Habits versus Hunger.
This is something so many individuals tell me they struggle with when it comes to sticking with a healthy lifestyle.
Heck, this is something I used to really struggle with as well!
Years ago when I was blogging regularly at The Fitness Dish, one thing I got really addicted to was my evening “healthy desserts.”
Sure, they were healthier than eating real ice cream or some Reese’s, but it was still a habit of eating “sweets” and it only derailed me from my goals of quitting my sugar addiction.
This is why we advise anyone doing our 10-Day meal-plan to not make “mock” desserts, and to avoid late-night snacking because many times it is a mindless habit.
Today, I can have real ice cream, or banana soft serve, or some chocolate chip cookies (not the healthy kind) … and not become out of control with cravings like I had in the past.
I figured out how to avoid that dreaded “mindless night snacking”, or “needing something sweet” after a meal (which my husband got me hooked on years ago).
When I was making a “healthy fake dessert” every single night I thought it was okay … because it wasn’t the real deal … however that habit was still there!
Here are some tips that will hopefully help you get control of this mindless night eating if it has become problematic for you!
Figure out what’s Missing from your day.
When you get night cravings it usually means that there is something missing from your day. It could be emotional, or it could be nutritional.
Sometimes we don’t eat enough. Keeping a food diary for a few days can be helpful, as long as you don’t obsess over it. Be honest, and look over it to see if you really ate enough food … or if your diet was higher in carbs and lacking healthy fats and protein, which can lead to more sugar and carb cravings (especially at night).
When we don’t eat enough during the day, the circadian rhythm of eating is disrupted and the often many of your calories are consumed at night.
Ever see that meme that goes around saying something like this:
It is great to eat healthy, but make sure you are eating enough!
Emotional cravings are real as well. If you had a rough day at work, are feeling more emotional than usual, or didn’t get what you needed from your partner, or didn’t get to vent or feel your feelings (holding emotions inside), this can all lead to stuffing your feelings with food.
Boredom is another big factor.
Talk, vent, feel, hug! You will be less-likely to turn to food to help you deal with emotions.
2. Associations and Routine
Okay, so what are you associating your nightly snack with?
For me, I used to make that mini version of my chocolate avocado pudding with a hazelnut hemp crust to enjoy while zoning out as I caught up on Dexter or True Blood (man, I miss those shows!)
It was a habit.
I associated my TV time with a delicious treat so all of my senses were happy. The problem was, I started to pack on some pounds and my sweet tooth and cravings started to get even worse! Back then I was using stevia too (eek!)
Break the connection between whatever nightly activity triggers your snacking and you will be on your way to healthier habits.
Instead of going through the fridge before you sit to watch a show, or catch up on computer work … make a cup of tea and put on a homemade face mask, or start dry brushing , or something else that you’re interested in doing (my nightly skin routine has GREATLY replaced my fake dessert addiction).
I have also stopped watching TV on week nights … mainly I don’t have time (unless it is American Horror Story Season … especially if Finn Wittrock is a part of it … then I just become sleep deprived).
By the time I am done bathing the kids, cleaning the kitchen, making the lunches, showering, and doing my whole sleep routine thing, I am ready for bed and food isn’t a thought.
3. Get enough sleep.
Speaking of sleep … the more rest you get, the healthier your hormones, and the less likely you will be noshing at night.
I know, easier said than done.
Well, if you missed my post on sleep … go check it out. Hopefully there are some tips in there that can help you!
The other interesting thing is that back in my “mock dessert Dexter days” I was going to bed at 1am.
I got about 6 hours of sleep, and I thrive on more like 7 1/2 to 8 hours.
Now, I am in bed by 9:30 and asleep by 10:30pm! My, how things have changed!
I will say this, when we started getting in bed earlier at night, I also saw my evening snack habit go away, eventually not even thinking about it. I didn’t even really put 2 and 2 together until recently!
4. Remove Trigger Foods
This tip I feel so funny even posting, because it seems so simple! However, in all of my years as a personal trainer & sports nutritionist (I started going into people’s homes to help them change their lifestyle in 2003!), I will say that many people won’t do it, or don’t think to even try.
I get it.
If you have kids/husband/wife/roommate/parent that loves certain junk foods it makes it difficult.
However, this is why we need to get everyone on board with healthy eating and come to some type of solution.
If it’s kids, buy them snacks that don’t tempt you.
If it is a significant other, talk to them. Get them on board with supporting you, and maybe they will gain some healthier habits along the way as well.
Eventually, you will get out of the unhealthy routine and habit and it will no longer be an issue!
If you live alone, this is a no-brainer. Keep fresh food in the house that you have to prepare to eat. If you grabbing for potato chips, it probably isn’t hunger. If you are truly hungry, eat some hardboiled eggs and avocado with sea salt, or another high-protein, healthy fat snack!
Night snacking isn’t always “bad” … especially if whatever circumstance or lifestyle kept you from eating enough during the day.
Navigate that, prepare meals ahead, eat intuitively & mindfully, and try to keep that circadian rhythm of eating healthy for YOUR body.
5. Give Yourself More Credit
I can’t tell you how many times in my life I heard someone say:
“I could never not eat _____.” or “I could never give up my _____.”
Guess what … we can. If we really, really wanted to!
Wanting it is the first step.
Believing in yourself is next.
Learning all you can about your body, and what you are eating (education) will help motivate you to stick with it.
Applying all the above tips with whatever personal motivation you have can make you unstoppable!
For as many times as I heard the negative response as I “threatened” someone’s vice or encouraged them to dare move beyond their comfort zone, in the end, they ended up doing so with hard work! Some faster than others … some took YEARS to make changes.
And that is okay.
As long as that lightbulb eventually clicked!
Those who believe they have the ability to change their lives through their own actions tended to eat healthier, exercise more, smoke less, and avoid self-destructive habits.
What have you told yourself you “couldn’t do” or “change” in the past, that you ultimately did change?
I am sure there is something.
When I ask clients that question after a moment of self-doubt, we usually find it!
Use that to fuel your confidence and move past your comfort zone. Because you can definitely change that bad habit … if you want to!
Enjoy your weekend!
PS-If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder of any kind contact professional help.