Do you feel like you are crushing your diet during the day, but at night-time, it all comes undone? Do you feel like no matter what, you can't help it but reach for snacks even when you're not physically hungry?
Not only can the wrong food choices at night mess up our sleep patterns, but they can undo our fat loss efforts during the day. Let's have a look at some of the causes of 'snack brain':
Hungry, or just emotionally hungry?
It's no secret that food is a widely used self-medication for negative emotions. Are you feeling a true hunger in your belly, or just in your mind? Emotional eating can pop up to distract yourself from the uncomfortable feelings of unresolved issues.
When we are finally done with our daily responsibilities, we have the time to sit, think, and feel. We now have the chance to wind down and think about everything that happened in the day – good and bad, and according to experts, it's more likely to have a negative undertone. This alone may set up anxious or depressed feelings that can lead to mindless snacking.
While there's a ton of educational resources out there that can assist with emotional eating, dealing with any deeper issues should of course always be done with a trained therapist.
Daily nutrient intake
Many of us think we eat healthily overall but would be shocked at how often we are eating less than optimally. Lack of nutrition during the day – either the amount of food or the quality of food, can set you up for failure at night-time.
If you are restricting calories too much, for example, you may find this bearable during the times you are busy, but once you stop moving and settle in for the night, your brain will be telling you to eat everything! Stop using willpower, which is a finite resource, to try and get yourself through the day.
When you're exhausted from a whole day of work, study, training, running around with the kids, etc., this is when you're most susceptible to mindless snacking and 'slip-ups'. Similarly, if your meals haven't been sufficiently nutrient-dense, your body will be crying out for those nutrients – or quick energy, rather, and it usually takes the form of high sugar and fat deliciousness.
Plus, the more you get your daily calories from sugar and fat, the more likely you will have broken sleep. Cue a timely reminder to take care of your gut health too; if you aren't absorbing nutrients as you should, then you will feel those cravings.
What's in your pantry?
For some, simply clearing out the pantry and not having any snacks available in the house (or at least, hard to reach) is a suitable option for stopping the desire in its tracks.
If you know you have to walk or drive down to the shops, you may feel like it's all too much effort. Keeping the pantry clear of 'naughty foods' certainly helps not to have them in the first place.
If, however, the issue is at the emotional level, this will only serve as a bandaid solution - next time you head to the supermarket and see your favourite 'forbidden' treat (especially if it's on sale, which the most delicious treats usually are!), you may be more than likely at some point or another to give in to the temptation.
Time to make a wiser choice
One popular night-time snack choice is chocolate – laden with sugar and fats, along with the stimulants it contains, may impact your sleep. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with indulging in chocolate or other treats - until you start to inhale half a block on the regular!
Tempted to go hungry instead? Undereating may not be the answer- if you haven't taken care of your nutrition during the day with well-rounded meals, and you are going to bed with a rumbling stomach, this can set you up for insomnia and even worse cravings the next day. Enjoy something that can assist with sleep such as the trusty banana, which contains the muscle relaxants magnesium and potassium, as well as carbohydrates for the serotonin and melatonin to help make you sleepy.
Another option is a handful of nuts, which will provide heart-healthy fats and contain melatonin to assist dozing off - Pistachios, in particular, have the highest melatonin content. A casein custard or high fibre protein bar can also help take the edge off and bump up your protein intake for the day, plus keep you fuller for longer. Alternatively, enjoy some Greek yogurt with chia seeds, which contain a high percentage of tryptophan.
Snacking isn't inherently bad, but if you feel like mindless night-time eating is getting the better of you, make it a priority and know you can overcome it with the right mindset and nutrition. With proper planning, you can enjoy snacks as part of your regular eating and make even greater progress towards your health and nutrition goals.