This can be a tough one, but it can definitely help you kick your nighttime eating habit. Try to eat only when sitting down at the kitchen or dining room table. It will help you avoid mindless eating in front of the television.
If you really like a snack while watching your favorite show, limit it to fruits and vegetables.