Sunday, January 4, 2009

Defeating the Midnight Munchies

You planned all your meals and tracked every second of the day. You're on the home straight — but what's this? It's late at night and you're in the throes of a snack attack! Here's how to deal.

The problem
Help, it’s midnight, I can’t sleep and I just want to snack. How can I stop the nighttime munchies?

The solution
Remember when you were a kid at bedtime, and you were afraid that as soon as the lights went off the monster lurking in the back of your closet was going to come out and get you? Now that you're an adult, you know that nighttime monsters don't really exist. Or do they?

Nighttime munchies are a scourge that has affected every dieter at one time or another — knowing how to successfully deal with late-night cravings is one of the keys to effective weight loss. No matter how good you have been during the day, something hits you at night, usually around 10 o’clock, and you must eat, NOW.

What are some strategies you can use to control your late-night snacking urges? Surprisingly, the best way to help avoid the nighttime munchies is to make sure you eat breakfast and lunch.

Establish regular meal times and patterns. Erratic schedules and skipping meals, especially breakfast, set you up to overeat later in the day. I liken breakfast to fuel for a car. While we are able to run without proper fuel for a while, at a certain point each of us would 'crash' and start scarfing down any food within sight. That's when nighttime snacking comes in.

It's also important to understand the difference between true, physical hunger and emotional hunger or boredom. The urge to late-night snack usually comes from the latter and not the former.

If you aren't physically hungry, then you may need to explore simple deterrents to eating. One of the best is brushing your teeth and using a strong mouthwash. That will make anything you eat afterward taste bad. You can also go on a short walk, call a friend, answer email, organize your desk or just sit alone quietly for 10 minutes. Usually if you wait a few minutes, this desire to eat may subside. Lastly, you may just be thirsty. Thirst is easily confused with hunger. Have a sugar-free beverage and call it a night.

However, if you are actually physically hungry, you should eat. Depriving yourself of food when you’re truly hungry can lead to binge eating later on, which is much, much worse than simply having a nighttime bowl of cereal.

I recommend a rice cake with a little cashew butter on it or a small apple with a slice of low-fat cheese or a cup of yogurt or even a handful of mixed nuts. (Just don't eat the whole jar.)

If, after all this, you just can't stop the night munching and you're waking up in the middle of the night and snacking, you might be suffering from a rare eating disorder called night eating syndrome.

Night eating syndrome is characterized by overeating during the evening and waking at least three nights a week to eat. The evening overeating has to be at least 25 percent of the daily caloric intake after supper, and there has to be a minimum of three nighttime awakenings during the week. It's important to distinguish these awakenings from binges. The average caloric intake of a nighttime digestion is 280 calories, which is not a binge by any means.

If this describes you, then you should consult your physician. Treatments include a form of anti-depressant that works through serotonin, a neural transmitter, and cognitive behavior therapies.

Yes, nighttime monsters do exist, but it’s better face them rather than run screaming to the kitchen.

Here are some things you can do to stop the midnight snacking:

Make sure you eat a good breakfast and lunch.

If you feel like snacking, have a big glass of water first

Stay busy — a lot of nighttime eating is sparked by boredom.

There are some great novels and films out there.

Or, go for a nighttime ramble with the dog.

Keep calories/POINTS® value friendly snacks, like low-fat popcorn or rice cakes, handy for those times when you just have to treat yourself. To cure that crunch craving, try baby carrots.

My favorite trick to avoid night time noshing is simply to drink a big mug of herbal tea. I've recently picked this habit back up & not only am I back to NOT snacking at night .. I'm also back to sleeping straight through.


  1. I have always had a hard time dealing with late night snacking. Thanks for all the great ideas. Have a super Sunday.

  2. i dont have that night time eating disorder, I just eat at night and I dont know why. Sigh.