7 Easy Ways to Curb Your Nighttime Snack Cravings
By Erin Wickersham, RD, Virtua Registered Dietitian—Virtua Weight Loss and Wellness
It's 9 pm, and you’re settled on the sofa to watch your favorite sitcom or drama. As the theme music starts, you instantly crave something sweet, salty, or crunchy. By the time the second commercial ends, you’ve downed a bag of potato chips or pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream and probably feel pretty defeated in your healthy eating efforts.
The timing of your nighttime binge isn't sabotaging your diet—it’s the overall number of calories you consume and burn throughout the day.
Typically, nighttime snacking is associated with mindlessly eating potato chips, candy, cake and other high-calorie snacks. That usually means you're eating more calories than your body needs. Those extra calories add up quick and lead to weight gain over time.
Tips to curb nighttime cravings
Try the following to avoid binging while watching television at night:
- Don’t skip meals
Eat three square meals and one or two healthy snacks per day. Skipping a meal leads to late night hunger, unhealthy snacking and slows down your metabolism.
- Drink plenty of water
Did you know your body can mix up hunger and thirst cues? If you feel hungry at night, try a cup or two of water for some instant hydration and relief of those hunger pangs. Dietitians recommend drinking eight glasses of water each day.
- 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 people tend to binge.
- 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. 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, 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. It will also help identify unhealthy patterns, which you’ll be able to adjust and fix.
Still craving a snack at night?
If you can’t watch television without eating a snack, there are healthy alternatives:
1 to 2 cups air-popped popcorn (sprinkle some chili powder, cayenne pepper or parmesan cheese for added taste)
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (or, use as a “dipping sauce” for fruit)
- 1 small sliced apple (add a tablespoon of peanut butter for protein)
- Nuts (grab 1/4 cup of almonds, pecans, walnuts or pistachios)
- Banana "ice cream": Freeze banana slices for a healthy snack if you crave ice cream. 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.
A Virtua registered dietitian can help you create a healthy and satisfying eating plan that fits your life and needs. Call 888-847-8823 to make an appointment.
Updated March 11, 2021