You've settled into the sofa watching your favorite nighttime sitcom or drama. As the theme music begins, you instantly crave something sweet, salty, crunchy or all of the above. By the time the second commercial ends, you've consumed a bag of potato chips or container of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Late night cravings: 1
Your diet: 0
Why are food cravings so intense while watching nighttime television? What the Jimmy Fallon is going on?
The time of the nightly binge isn't sabotaging our diet, according to Christopher Gunning, a Virtua dietitian, it's the overall number of calories we consume throughout the day.
"If you eat chips, candy, cake or any other high-calorie snack at night, you're not going to have enough time to burn off those calories before going to bed," he explains. "Those extra calories add up and pack on the pounds."
Tips to curb nighttime cravings
Try the following to avoid binging while watching television at night:
- Don't skip a meal
Eat three square meals and two healthy snacks per day. Skipping a meal leads to late night hunger, unhealthy snacking and slows down your metabolism.
- Drink plenty of water
Dietitians recommend drinking eight glasses of water each day. When you feel a hunger pang at night, drink a cup or two of water for temporary relief.
- Plan ahead for a healthy snack
Schedule an hour after dinner to eat a healthy snack to diminish stronger cravings later at night. Don't always wait until you feel hunger pangs. "That's when we tend to binge," says Gunning.
- Keep unhealthy snacks out of sight
The concept of "out of sight, out of mind" can curb the desire to eat junk food. If you crave a specific unhealthy snack, keep it off your grocery list and out of the house.
- Drink herbal tea
A cup of hot herbal tea will help you feel full and will pass the time, says April Schetler, a Virtua dietitian. She adds: "Because it takes a while to finish a hot cup of tea, you'll be satisfied and, hopefully, bypass the urge to snack on something."
- Brush your teeth
If you feel an impulse to grab an unhealthy snack at night, brush your teeth. This sends a psychological signal to your brain that you're finished eating and are preparing for bed. Also, food doesn't taste as good after brushing your teeth. "Most people tend to eat out of boredom at night," says Schetler, "so brushing your teeth after dinner can prevent mindless eating."
- Keep a food journal
Document your calorie intake and eating behavior to avoid falling into a nighttime snacking trap. "A journal will help you be accountable for the foods you choose," says Gunning. "It will also help identify unhealthy patterns, which you'll be able to adjust and fix."
You can also download online apps, such as MyFitnessPal or MyPlate by Livestrong, to maintain a detailed food log.
Still craving a snack at night?
If you can't watch television without eating a snack, there are healthy alternatives:
- Air popped popcorn (sprinkle some chili powder, cayenne pepper or parmesan cheese for added taste)
- Greek yogurt (use also as a "dipping sauce" for fruit)
- Apple slices (add a tablespoon of peanut butter for some much-needed protein)
- Nuts (grab a small handful of almonds, pecans, walnuts or pistachios)
"Freeze banana slices for a healthy snack if you crave ice cream," says Gunning. "Place the frozen banana slices in a blender along with some skim milk and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. It will have the same consistency as a smoothie or milkshake, but has fewer calories."
Receive nutrition counseling from an expert dietitian
Virtua's registered dietitians assist individuals of all ages in making healthier choices by developing a food plan tailored to their needs. A registered dietitian can design a food plan based on lifestyle, activity level, weight, medical history and more. For more information about Virtua's Center for Weight Management, call 1-888-VIRTUA-3 (1-888-847-8823).