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Why Can't I Stop Eating at Night?

By: 
Alyssa Principe

One of the biggest complaints I get from patients is that they can’t stop snacking at night. They think this is the downfall in their diet, and come to me looking for “healthy alternatives”. They are often shocked to hear the solution may be eating more!

I wish I kept track of the number of patients who skip breakfast, lunch or both! If your first meal isn’t until the afternoon I’m not surprised you are reaching for snacks at night. Our bodies are smart, they don’t forget that you haven’t eaten enough all day and they will respond with ravenous hunger at night to make up for those calories missed. If this sounds like you, work on adding more well balanced meals throughout the day and you will see your nighttime hunger dissipate. Just be sure those daytime meals have the right balance of protein and fiber.

Even if you eat three meals a day, they may not be enough. What you think may be “healthy” may actually be too low in calories, protein or other nutrients. Our nutrient needs don’t reset every 24 hours. This means that if you didn’t eat enough yesterday, your body could be trying to make up for it today by luring you to the pantry at night.

Another culprit of late night snacking is restricting “off limit” foods (like chips or cookies) which can lead to overindulgence at night. To put a stop to this, try incorporating these foods into your daily meals. Have a cookie with dinner or some chips with lunch if you feel like it. You’ll likely eat a smaller portion, and be less likely to snack later on.

If you do find yourself snacking at night, know that it is ok. Despite what you may have heard, your body is capable of digesting while you sleep, and calories eaten at night are no different than those during the day. If you are snacking, make it a mindful experience! Munching away while watching TV can leave you feeling unsatisfied (you don’t even notice you’re eating and the food is gone before you know it) so you end up grabbing another snack. Pay more attention to your snacks by finding a way to disrupt your usual habits, such as sitting at the table instead of on the couch or turning the TV off while you eat.

Of course for many people these changes are not so easy to make. That’s where the help of a registered dietician can make a big difference. If you want help making changes in your eating routine, or support around food choices, reach out today to schedule an appointment!

Alyssa Principe

Alyssa Principe, MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietician at South Boston Community Health Center. She runs the free Healthy Habits Support Group and sees patients of all ages at the Health Center. She works with patients of all ages on a variety of goals, from healthy and weight issues, to picky eating. If you're interested in learning more stay tuned for her recipes and helpful tips or make an appointment to see her in clinic today!