Q. I eat a healthy dinner, but I can't go a night without sweet cravings in the evening. How can I stop this late night snacking?
A. If you are craving a snack after dinner, you aren’t alone. Many people do, and there are a few reasons as to why. If you are eating too little at dinner, or choosing foods that are not filling, you may start to crave an evening snack due to hunger. But it’s not always hunger that has you headed toward the kitchen either. It’s possible that sweet craving is coming from a desire to “treat yourself” as you relax and unwind from the day. It can also stem from boredom at night and eating is an “activity” that gives you something to do.
To stop these evening cravings, first you need to identify if you are truly hungry or if your desire to snack is coming from boredom or emotional reasons. Before reaching for that snack, ask yourself if you are truly hungry. Is your stomach growling? If you aren’t sure, a good strategy is to wait 15 minutes before reaching for a snack. If you are still feeling the need to eat after this time, you are most likely hungry whereas a craving would typically pass. Another strategy is to allow yourself to snack on only vegetables or fruit. If you are truly hungry, any food choice will help to fill you up. If you are just craving a snack or “sweet treat” for emotional reasons or due to boredom, the idea of having produce may not be as appealing as the cookie you've been eyeing.
If hunger is the cause of your need to snack at night, look at your current dinner choices and see how you can improve them to make your meal more filling. Can you add an extra serving of vegetables to boost fiber without adding many calories? Can you increase your serving of lean protein to improve your feeling of fullness, or drink an extra glass of water with your meal? Changes like this will not elevate blood sugar levels, but will help to leave you more satisfied so you can pass on that nighttime snack.
If you have boosted your intake at dinner and find you are still hungry at night, it’s fine to have a healthy snack. Choices that contain a balance of lean protein and healthy fat along with a complex carbohydrate are your best bet.
Some options include:
• almond butter on apple slices
• 1 oz. of low-fat cheese with a handful of nuts
• 3 cups of air-popped popcorn
• carrot sticks and hummus
• ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese with fresh berries
If you are craving something salty and sweet and just can’t shake it, try making my favorite no-guilt nighttime snack:
Chocolate Popcorn Trail Mix
3 cups air popped popcorn
¼ cup slivered almonds
¼ cup raisins
2 Tbsp. dark chocolate chips
Mix together, serve, and enjoy! Makes 2 servings.
Whenever you snack in the evening, make sure to practice mindful eating habits to help fight against boredom eating which can lead to excess calorie intake and elevate blood sugar levels. To do this, when you snack, make sure to focus on the food you are eating and remove all distractions. Turn off the TV and the computer and sit down to eat your snack. Make sure you focus on what you are eating and involve all of your senses. What does the food taste like? Smell like? What is the texture of the food? The more you ‘experience’ the food instead of quickly gobbling it up, the more satisfied you will feel and the less likely you will be tempted to go back for more.