While some people seem able to breeze effortlessly from meal to meal without so much as a glance at the fridge, snacking – especially late at night – is many a dieter’s downfall.
While biology certainly accounts for some of our propensity to graze, we often head to the kitchen for reasons that have little to do with hunger – and more to do with boredom, or stress and the need for a rewarding ‘treat’. Even after a virtuous day of exercise and careful eating, the urge to unwind can send us in the direction of the biscuit tin and the undoing of all that hard work.
Snacking isn’t necessarily a fast track to a bigger waistline. If you are genuinely hungry in between meals, then not addressing it can lead to cravings and poor food choices later in the day. Equally, if you are physically active, your body needs to be fuelled properly to derive the maximum benefit. The NHS advises that having a light snack containing some protein, and that is higher in carbohydrate and lower in fat, can help you perform during training and recover afterwards.
But it’s snacking later in the day that can really undermine our health and weight loss goals. According to recent estimates, as many as three-quarters of Brits eat something directly before bed. And it’s at this time of night that snacking tends to be the least controlled, often consisting of big portions of high-calorie foods, like biscuits, chocolate and crisps. Eaten mindlessly, an alarming number of calories can be consumed in a very short space of time. So, if you are keen to put a lid on late-night snacking, here are three easy things for you to try:
How to stop late-night snacking
Eat a proper dinner, and don’t have it too early
According to a recent study by King’s College London, the explanation for how tempted a person is to snack may partly lie in how their blood sugar levels respond to meals. People experiencing a more pronounced blood sugar dip after eating a meal, referred to as ‘big dippers’, were far more likely to have cravings and subsequently, to snack.
If you are eating dinner early, say before 6.30pm, and finding you are ravenous later in the evening, it may be that you are a ‘big dipper’. Shifting your mealtime slightly later should help you last until bedtime. Having said that, eating too late can cause indigestion and sleeping problems, so try and leave at least three hours between your evening meal and when you turn in.
And it’s not just when you eat that’s important, but what you eat too. An evening meal with a good balance of lean protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates is more likely to stabilise your blood sugar levels and sustain you through the evening. An example of a well-balanced meal would be some grilled oily fish (such as mackerel), a fist-sized amount of brown rice and half a plate of mixed colourful vegetables.
Have a drink and see if the craving passes
Hunger can often be confused with thirst, so plan to have a drink when you would normally start thinking about snacking. Often the craving will pass and before you know it, it’s time for bed. Why not kill two birds with one stone by choosing a drink that also promotes good sleep, such as camomile, peppermint or valerian tea. Alternatively, a glass of warm milk is an old favourite, or try making some soothing golden milk by simmering 200ml of milk (or non-dairy milk), 1 tsp of turmeric, ½ tsp ground ginger, ½ tsp cinnamon, a tiny pinch of black pepper and 1 tsp honey in a pan for a few minutes.
Don’t forget the power of distraction
Evening snacking is often habitual, a Pavlovian response to settling down in front of the telly, or a reward for reaching the end of the day. The best way to address this is to do something else instead that doesn’t involve eating.
When the after-dinner cravings appear, acknowledge them but instead of heading to the kitchen, see it as a cue to start another activity. Take a bath or shower, do the crossword or a sudoku, slap on a facemask and listen to a podcast or roll out a mat and do a 10-minute yoga routine.
Distraction is often all that’s needed. But if the munchies really won’t go away, healthy snacks that won’t blow the calorie budget include: 2 tbsps of Greek yogurt with a handful of berries; an oatcake or wholegrain cracker with a dried fig; a date stuffed with a teaspoon of nut butter; a square of dark chocolate and a few salted peanuts; a piece of fruit, especially kiwi fruit, which studies have shown can also help improve sleep; or a small number of nuts (13 almonds are 100 calories).
The Midlife Method: How To Lose Weight and Feel Great After 40 by Sam Rice is published by Hachette. Buy your copy from Telegraph Books or call 0844 851 1514.