Do you find yourself innocently settling into the couch at the end of the day when all of the sudden you are hit with a whammy of a craving for just a spoonful of delectable chocolate caramel ice cream? And before you know it, your spoon is hitting the bottom of the carton? I hear stories like this from our clients all the time. The good news is that there are actions we can start doing today that will quiet the cravings and help us reclaim control of our evening eating habits.
- Ask yourself why you are overeating – Bored? Hungry? Emotional? Many of us eat because of a conditioned response, much like Pavlov’s dogs drooling at the ding of the bell. Our unconscious eating is a reaction to a natural response even before we realize what caused us to open the refrigerator door. In order to break the pattern, we first need to become aware of our habits. If you discover you are eating out of boredom, it’s time to take up a new hobby or go out for walk. If loneliness and sadness are magnetizing you to food, it’s time to chat with a friend, join a club or community organization where you can find emotional and social support.
- Eat regularly – Eating five to six SMALL meals throughout the day can help keep blood sugar levels even. What do I mean by small? Each meal should easily fit on a salad plate, not a “regular” dinner plate. If you haven’t eaten enough calories during the day and you allow your hunger to reach ravenous levels, of course your body is going to revolt, leading you to overeat at night.
- Enjoy protein with each meal or snack – Protein is digested in the stomach as opposed to carbohydrates and fats which are digested in the intestines. This means that protein will stay in your stomach longer, thus making you feel fuller for a longer period of time. Protein will also slow the rate at which glucose is released into your blood stream thus preventing extreme blood sugar fluctuations. What do you crave when your blood sugar gets too low? Breads, pastas, sugar and alcohol! So stop feeding the unhealthy cycle and start consuming protein sources like cottage cheese, turkey slices, Greek yogurt, tofu, fish, and whey protein with each snack or meal.
- Get the junk food out of sight – That old saying “out of sight, out of mind” carries a great deal of weight when talking about junk food (pun intended). Remove temptation and place healthier foods like fruits and veggies in visible places in the refrigerator and on the countertop because you are more likely to eat the good stuff if it’s easily accessible. Also, when you go grocery shopping avoid the middle aisles that shelve the processed high sugar snacks. Start reading labels! If there are ingredients you can’t pronounce or if sugar is in the first three ingredients, put the food down and back away slowly.
- Exercise regularly – A research article in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that women who viewed pictures of food right after a 45-minute morning run were less hungry (based on brain-wave measurements) than when they viewed the photos on non-exercise days. Why? Working out may cause fluctuations in hunger hormones, decreasing appetite stimulating ghrelin and increasing the satiety hormone PYY.
- Get more shut eye - It has long been know that sleep affects our hormones, but more recently researchers are finding a significant correlation between sleep and appetite. Ghrelin, which is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, stimulates appetite, while leptin, produced in fat cells, sends a signal to the brain when you are full. "When you don't get enough sleep, it drives leptin levels down, which means you don't feel as satisfied after you eat. Lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise, which means your appetite is stimulated, so you want more food," says Michael Breus, PhD, a faculty member of the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine and director of The Sleep Disorders Centers of Southeastern Lung Care in Atlanta.
Follow these six tips with the support of Fitness Together and you’ll nix the night snacking and begin feeling better about your body. A Fitness Together trainer will develop a program designed to meet your specific goals. You may also receive nutritional counseling through the Nutrition Together program, which will complement your workouts. To find the Fitness Together studio nearest you, visit fitnesstogether.com.