Tips for Nighttime Snacking

Woman looking in the fridge in the evening

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Snacking after dinner and later in the evening is common. It can be enlightening to think through some reasons why you might be hungry or not completely satisfied after dinner. Improving the nutritional value of evening snacks is a way to make the late-night hunger pangs work toward meeting your nutritional needs.

Why Do I Eat at Night?

If you find yourself reaching for snacks after dinner, think about why that might be the case. Common reasons include not striking the right macronutrient balance during dinner, dehydration, and not being fully satisfied with dinner.

Macronutrient Profile of Dinner

Getting the right amount of carbohydrates, fat, and protein during dinner goes a long way toward feeling satisfied with your meal. Adults need 130g of carbohydrates, 56g of protein, and 3.7L of water every day. The amount of fat required is variable, but monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the most healthy fats to consume, and they help your body feel satisfied.

Evidence from several studies shows that eating protein during a meal reduces hunger and decreases the desire to eat.

Dehydration

Sometimes when you are dehydrated, your body has trouble distinguishing thirst from hunger. As a result, some people may eat in reaction to dehydration. This isn't always a bag thing: some foods can provide hydration, specifically water-rich foods like melon and other fruit.

But sometimes, when you don't realize you are mistaking thirst for hunger, you could reach for foods that won't help hydrate you. If you remain hungry after dinner, try drinking a glass of water, then wait 20 minutes to see if that impacts the hunger you feel.

Dissatisfaction with Dinner

Not getting a sense of satisfaction with dinner is another reason people tend to reach for snacks after dinner. Eating satiating foods can help you feel full and satisfied throughout the evening.

What is Satiety?

Satiety is the sense of satisfaction you get from food. Foods high in fiber and healthy fats are known to help produce satiety. When you are full and satisfied, your body produces hormones that tell your brain you should stop eating.

Your satisfaction with your meal will impact how full and satisfied you feel. When your schedule allows, plan meals you are genuinely excited to eat. If you enjoy cooking, create time in your day to fulfill that passion. Even if you don't cook, eat meals you genuinely enjoy.

Maximize Nutrition

Snacking at night is not inherently bad, despite messaging to the contrary from diet culture. But it is wise to plan for it to ensure you are getting the right balance of nutrients from your food.

Satisfy Cravings

Eating foods that satisfy your true cravings will help you feel satisfied, triggering hormones that tell your body you are done eating. Many people crave something sweet after dinner or in the nighttime hours. Keep favorite fruits on hand to give you a dose of sweetness plus filling fiber. Veggies like red bell peppers and carrots offer sweetness and crunchiness, which can be very satisfying. One small red pepper provides 100% of the daily recommended Vitamin C in 20 calories.

Foods that Promote Sleep

The foods you choose to snack on at night can have an impact on how well you sleep. Foods like whole grains, kiwi, cherries, and walnuts increase serotonin and decrease the stress hormone cortisol. Complex carbohydrates contain melatonin, a hormone that is responsible for sleepiness. So any whole-grain snack is a good choice before bed.

Some researchers claim that because dark chocolate is rich in magnesium, it can help promote deep sleep. However, it also contains caffeine, which we know is notorious for inhibiting sleep. If dark chocolate is on your nighttime snacking menu, make sure to eat it early enough in the evening.

Alternative Nighttime Habits

Some people eat out of boredom at night. If you fall into this category, changing your routines at night can help curb eating out of boredom. Use one of these tips (or all three) to change your nighttime habits.

Create Healthy After-Dinner Habits

Go for a walk after dinner. Even if your walk is just 15 to 20 minutes long, physical activity helps to signal the shift from dinner to other evening activities. It also gives your body a chance to feel the sensation of fullness. You could also reignite an old hobby or take up a completely new one. Try knitting, painting, or doing puzzles.

Be a Smart TV Watcher

Many people eat more than they realize at night because they snack mindlessly in front of the television. One great way to eat less is to keep your hands active. Fold laundry or do other simple chores while you watch TV. If you want to eat, use smart and healthy snacking strategies. Also, make sure you follow good portion control guidelines if you choose to snack while watching TV.

Rest Your Mind

If you need something to do at night, consider doing something to encourage rest. Meditation can be a wonderful way to wind down before bed. Speaking of bed, consider going to bed at an earlier hour. Not getting enough sleep has been linked with an increased appetite.

A Word From Verywell

Understanding why you might crave snacks at night can help you plan meals that leave you so satisfied that you do not want a snack in the evenings. The desire to snack at night is not bad, but snacking mindfully can help you choose nutritious snacks and truly enjoy them.

 

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4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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