Icon Nutrition: fighting those after dinner sweet cravings?
Do you ever find yourself in this scenario: you eat a dinner that is satisfying and filling, and you say to yourself, ‘I am good for the rest of the night.’ Then another hour or two rolls around, maybe you’re watching a show on TV, and you find yourself say, ‘I’ll just have a little snack…’. And sometimes that is all that you get; sometimes you find yourself going back for more (and maybe even more after that). Sound familiar? This is actually quite common among many individuals, not just athletes. Here are some tips for addressing this evening/nighttime snacking that potentially may be derailing your health and nutrition goals:
- Distribution, distribution, distribution. This the most common reason for evening cravings – you eat a small breakfast (if at all), a ‘healthy’ lunch (that is possibly quite low in calories), and then you get home and you’re starving. Famished. This all-too-common scenario can really set us up for disaster and is the most common culprit for late night cravings. Research consistently shows that if you under-eat in the first half of the day, you are more likely to overeat in the second half. So, if you’re tracking your intake such as with MyFitnessPal, check out your calorie distribution throughout the day – is it even? Some research actually indicates getting more calories for breakfast and fewer calories at dinner (with lunch in between) as the most successful way to support healthy weight loss. While this pattern may not be realistic for you, at least ensure you are getting at least half of your days’ worth of calories by the time you finish lunch.
- Are you going too low in carbohydrates? A diet too low in carbohydrates (unless a ketogenic diet, and that has been addressed previously) can result in increased sugar cravings. This is the body telling you it needs more of its preferred fuel, carbohydrates, so it craves sugar in the hopes that you will eat them. Your primal body doesn’t care if it’s in the form of an apple, or a glazed donut – it just needs the final metabolic product: glucose. Of course, for health reasons, the apple has many benefits over the donut. But to prevent this from happening in the first place, aim to consume adequate complex carbohydrates (starchy vegetables and whole, intact grains) and fruits, and milk and yogurt if appropriate. See the Vault for more information on healthy sources of carbohydrates.
- Are you being overly restrictive? Is your calorie deficit too large (such as if you are aiming for more than 0.5-1.0 lb weight loss/week)? This can result in increased cravings, particularly in the evening, and is related to the point made in #1.
- Set yourself up to be successful. Maybe you’re doing everything right in steps 1 through 3 – you’re consuming adequate carbohydrates and calories and these nutrients are evenly distributed throughout the day – you’re just finding yourself wanting a little something in the evening, but you’re telling yourself you shouldn’t. I might suggest a shift in mindset. Having a little snack at night can be perfectly fine, can work within your nutrition and health goals, and can still be enjoyable (that is, without guilt). Here are some tips:
- Keep it manageable. A 100-150 kcal snack is completely appropriate and by planning for this, you can prevent it from leading into a 450 kcal (or more!) snack… Those who have weight gain goals or overall have a higher kcal intake can have a larger snack and still fall within the recommendations provided in steps 1-3.
- Plan it into your daily calorie goals. Account for a 100-150 kcal snack at night. Maybe you decrease your 3 meals by 50 calories each – this is likely to go unnoticed during the day and will decrease the guilt at night when it’s been accounted for. Again, this snack can be higher in calories depending upon your weight goals and total caloric intake.
- Get some protein with it! This addresses one of our goals of getting some protein before bed (listen to the recovery nutrition audio file – this explains why), and helps us to feel full so we are satisfied with a small to moderate snack.
- Set yourself up to be successful by having good options available. If there’s nothing appropriate available then the chips might come out, and we all know how where that can lead us… Here are some suggestions to try (note: many of these have some sweetness/chocolate added in for those sweet-tooth’s out there!):
- A 5-7 ounce carton plain Greek yogurt with a teaspoon Nutella (~130 – 180 calories depending upon type of yogurt used)
- Greek yogurt + berries
- ½ cup cottage cheese + a serving of whole wheat crackers
- A fruit smoothie
- A chocolate protein shake blended with a frozen banana
- Banana Nice Cream – a healthier variant of ice cream. The blogger ‘Chocolate Covered Katie’ has 10 different recipes linked here.
- Frozen grapes and a string cheese
- Bowl of cereal – aim for a higher protein cereal such as Kashi Go Lean (3/4 cup) with ¾ cup milk
- Apple with peanut butter