We are pleased to bring you this regular column by Dr. David Creel, a licensed psychologist, certified clinical exercise physiologist and registered dietitian. He is also credentialed as a certified diabetes educator and the author of A Size That Fits: Lose Weight and Keep it off, One Thought at a Time (NorLightsPress, 2017).
Do you have a weight loss question for Dr. Creel? Email him at [email protected]. He may answer your question in a future column.
Reader Question: No matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to resist snacking after dinner. A handful of chips turns into a bag, or a piece of chocolate turns into 10 pieces. What are some strategies I can use to control my evening binging?
This is a great question about a common challenge. There is no best approach for everyone, but here are five possible ways to curb your late-night eating. You may choose to combine several of these strategies to make them work for you.
- Keep unhealthy foods out of the house. I know this sounds simple, but it almost always works. In the evening, we are looking for something tasty and convenient. We are unlikely to leave the comfort of our home for a snack. This out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach also helps avoid feeling deprived. Not eating tempting foods that are in front of us often requires a lot of restraint and mental energy. So don’t make it so hard — save your energy for times when you have less control of the food that is within arm’s reach.
- Enlist support from other family members. If other household members resist this idea of keeping trigger foods out of the house, talk to them about it. At a minimum you can usually convince them to store things out of sight. On more than one occasion, patients have told me that their spouse stores trigger foods in their car, the garage, or an out-of-reach cabinet.
- Plan your snacks and enjoy them — in moderation. Most of the time we want to focus on eating something that is healthy and tasty -— fruit, vegetables with dip, etc. Make these foods extra appealing with their presentation. Place them on a plate, in bite-size portions, and focus only on eating (sort of like snack-time for young children). To be more intentional with this approach, try eating only at the table rather than in front of the TV or other electronic device.
- Practice eating not-so-healthy foods. I realize this doesn’t work for everyone. But in my experience, all-or-nothing approaches are usually unsustainable when it comes to snacking on foods you have determined you don’t want to live without. Although keeping tempting unhealthy foods out of the house is a good idea, this doesn’t mean you can never have a pleasurable indulgence. I have actually asked patients to bring chocolate or other snacks to our sessions. During our meeting I guide them through a mindful eating practice where they eat a small amount slowly, savoring each bite. I ask them to let go of guilt and simply enjoy the food. Learning to eat highly pleasurable foods in this way can build confidence to occasionally consume a favorite snack in moderation. It can also make foods less appealing when we remove the “forbidden” label.
- Determine the function of food and find an alternative. Late night eating can be related to boredom, stress, or simply habit. If you are eating out of boredom, what else could you do? I would encourage you to literally make a list and plan to do something from your list each evening. It should usually be something fairly simple. Food is easily accessible and highly pleasurable, and so your alternative should be, too. Is there a book you’ve been wanting to read or an instrument you want to learn to play? Is there a trip you would enjoy planning or some music you could listen to while knitting, crafting, or working on a home-improvement project? If you are eating to deal with the stress of your day, consider calling a friend, writing in a journal, or walking the dog.