Mindless snacking is often a big contributor to weight gain. If you beat the snacking habit you can make a huge impact on your fat loss. Much more so than if you change something irrelevant like drinking green tea or apple cider vinegar.
Snacking is an easy way to overeat without even realizing how much you’re overeating. Snacking is sneaky because you forget about all those little bites and nibbles throughout the day.
You’ll remember the burrito you ate, because why would you ever want to lose the memory of eating a burrito?
On the other hand, you’ll forget the handful of cheetos, those 2 fun size snickers, that bite of ice cream, and all those spoonfuls of peanut butter you ate while Netflixing.
Those calories add up quick.
Meal timing doesn’t matter
A calorie at 4pm is the same as a calorie at 11pm. That said, late night snacking is definitely not a fat loss friendly habit because:
When you snack after dinner, you usually don’t actually need that food -- you aren’t eating out of hunger. You’re eating out of boredom, stress, or discomfort.
Plus, nobody munches on carrots while they watch GOT after work. Late night snacks are typically calorie dense so it’s easy to eat lots of calories in a small amount of bites.
Late night snacking causes weight gain simply because of extra calories. That’s it.
Say you eat 700 calories of ice cream before bed (after 10pm! Oh the humanity!). Those 700 calories would mean the exact same thing if you ate them at lunch time.
The effect of meal timing is negligible. 700 calories means the same thing to your body at any time of day. Because what matters is the TOTAL amount of calories you consume throughout the day. Because math.
At 10pm you’ve already done a full day’s worth of eating -- those 700 calories are extra. This causes weight gain if done often enough.
Let's look at two different situations:
Example 1: Say someone eats 800 calories at breakfast, 0 calories at lunch, 1000 calories at dinner, and 1000 calories snacking at night. This equals 2800 total calories.
Example 2: Say the same person eats 700 calories at breakfast, 700 calories at lunch, 700 calories of afternoon snack, and 700 calories of dinner. This also equals 2800 total calories. The total calories are the same as in scenario 1 so you would gain the same amount of weight as in scenario 1.
Let’s look more at example 1 to explain why people who quit late night snacking lose weight so quickly.
The person in example 1 consumes most of their extra calories in just a single habit -- at night, after work.
All this person has to do is quit that 1 habit and they cut their daily caloric total by 1000 calories! Once they stop late night snacking, they start dropping body fat like no one’s business.
So I want to be very clear, it has nothing to do with the fact that those calories were consumed after 10pm. FACT: Humans are not gremlins.
Late night snacking causes fast weight gain because of extra calories. You’re eating when you don’t need to, when your body has already had enough food.
Why is late night snacking so easy?
Because you’ve had a really long day. Work was exhausting. The commute was brutal and the muscles in your jaw and neck are tight and achy from stress. You get home starving and don’t want to think anymore.
You simply don’t feel like making decisions anymore-- your willpower feels depleted. And those feelings are very real.
You do still have these fat loss goals in the back of your brain. You know you shouldn’t aimlessly keep wandering into the kitchen, opening the fridge every 30 seconds hoping to find something to make you feel better. You know you shouldn’t open that tub of Ben & Jerry’s. You override what you know you should do and grab a spoon.
This happens every night for a year and you gain 10 lbs.
How do you stop late night snacking to kick start your fat loss?
Telling you to suck it up and just eat “clean” is terribly unhelpful. Instead, I’m going to show you exactly how to set yourself up for dietary success after a long, shitty day at work.
I’m going to show you step-by-step how to stop snacking before bed and jumpstart your fat loss with this key habit.
First: Identify when you snack
Given the title of this post, I guess this one is a tad obvious. But still nonetheless important.
Get real specific about when you snack.
Do you snack an hour and 5 minutes after dinner? Is it after you shower? Do you snack when your husband puts on the news? Is it after you walk the dog? Is it when you start watching TV? Is it while you’re waiting for dinner to be ready? (Not exactly late night, but you know what I mean).
Paint a vivid picture of what’s going on around you when you start snacking. The key is to identify everything that could be triggering your brain to snack. Identify everything your brain associates with snack time.
Second: Identify how you snack.
Snacking is often compulsive which, by definition, means you’re not fully present. You aren’t mindfully paying attention to your actions. Late night snacking is a distraction.
Simply being aware of your physical surroundings and emotional state can bring you back into the present to prevent mindless snacking. In and of itself, this is important. However, being aware of why you snack is crucial because that’s how you come up with your game plan for changing this habit and losing weight.
Do you keep making trips to the kitchen to nibble? Do you grab a bag of chips to munch on while you watch something on Netflix? Do you find yourself saying, “I’ll just have 1 more!” about 20 times? Do you find yourself hurriedly taking bites when no one is looking?
Really define what your snacking behaviors look like.
Third: Identify the emotions you feel before, during, and after you snack. In a word, feelz. ALL THE FEELZ!
When you do snack, how do you feel? Are you hungry? Are you stressed? Are you bored? Do you feel powerless in some other area of your life? Are you frustrated? Lonely?
Have a little notebook and write this stuff down.
Now, you have everything you need to make a battle plan.
It’s important to acknowledge that your relationship with these snack foods can change. Much like strength training, changing nutrition habits is about intelligent progressions -- you don’t try to squat 200 lbs on day 1 of working out. You build up to it by challenging yourself a little more each session. Georgie Fear wrote a fantastic article about how to level up your nutrition to build a healthy, balanced relationship with “trigger foods”. I highly recommend you take 5 minutes to read it by clicking here.
Fourth: Devise a strategy
Once you’ve identified why, how, and when you snack, you have the data you need to take a stab at picking a strategy. There’s no single strategy that works for everyone. So it’s important you get creative and make an educated, self-aware guess about how best to start beating your snacking habit.
Below I’ve included some ideas you can use and adjust to fit your experience. I’ve organized them based on feelings, based on your motivation for snacking.
I obviously can’t cover every possible scenario here, or your own unique experience.
However, the following sections will give you a foundation of how to start thinking about this stuff.
Generic tip: Don’t keep it around the house.
If it’s not in the house, you’re not going to:
- Change out of your PJ’s.
- Find your car keys.
- Walk to your car.
- Drive to the store.
- Find parking.
- Wander around the shop.
- Wait in the check-out line.
- Then drive back home just to pick up some ice cream.
This strategy works because you make snacking really difficult and inconvenient.
This tip is pretty hard to argue with regardless of why you snack. If you don’t have anything to snack on, you can’t snack on it.
For that reason, I recommend starting with this strategy. It’s simple and takes a lot of the effort out of decision making. This strategy will make the following strategies so much more effective.
If you snack because you’re hungry (either because dinner wasn’t big enough, or you had a heavy squat session and you’re afraid of waking up ravenous in the middle of the night) you actually do need to eat something else.
I'll say it again. If you’re hungry you need to eat!
There’s nothing inherently wrong with eating at night. Just make it something healthy. The solution is to keep healthy snacks around -- make healthy snacks readily available all the time. And/or make sure you eat enough protein at dinner time to keep you full through the night.
P.S. If you need some healthy snack ideas you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org :)
The literal sweet relief of junk food after a stressful day is all too alluring when your head is pounding. You just want something to make you feel better, to make that feeling go away. Beyond that, stress is exhausting, so your decision making capacity is already lower than the bar for being President these days.
The snarky answer to this problem is to say, “Well, don’t get stressed in the first place” which is true, but unhelpful without digging a little deeper. Because stress is such a big topic, I suggest you take a few minutes to read “What to do when stress is ruining your life”. This will give you more thorough and practical solutions to stop being so stressed all the time.
Beyond managing your stress in general, identify that you eat out of stress. Identify what need you’re trying to satisfy with snacking, and replace snacking with something else that will satisfy that need.
If you’re trying to relax and unwind, replace snacking with something else relaxing. Maybe meditating, taking a bath, stretching, or reading a book.
Humans do some crazy shit to make them feel in control when, in fact, they are not. The only thing you ever can have complete control over is your own actions, how you respond.
I used to shave my head pretty much every time I got dumped (AKA all the time) or whenever I was feeling powerless in my personal life.
It felt empowering because it was “my choice”. I decided to do that to my body, asserting that I was ultimately the one calling the shots about what happened in my life. I could at least control how I appeared and what I did. The whole ritual of playing loud punk music and taking clippers to my scalp was very cathartic, like I was letting go of what I was holding on to.
Even now, I still have the impulse of chopping it all off whenever I’m struggling. Also, because not having to do your hair in the morning is frickin’ sweet.
I often reflect on these events. The philosophical conundrum of, “I’m doing this to exert control of my own life, but I’m using them to cope with something... so if I’m that compelled to do this thing by external events, am I really the one making the choice?”. What is free will?! Uh oh, I feel an existential crisis coming on. ABORT ABORT!
Anyway, what do you do when your nightly coping mechanism to exert control is eating?
Identify the problem first, of course. Sometimes that’s enough to override the behavior. Then, remind yourself of WHY you want to lose weight and eat healthier. Dig really deep to find your deepest most important motivation. Have this in your pocket for whenever you feel like snacking. That should zap you back into focus.
Or, you could just shave your head whenever you feel like snacking :P
Design your diet plan in a way that makes you feel autonomous, because snacking out of powerlessness comes from the reactionary, angsty teenager in all of us. If you feel controlled by your diet, you’ll fight back. You’ll do what you can to feel in charge. Especially if you feel trapped at your job, and controlled by your boss.
Here are the key points for this section:
- Be self aware about your behaviors. Know every single reason WHY you want to end late snacking and lose weight. When you start craving snacks, remind yourself WHY eating healthy is important to you.
- Don’t rely on the authority of a new set of dietary rules to enforce healthy eating. The more strict a diet, the less likely you are to follow it. Take back your power by setting weekly dietary mini-goals based on what is realistic.
- Give yourself permission to make mistakes, to be imperfect.
- Acknowledge it’s always you who makes choices, no one else.
- Remind yourself to act in line with your values and goals, not reactionary impulses.
Most people are made of 70% water, whereas I’m made of 70% reactionary impulses. So I know this is a tough nut to crack, but it is possible. And it starts with introspection on your habits and behaviors.
Personalize your battle plan. Make it specific.
Regardless of where you fit in the spectrum of emotional snacking, you need to personalize your strategy.
If you’ve done your homework figuring out why and when you snack, this should be fairly straight forward. Look through your reflection notes and make a specific educated guess about what strategy is the most realistic for you.
For example, if you eat because you’re bored and restless, your strategy could be:
Whenever I start to get a little antsy after dinner, I’m going to go for a walk.
If you snack because you feel stressed you could say:
When I get home from work, the first thing I’m going to do is vent everything I’m stressed about into my journal. I’m just going to pour everything out on paper for at least 10 minutes.
If you snack when you feel powerless you could say:
When I feel myself descending into a late night snacking spiral I will do something that makes me feel strong and empowered. Whether this is listening to a podcast that grounds me, or practicing something that reminds me what I’m capable of and that I’m my own person.
Make it specific to your experience and commit to giving the strategy an honest try for a week or so. If it doesn’t work, ask yourself why. Was your strategy too ambitious? Did you simply forget?
Whatever the issue, come up with a solution. Maybe you need to make it easier and more realistic. Maybe you need to set an alarm to remind you. Maybe you weren’t convinced the strategy would work to begin with. It all just depends on you.
- Identify when you snack and what’s going on around you when you snack
- Identify the feelings you feel when you snack
- Based on when and why you snack, devise with a realistic and specific strategy/mini goal to combat snacking.
- This strategy should be progressive so you can build on it and level up each week.. You should be able to “add weight” each week.
- Assess whether the strategy is working based on whether or not your snacking has decreased.
- Tweak your strategy based on your assessment. Then, try again.
It doesn’t matter if your strategy works 100% right away, just as long as you’re getting better each week. Just like lifting weights, it takes lots of reps before you get it right. Just keep charging forward. You got this.