Hi everyone! Can you believe January is almost over?! It's CRAZY! The busyness of my dietetic internship isn't slowing down anytime soon, so I apologize for the longer breaks between posts.
RECAP: I vowed to address your nutrition questions, and I certainly have a lot of topics I will continue to address during the coming weeks. I started by talking about maintaining gut health while on antibiotics. Then, I started a series of posts to address your numerous questions about what to eat and when to eat it.
In my first post of the series I talked about eating when you aren't hungry. Second, I addressed nighttime eating. Nighttime eating can be good and bad. In my last post I talked about identifying night eating habits that fall into the "not so good" category, and what to do about it. If you didn't read that post, please do so before reading this one.
Today's post is for those of you that have identified your less than ideal nighttime snacking habits and are working on improving them. It is also for those of you who are just plain confused about if it's OKAY to eat at night!
Let's revisit my rules about timing and eating: Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry. Eat real food. These three rules are all you need to determine if you should skip that night snack, or not.
Eat when you are hungry.
If you are hungry, EAT! There is no cut-off time when eating suddenly becomes bad.
Personally, my stomach starts rumbling around 9 or 930 pm (dinner is usually around 6). Now, I can just ignore it and go to sleep at 10 or 1030 without food (and a growling stomach), or I can eat. Usually I will eat. Yes, you should eat when you are hungry. But, if it is really close to bedtime and you prefer to skip it that is okay. If I know I am about to brush my teeth and get in bed then I might just have some water. Nothing bad will happen if you choose not to eat, especially if you wake up and break your fast. However, for most people it seems deciding not to eat comes from guilt, and you should not feel guilty about nourishing your body when it asks for food.
Remember this quote?: "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper."
You should not be going to bed feeling stuffed from a dinner you ate 4 hours ago. In fact, hunger at night may actually be a good sign that you didn't stuff yourself at dinner. Remember, you do not need as much fuel at dinner since you move less later in the day. If you work on implementing a (bigger) breakfast and lunch then your body will not want a giant dinner. You will find that eating (enough) real food throughout the daytime hours makes a smaller dinner both satisfying and filling. I like to fill up on a salad. It sounds lame, but I actually look forward to eating my salad each night. Plain lettuce is boring, but I add crumbled cheese, tomatoes, olives, and plenty of olive oil, vinegar and spices for the perfect meal base!
So if your stomach is growling or you're just feeling a little empty, have something little 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed. When you are hungry, remember: it is the quantity and quality of what you eat that matters, not when you eat it.
Listen to your body.
Listening to your body means being in touch with your hunger. It goes hand in hand with rule #1. This is particularly important during the evening hours. If your body is hungry for dinner, eat! Do not wait until you are absolutely ravenous because that will inevitably lead to overeating. Just because you are meeting friends out for a meal or you are expecting the rest of your family home at a later time doesn't not mean you should push your hunger aside. Have a small snack to calm your growling stomach. This will help you approach dinner with mindfulness and control. This in turn allows for a small nighttime snack and ensures you won't head to bed stuffed! Your choices earlier in the day set the stage for cravings at night. Set yourself up for success and you will find bad nighttime habits are be easier to break.
Listening to your body also means being in touch with what your body needs. Often times it is easier to hear what our body is telling us during the daytime. Self-awareness and self-control decrease as the day goes on. Don't let yourself lose touch at night! Your body may be asking for a bag of chips because you are sitting in front of the television, it does not need those chips.
If you are making an effort to eat breakfast, lunch, and snacks as needed throughout the day and you are including real foods that balance your energy and blood sugar, you are doing great! An intentional night snack can be a healthy addition to your life! Don't be scared of food because the clock reads a certain time! Some nighttime fuel helps your body continue to function while you sleep.
Eat real food.
Okay, so now that you no longer feel scared of that nighttime hunger, what should you eat?
You know the answer, real food, of course. I recommend eating your snack out of a bowl rather than the bag / container. This helps create mindfulness and helps you to listen to your body. Sit down and enjoy.
My "snack attack" post highlights some of my favorite snacks. A smaller portion of any of these ideas are a great choice. I try to avoid carbohydrate/sugar dense foods. This means, three cookies is not a good bedtime snack, neither is a bowl of ice cream (read about the effects of excess carbs/sugar here).
I like to enjoy a tea at night because it helps to fill me up and helps to ward off bored or stress eating. A small source of natural carbohydrates with fat or protein to go with it is a good option too. Here are some of my favorites:
- spoonful of nut butter, alone or with a small amount of fruit
- a few squares of dark chocolate with nuts
- half of a Larabar
- a glass of full fat milk (if you eat dairy)
- celery and peanut butter
- a leftover pancake or two from the weekend
- roasted squash with cinnamon
- cheese and grapes or nuts
- a spoonful of coconut butter
- homemade paleo muffin or loaf i made that week
- grain-free granola
There you have it. I do not want you to be scared of eating at night. Work on addressing any "bad habits" one day at a time. Then, embrace and enjoy a little nighttime, REAL FOOD snack. Remember: quantity and quality matters, time does not.
Have a great week!