One afternoon in my office, every client I met with for nutrition advice reported having problems with snacking too much at night. Each person thought that eating too many snacks after dinner disrupted their attempts to lose weight and resulted in higher blood glucose readings in the morning. They were frustrated and upset with themselves, and wanted ideas on how to stop this behavior.
At first, I started to launch into some strategies for foiling this kind of conduct, but then I decided to speak more generally about problem-solving.
General Steps for Solving Problems
- Identify the problem—and be specific.
- Explore why the problem occurs.
- Brainstorm potential solutions.
- Try out the solutions and evaluate their effects.
1. Identify the Problem
Be as specific as you can. What, when, where, and how often? My clients identified snacking too much at night as the problem. Does this happen every night? Just at home? Are you more apt to snack like this when you are alone?
2. Explore Why the Problem Occurs
Try to determine the cause of the problem. Is there a common set of circumstances or a particular situation that triggers your nighttime snacking? Some common triggers are:
- Being physically hungry because you didn’t eat enough during the day. Do you skip or restrict what you eat for breakfast and lunch, and then get very hungry at night?
- Being upset or anxious about something. We often choose food as a way to cope with negative emotions.
- Being bored. Eating is a pleasant experience that gives us something to do.
- Feeling lonely. Again, eating something can help reduce unhappy feelings.
- Feeling tired. Here, going to bed is probably more helpful than staying up and eating.
- Having low blood glucose levels. Are you looking around for food because your blood glucose level is low? When feeling hungry at night, do you check your glucose?
3. Brainstorm Potential Solutions
What are some alternative ways to deal with your triggers?
- Eat more food during the day to increase your feelings of satisfaction and satiety and to reduce your appetite at night.
- Make a list of other ways to cope with unpleasant emotions and boredom. Some ideas: take a walk, attend an exercise class, call or visit a friend, write in a journal, divert yourself with a hobby that you enjoy.
- Prevent low blood glucose levels. Report your numbers to your physician and have them adjust your diabetes medications.
4. Try the Solutions and Evaluate Their Effects
Try out the various alternatives you’ve come up with for diverting your attention away from food, see what works the best, and repeat as needed!
Nighttime snacks can be part of a healthy eating plan, as long as the portion sizes are reasonable. Make sure you have healthy foods available, like fresh fruits, vegetables, 100-calorie snack packs, light yogurt, and cheese and crackers. Read the nutrition labels on snack foods and limit your portions to 100-200 calories.
Eating too much at night is a common problem but looking for and trying new solutions can help change a worrisome habit into a healthy one!