Boogie Monsters: Taking the Fear out of Nighttime Munchies
In 2000, Sal and I lived in a flat across the street from Ocean Beach in San Francisco. It was the heyday, just before the crash really took hold (and tossed us out on our ear, mind you). As I watched the Tour de France, I picked up my cell phone, called up Kozmo delivery service and asked them to please deliver a six pack of beer, a pint of Ben N Jerry’s, and a fitness magazine.
Ahhhh, those were the days. If it wasn’t Kozmo delivered ice cream, it was Totino’s pizza bites by the handful.
I was a sucker for the nighttime munchies. They killed me.
Still do every once in a while. And I’m pretty sure I"m not alone.
So this blog entry is dedicated to some thoughts and strategies about dealing with nighttime eating.
Here’s the scene. You wake up, eat breakfast. Wait 5 hours, eat lunch. Wait another 5 or 6 hours, eat dinner. Then, 4 or 5 hours later you’re suddenly hungry. Really hungry. Well… duh. Of course you are. Even though you’ve already eaten your allotted calories for the day, you’re body is primed for more food.
Besides that, at night we typically engage in wind-down activities like reading books, or computer work, or tv-watching. Sitting around makes you become aware of your hunger even faster. TV is the worst what with all the visual stimulation programming you to be the best little consumer you can be. They may be selling you cars and cameras – but that translates into all kinds of hunger, I promise you.
I digress. My points here are two:
- If you are still eating plain old three meals a day then, chances are, you get the nighttime munchies because you are actually hungry. Your body is programmed to expect large meals every 5-6 hours. It’s time.
- Maybe you’re not really hungry (you’ve had a good post-dinner snack. You can’t justify wanting the food. You want really bad crap – like ice cream or tons of carbs.) This is different.
The most important thing that I can say that will likely address both these situations is eat early and eat often. If you start eating more frequently throughout the day, you’ll experience a whole bunch of benefits (increased metabolism, more stable blood sugar levels, increased energy, generally increased sensation of satiation, better food selection) not the least of which is, you will be perfectly set up to eat a completely justified meal at night.
The idea that eating at night is bad for you is pretty out-dated, and a lot of leading nutritionists and dietitians no longer believe that its a hard and fast rule. Sure, if you eat your day’s allotment of calories in three big meals and THEN eat more on top of that at night, it’s going to hurt you. But eating at night, per se, is not necessarily bad for you.
It comes down to what you eat, and what your daily caloric total is – are you meeting it with that last meal of the day, or are you exceeding it?
As soon as I started eating five meals a day instead of three, my nighttime demons disappeared almost completely. I simply didn’t have the same kind of cravings. I felt full and content all the time.
Better still? I’ve currently got my nighttime snack factored into my total caloric intake. I eat small meals that average 300 calories 6 times per day: 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm, 9-10pm. I have to tell you… sometimes that last meal is REALLY hard to fit in.
I usually do a protein shake, but when I’m feeling like I need an extra-special treat, I make it a double serving of Sugar-Free, Fat-Free Chocolate Pudding with a scoop of Jay Robb Chocolate Whey Isolate mixed in (178cal, 17g carb, 0 fat, 26g protein). It’s not the perfect meal, but it’s pretty damn good, and it makes me feel like I’m getting away with something.
Some of you might be thinking, "Yeah, but doesn’t that just sit in your gut and turn into fat because you’re not doing anything while you’re sleeping?"
Not really. The body still gets things done while you’re sleeping. Just not as much, and not as fast. However, a huge part of what goes on in the middle of the night is muscle repair. Protein (especially milk protein because it takes longer to process and therefore feeds your muscles for a longer period during the night) is great for this. And 17 grams of carbs is not going to kill me. Another great nighttime mini-meal is a serving of cottage cheese (milk protein again!).
The other strategy that I find works really well is drinking hot tea. It’s calming (go herbal at night, yo), it’s filling, and it’s cozy. It’s definitely one of the "triggers" that I use to let my body know it’s time to start thinking about powering down. A sugar-free, fat-free hot cocoa mix could work too, if you really can’t stand tea, but you’re not getting all the great benefits that tea has to offer. Heck, you could probably even just drink warm milk if you’re 2 years old and into that kind of thing :).
Here’s a re-cap, and a few other tips for dealing with cravings and nighttime munchies:
- Don’t be afraid of them. Instead, factor them in. Plan for them. Then just make sure that your late night meal is a quality one.
- Switch to 5-6 small meals per day. You’ll feel fuller longer, and it will be easier to factor in that evening snack.
- Plan ahead: have some healthy options around. In the summer I love frozen blueberries or Maggie Wang’s protein fudgesicles!
- If you haven’t planned for the night calories, and you’re really struggling with a craving, take 5 minutes to write down your thoughts about the cravings – why you want it… ok, now why you REALLY want it. Be honest, be funny, whatever. Writing it down will make you think about it more. Seeing the words on paper will make lame excuses brutally apparent.
- Start with a glass of water. You always need more water, right? Drink a glass and promise yourself to wait 10 minutes. Both the time to think, and the water in your belly may help you push through.
- Go in with your eyes wide open… if you decide to eat something, pull up Sparkpeople or FitDay quickly and use their nutrition trackers to see what kind of damage you’re really doing. Sometimes a small dose of reality is all we need to shake us back into our right minds and help us make healthier decisions.
- Suck a lemon. Ha ha. I’m kidding – but seriously, I saw this somewhere once as a nighttime eating strategy. It seems a little ridiculous, and a little extreme but, hey, don’t knock it til you try it, right? ;)
What about you? How do you deal with your cravings at night?
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