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Six simple steps to breaking that late-night snacking habit

If I had a penny for every time a new client said, "I do so well with eating all day, but come 9 pm, it just falls apart and I find myself in the biscuit tin - why does this happen?", I would be a rich woman! This is a behaviour that is very common, but if you understand why it is happening, it might be easier to make a permanent change.

Research shows that we may have an evolutionary calling to eat in the evening.

Back in our hunter-gatherer days, snacking in the evening was a good way to store that energy as fat for times when we would be in need of it in the future.

Studies have demonstrated that we actively seek sugary, starchy and salty foods at around 8 pm, and it is believed that our ancestors may have taken advantage of the evening peak in appetite to help prepare for what might come next. But in our modern world, where food is often readily available, this evolutionary step may no longer be necessary, and in fact, might be a pain!

Six steps to stop late-night snacking

So how do we break this habit and fight this primaeval programming of evening snacking? Here are six simple steps to prevent going overboard after dinner:

1. Identify your triggers

Have you inadvertently created a pattern of behaviour that is keeping you in a snacking routine? Do you find yourself nipping to the fridge in the ad break, or does your partner grab the biscuit tin when you make yourself your pre-bed cuppa?

By making a note of when or what may triggering your evening snacking habit, you can make a plan to stop it happening the next time. When that ad break comes around, take the opportunity to take the clean washing upstairs. When your partner reaches for the biscuit tin, re-direct them to loading the dishwasher. Be aware of what you are doing and keep those hands busy until the temptation passes.

2. Make a connection

Are you actually even hungry? If you are, then definitely have something to eat! But make the connection - are you really hungry? Or are you actually thirsty - did you drink enough today? Or are you feeling bored? Or sad? Or irritated by something else? There are a multitude of reasons that may make us want to self-soothe with a bit of cake. Taking a beat and trying to examine whether eating is what we genuinely want to do, may help us stop snacking for the wrong reasons.

3. Pre-plan meals

Sometimes we may be snacking in the evening because we haven't eaten enough during the day. This can often be the result of busy lives and just grabbing whatever we can find after a long day at work. By planning our meals in advance, we can ensure we get the right level of nutrition and enough to eat to keep us going from dinner until breakfast without feeling the need to have an evening snack.

Batch cooking at the weekend or days off can be a real bonus for the days when you are super-busy - you can just pop to the freezer and re-heat something delicious you have made previously.

Man asleep in bed with dog

4. Set a good routine  

Sleeping well can affect our need for snacks, as research shows that staying up late into the early hours when we should be sleeping can increase the odds of overeating.

This may be because sleep directly affects the two hormones which regulate hunger, ghrelin and leptin. Leptin tells your brain you are full, and levels increase during sleep; whereas ghrelin tells your brain you are hungry, and levels decrease during sleep. Therefore inadequate sleep may lead to an increase in appetite, possibly leading to over-consumption and that need to eat in the late evenings.

By setting a good routine, with a regular bedtime and wake-up time, we can ensure that we get enough good quality sleep to re-set those levels adequately.

5. Find something else to do

Sometimes people find themselves mindlessly snacking as they want to occupy their hands and their minds. If this is something that you identify is your issue or habit, then plan for something else to do during this evening spot. Did you used to be an expert knitter? Maybe time to pick up those needles again. Jigsaws, colouring and sketching are all good alternatives too. And they can help relax you into the evening.

6. Believe in yourself 

A recent study has shown that if you believe you can make a change, you are more likely to succeed. As cliched as this may sound, it can be a very effective way to make a change. Have a think about a time when you've surprised yourself by achieving something you didn't think you could - channel that feeling, remind yourself that you are in charge of your life and you will accomplish this habit change.

Now you have an understanding of why this might be happening to you, have a look at your patterns and see if you can put some things in place to help battle that biological urge. Ditch that late-night snacking habit today!

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Alex Allan, Registered Nutritional Therapist, BA (Hons), DipBCNH, mBANT, regCNHC

Alex Allan is a Registered Nutritional Therapist. She is passionate about food and cooking. Helping her own health concerns through Nutritional Therapy sparked a passion and led her to re-train as an NT after more than 20 years working in children's publishing. She writes regularly on her blog (alexallannutrition.co.uk/blog) and on Instagram.… Read more

Written by Alex Allan, Registered Nutritional Therapist, BA (Hons), DipBCNH, mBANT, regCNHC

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