First, though, realize that you might not even have a real problem.
For instance, you may have heard that nighttime eating is a no-no, or that every calorie consumed after a certain hour magically turns to fat. Sure, metabolism slows at night - but not to a screeching halt. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with eating after dinner if you’re truly hungry. The question is... are you?
Late-night cravings are common in people who don’t eat enough during the day. Meal timing is also important for those who don't eat much during the day - saving most of their calories for the evening meal - because they often have a difficult time not eating after dinner. Make sure your breakfast and lunch are rich in protein and fiber and low in sugar - and you may not want nighttime snacks at all. Problem solved! However, if you just can’t stop your stomach’s late night grumblings, consider the following strategies:
Investigate Your Hunger
Is your stomach really grumbling, or is your appetite all in your head? The first step when you think you’re feeling hungry is to figure out whether it’s actual hunger or if there’s something else gnawing at you. Often the culprit is habit, boredom, or an emotional trigger.
When you cheat on your diet with late-night eating, ask yourself a few questions in the morning, such as, "What kind of mood was I in when I decided to have cookies last night? Was I feeling a certain way? Was I bored? Was I stressed? Was I sad or worried about something?” If there’s a mood-food connection, take a look at the underlying triggers. Distraction often helps. Come up with a list of tasks that don’t involve food, such as putting dishes away, texting a friend, brushing your teeth or some form of useful work. When a craving strikes, do something from the list. Hang the list on the wall if you have to!
Meditate on Your Cravings
Before you reach for a snack, take a few moments to center yourself. In a study published in the journal Appetite, people who did a brief meditation called a body scan - in which you focus your attention on each area of your body (feet, legs, torso, hands, arms, etc.), noticing and accepting feelings and sensations - kept their cravings from intensifying. Over time, such “mindful meditation” can have even greater benefits, according to researchers at the University of California. In their recent review in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, they found that meditation can reduce binge eating.
Drink Some Tea
Stress often triggers late-night snacking. After a long, tiring day, it’s common to seek out a reward in the form of a late-night nibble. How about pouring a cup of decaf herbal tea instead. It’s calming, and it fills your stomach. Pick a flavor you like enough that you’ll look forward to drinking it. Some brews, like passionflower, might even help you snooze.
Some people are hardwired to want sugar. A study published in Twin Research and Human Genetics shows that our perception of sweetness is largely determined by a single set of genes. If you tend to crave dessert at night, finish your dinner with a low-calorie sweet treat, suggests Gerg. This will help prevent you from bingeing later on a quest for sweetness. Try 10 frozen grapes or a clementine, or for a creamier option, try Chia Pudding.
Consume More Protein
Sometimes you really are legitimately hungry in the P.M. because you didn’t eat enough earlier in the day - or you trained hard enough for your muscles to need more fuel for recovery. A high-calorie nighttime meal isn’t the solution, but a dose of protein is.
Some research suggests that consuming casein, an easy-to-digest milk protein, at night has several fitness benefits. In one study in young men, nighttime casein boosted morning metabolism. In another study in obese women, casein improved morning fullness so long as participants also worked out three times a week. All these threats - ‘don’t eat after 7, don’t eat after 8,’ - really don’t make sense in the context of making a smart food choice. Just keep the snack below 150 calories. Our recommendation: Beachbody Performance Recharge, which will supply you with 20 grams of casein for just 100 calories. In a pinch, a couple of scrambled eggs or ¾ cup cottage cheese or also good options.