Are You a Midnight Muncher?
Break the late-night eating habit
By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
Does the refrigerator call your name after dark? Chances are, you satisfied your hunger at dinner, so these late-night munchies are not about being hungry. Instead, they're a result of habit, boredom, stress, or fatigue after a long, hard day. No matter what the cause, eating at night usually leads to overeating, and can wreak havoc on your weight-loss diet.
For many people, late-night eating is just a habit -- it's quiet at night, no one is around to see you eat, and it's a peaceful time to enjoy your favorite foods. Unfortunately, this habit has got to go if you are going to lose weight permanently. If you eat more calories at times of day when you're not expending much energy, you're likely to gain weight.
Breaking Free of Late-Night Eating
But keep in mind that it's not necessarily the time you eat that leads to weight gain, but the type of foods you tend to eat late at night. Favorite foods for after-dark munching include ice cream, potato chips, chocolate, desserts -- you get the picture. Your body does not process food differently after dark, but nighttime tends to be the most sedentary time of the day, when your calorie needs are minimal. The bottom line: Eating after dinner tends to pack on the pounds.
So what's a dieter to do? The ideal solution is to eat three square meals a day and avoid all between-meal eating. Because that is not so easy to do, here are 10 tips to help you get over midnight munching:
Here's one more important consideration: Make sure you have not cut your calorie intake so low that you are starving at night. You may need to bump up your daytime calories a bit to stave off late-night hunger. But before you create a new eating plan, make sure that your urge to eat at night is really hunger -- not boredom or just habit.
The most successful dieters eat three meals a day and resist the temptation to snack between meals and after dinner. Oprah Winfrey's diet guru, Bob Greene, advises clients not to eat at all after 8 p.m., as a technique to limit total calories.
So if you're plagued by midnight munchies, do your best to get yourself into a regular meal routine. Keep it simple, and remember that your main goal is to get into the habit of not eating after dinner.
Originally published Sept. 12, 2003.
SOURCES: American Journal of Epidemiology, July 2003. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, July 2003.
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