It is something that happens to the best of us; even those of us with will-powers forged in iron. One moment we are sitting there, watching TV, innocently contemplating the fact that a late-night snack might be enjoyable. Suddenly, the next thing we know we have inhaled an entire box of chips (or bag of chocolate chips, or an entire pizza… depending of course on our guilty-pleasure of choice…). Afterwards, baffled and surrounded by empty boxes/bags/bowls and the crumbs and crusts that are all that remain of our “snacks”, we guiltily try to piece together what just happened, and – more importantly – what we can do to stop it from happening again. Luckily, there are some things that we can do to stop this late-night slip-up that so many of us fall prey to. I will discuss some of these in this article in the hopes of arming others against the pitfalls of the “late-night pigout”.
1) Know Yourself, and Know Your Enemy
The first step to gaining control of your eating habits (and then changing them) is to know what they are to begin with. This sounds obvious, but many people eat mindlessly without really thinking a lot about what it is that they are putting into their mouths. Some “graze” around the kitchen nibbling on various things in the cupboards and fridge; others eat in a “zombie-like” fashion while engrossed in their favorite TV show. Often when a dietician begins working with a new client they will have the client make a “food diary” where they record everything eaten for a period of time, and often people are very, very surprised!
Part of knowing yourself and knowing your eating habits is knowing your weaknesses, and this is something that comes with observation as well. For some, the weakness is greasy food, others find themselves craving sugar, or for others it may be a delicious salty snack, ice-cream etc. In addition to the food of choice is the time of choice. This article is focusing specifically on evenings and night-times since this is a very common time for cravings to crop up but other times can be problematic as well (perhaps you are right beside a vending machine at work or have a weakness for greasy take-out breakfasts…). Regardless of your personal situation, knowledge is power, so pay attention to your habits and you will be on your way to taking control of them.
2) Keep Yourself Busy
Now that you know what times of day your cravings raise their ugly heads, as well as what situation brings them on (for example whenever you are in front of the TV), you are in a position to change the situation and keep yourself busy with something else that you enjoy. Give your mind something else to focus on and you will keep it from drifting toward the topic of food. If you have trouble in the evenings, consider going for a walk or a swim. If you really do want your sit-down time in the evening but this is a problematic time for cravings, you could keep your hands and brain busy by reading, knitting, surfing the Internet etc.
Through trial-and-error you can figure out which distraction tactics work best for you. If none of them work, do not despair. You can still resort to the next 2 tips…
3) Give Yourself Alternatives
There are alternatives out there that can satisfy your need for a snack and keep your mouth and hands busy, but that do not pack as many calories as the typical snack food. An example that I used while quitting smoking are “baby carrots”. These make you feel like you are snacking on something and can curb cravings for food (or cigarettes!) but have almost no calories. Another option is butterless popcorn (it can be good with seasoning and/or vinegar), fruit, vegetables and dip, yogurt with frozen berries etc.
The alternatives do not necessarily have to be in solid form to help curb cravings. I have often found that making a pot of herbal tea and sipping that helps a lot with curbing cravings. It also provides much-needed fluids which is great since many people do not drink enough of these. Ice-water with lemon is also refreshing and delicious and may be all it takes to curb a craving (often symptoms of thirst are mistaken for those of hunger…).
4) Maintain a Safe Environment
It is a simple fact that it is much harder to break down and start scarfing down food if that food is not in your house to begin with, so making sure that your home is a “safe environment” can go a long way where snacking is concerned. This is especially useful for people who live in the country because they will tend to really think twice before actually driving somewhere to get some junk food (especially in the winter!). It also helps you to avoid temptation as seeing the food in front of you when you go into the kitchen can make it alot more difficult to resist than just imagining it.
5) Prepare for Failure… and Don’t Beat Yourself Up!
Even with all of these tips in place, you may still experience the odd late-night pigout and find yourself, as before, wondering what just happened. This is something to prepare for as well and to be able to deal with when it does happen. As long as it is happening less, you are still successful and there is no need to beat yourself up or give up in frustration. Besides, the odd junk-food snackfest can be a great experience, as long as overall you are happy with your health and your choices. The key is to get to a point where you control the food, and it doesn’t control you.