There are some simple tricks to beat late-night cravings.
We all know that cracking out the chips and M&Ms or tucking into ice-cream late at night isn’t going to be good for your waistline.
But it turns out even eating what you consider to be healthy food later in the evening isn’t helpful for maintaining or losing weight either — and if you generally eat dinner or snack a lot after 8pm, it could be sabotaging your best health intentions.
“The human body is programmed to a 24-hour circadian rhythm,” dietitian Susie Burrell, founder of the Shape Me program, explained to Coach.
“Our metabolism and hormones are programmed to do their work in the day when humans are active, and then store, build and recover at night when we rest.
“This means that in order to keep our metabolism at its best, ideally we will eat most of the calories we need during the day, and then allow our bodies to have 10-12 hours without food overnight. When it comes to dinner, this means ideally we should try and consume our last meal of the day by 8pm at the latest.”
If you find it near impossible to resist snacking between dinner and going to bed, don’t worry, you’re not alone. According to Burrell, it’s the time of the day we’re most vulnerable to cravings and likely to run out of willpower.
“Self-control is like a muscle that loses its efficiency as the day progresses, especially if it’s the time of day you’ve become programmed to treat yourself while watching TV, socialising or to soothe yourself after a tiring, stressful day.”
Unfortunately, like with any long-term health results, there’s no quick-fix solution.
“Stick to a personal rule that you have one portion-controlled treat each night, or that you do not eat after dinner, no exceptions,” Burrell suggests.
“The first night you try and break a habit, it is difficult. The second, maybe not so easy either — but once you get three or four days under your belt, you’ll be well on your way to owning and managing your tendency to overeat at night.”
Another solution is actually pretty simple: just go to bed earlier. Not only will you be asleep before hunger or cravings begin, but sleep has been shown to be one of the best weapons we have in the fight against weight gain.
“The longer we go without food overnight, ideally 10-14 hours, the better it is for the hormones that control fat metabolism,” Burrell says.
If you can’t avoid eating late at night, due to your working hours or other commitments, there are things you can do to minimise the negative impacts.
“If you regularly find yourself eating dinner after 8pm, it may be worth swapping your evening meal to lunchtime and then enjoying a lighter snack in the evening,” Burrell advises.
If you struggle to make a healthy choice when you get home late, get organised and make a batch of vegetable-based soup, meat and vegetables, or a frittata, and freeze it in portioned containers so you always have something nutritious and light to eat.
“Keep a supply of tinned soups, tins of beans, tuna or salmon and one or two salad vegetables that can be converted into a quick, yet nutritious meal in no time.”
And when possible, try to resist ordering takeaway, says Burrell.
“Any meal you purchase away from the home will contain at least 200-300 calories more than the same meal you would prepare at home thanks to the extra oils, sauces and condiments.”