Tell me if this has happened to you. You start out the day doing just great on your nutrition. You have your five healthy small meals all day with your last meal around 5 pm. Great day as you have feed your body properly with good healthy foods, just one problem. At around 8 pm you eat half-dozen cookies and a large bag of chips before you go to bed.
What went wrong? Why were you so hungry that you pigged out at night? The problem comes down to a lack of fuel. People who eat way too much at night need to look closely at their eating pattern. They just simply are not eating enough during the day, which leads to a desire to eat at night.
So how do you fix this nighttime snacking problem? You start by making sure you are eating up to two-thirds of a day's total calories before dinnertime. If you are not meeting your energy needs during the day then your body will push you to eat at night and that is the perfect scenario for gaining fat. What you need to do is switch around the "normal American eating habit" of having a big dinner to eating most of your daily calories during the day. Have a bigger breakfast and lunch which will give your body the fuel it needs and then have a small dinner. Eating more of your daily calories earlier will guarantee that you will not only fuel your body properly, but also burn off most of the calories you eat and not leave you feeling hungry at night.
It amazes me that we have it so backwards. We should have our biggest meal of the day in the morning when we need all these calories to get through the day and our metabolism is at its highest; and our smallest meal in the evening when we are done with the day and headed to bed and our metabolism is at its lowest. I mean when is the worst time to eat? At night yet this is when our culture has decided that we need to eat the most. Just does not make sense.
It is no wonder we cannot lose weight and continue to get fatter. We are taking in large amounts of calories right before we go to sleep. Our body does not need all the calories we just ate to function properly so it stores them for use later as fat.
So what can you do to help change this habit of eating big late in the day?
First make sure you eat breakfast. Most people skip breakfast because they are in a hurry to get to work, school, or out the door for what they need to do that day. You just got up, are not that hungry anyway (and this is because you ate so much late last night, if you eat light at night trust me you will be hungry when you wake up) so it is easy to skip it. I usually eat my Shakeology for breakfast on days I am in a big hurry to get out the door. It is fast and gives me everything I need in one glass to start the day. Over time I have created a new habit of getting up earlier and making the whole family a good breakfast and now we have a good breakfast most mornings instead of the quick chaos of running out the door.
Second eat your two daily snacks. This is important to make sure you do not get too hungry and over eat at the next meal. It is especially important for the afternoon snack as this is a key to making sure you will not be "starving" by the time you get home and want that huge dinner you are used to eating. Another benefit you will find is that you will not be so tired when you get home if you have had a small afternoon snack as your energy level has stayed up and is not crashing as you end your day.
Third plan a small dinner. This is easier than you think. We have sandwich night and leftover night all the time as it is not only what our bodies really want (something small to keep you going) but works with our crazy schedule of running all over the place for kid activities and social obligations. Once you get over the guilt of feeling like you have to have a big dinner planned for the family at night it actually works better for everyone.
The other reasons for eating late besides the habit of the big meal also need to be looked at. One is the emotional reasons for eating late. Food is used as a way to relax at night, as a source of entertainment, and also as a distraction. Another is that we associate eating with watching TV or working on the computer. To overcome these reasons for eating late you can try the following:
- Many people snack at night because they're bored. Keep your evenings interesting and you'll find it easier to stop snacking. Take a night class, take a walk, workout (this one works great), find a hobby, etc. The idea is to keep busy and you will be surprised how much fun you start to have.
- If you've gotten into the habit of eating in front of the television then decide to eat only healthy snacks or limit your eating to the kitchen or dining room.
- If you must snack late make it something healthy and not the high fat, high sugar snack you are used to.
Eating late is as much a habit and cultural norm than anything else. In order to change it you are going to have to work at it to begin with until you develop the new, healthier, skinnier, habit of eating lite or not at all at night. I've stated it before in other post that the easiest thing to do to start losing weight is to not eat late at night. It goes against our cultural norm, but it works.