It’s midnight — a few hours after dinner. Your body’s getting ready to shut down for the night as is your brain (if it hasn’t already!). Next thing you know, you get the munchies. Unfortunately, at this moment you’re going to eat whatever is closest and easiest, and invariably that means something as unhealthy as it is yummy. And a whole day’s effort of being careful goes down the drain in a matter of seconds.
Theoretically, nutrition professionals emphasise on eating every two to three hours. This helps keep the metabolism up, the insulin to stay stable and prevents the body from going into starvation mode (i.e. hoarding). My point is, if your last meal was at 9 pm and you are a late sleeper (which anyone with a midnight binging habit is), then technically around 12 am you should be eating your next meal. Right?
Wrong. Because after the last meal of the day, you are going to sleep and won’t be able to burn down those extra calories. That’s why the ‘eat every few hours advice’ ends with dinner. However, if you are extra mindful about your midnight food choices, you will be able to not wreck your diet. Here’s how:
Low calories: Stick to healthy low-calorie options. This way it is not detrimental to your diet. It is easy to say this on paper, but when the ice cream cravings begin to creep in, all the health goals seem irrelevant. Remember, you are making a big mistake if you just give in. You could settle with a glass of skim milk having 90 calories or have a bowl of ice cream with 200 calories. The choice is at once very easy and very difficult.
Plan: With a little bit of planning you can bring in this additional meal in your routine, keeping your fitness goals and the diet undisturbed. Make sure it is a meal which is calculated as a part of your daily requirement. If you are certain of a late night, keep the snacks prepared for yourself beforehand to avoid picking up the unwanted stuff. Sprouts salad sticks work best.
Frequent meals: If you are not eating enough or skipping meals through the day, you are going to be hungry and end up with late night munchies. Try to eat fairly regular meals in the day with minimal gaps. This will keep the stomach full and can help in preventing a dinner after dinner.
Distance: Don’t store your stash in your bedside drawer. Let the food stay away from your room. Keep it where it’s not easy to grab. Sometimes if it is not in your sight you may just dismiss the craving considering the effort you’ll have to make to go and get the food.
Emotional control: If your mood is not manageable, the food you choose will be uncontrollable. Emotional eating and leaning on comfort food can make the weight skyrocket. All you need to do is calm yourself and deal with the problem on hand. Whether you’re upset or purely pmsing, you cannot justify finishing a bar of chocolate. Try to mediate or exercise to elevate the mood. When the unwanted craving begins just deep breathe and allow it to pass away. If this doesn’t help reach out for the healthy snacks and keep the high- sugar, high-fat foods at bay.
Baby steps: If you feel night time binging is like an addiction and you cannot stop instantly, then flip to healthier choices rather than completely stopping it. Take one step at a time. Once you are confident and in better control over your food and emotions, gradually wean yourself completely from snacking at night.
Professional help: Get yourself an individualised plan from a nutritionist that includes late night snacking without hampering your weight goals. Discuss your lack of self control over post dinner meals and the urge to grab any food lying around. By discussing your needs, getting good nutrition guidance and establishing a regular meal plan, you may not need late night snacking at all.
Water: Sometimes it’s not hunger, its just thirst. Drink two-three glasses of water or have a cup of green tea. You’ll be surprised at how quickly the hunger can vanish.
If you have to choose a midnight snack, take my advice and stick to the following — plain low fat yoghurt, sugar free jelly, nuts, cucumbers, apples, carrot sticks, milk, sprouts, channa and high-fibre oatmeal. So when you wake up the next day, all guilt-ridden and upset, you won’t have to start your day with the usual depressing questions like’“did that one snack ruin my entire diet?’, ‘Are the effects of eating late night irreversible?’, ‘Since I’ve broken the diet I may as well continue breaking it?’ By the way, the answer to all of the above is NO. There’s nothing wrong with midnight snacks. And, as always, I refuse to deny anyone anything they like and insist that favourite foods be incorporated into a balanced diet. It’s all about controlling quality and quantity! Stay healthy!