How to Flip 3 Common Night-time Slips
By Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
Let’s face it…after a long, hard day of work, caring for children or an older parent, or just plain running around, many of us look forward to day’s end to relax and unwind—no doubt with some comfort food and drink. But when the lights dim (and before you’re ready to hit the sheets), feeling stressed or just plain tired can make it way too easy for you to lose your resolve and go overboard or make less than healthful choices when it comes to eating and drinking.
Whether you’re simply trying to eat healthier to better manage your weight (or even lose a few pounds), don’t despair--here are some simple tips to help you painlessly sidestep three common night-time slips.
The Slip: You’re ravenous at dinner time. Is you’re afternoon so jam-packed that you find you’re starved by the time dinner rolls around? Chances are, if you go too many hours—especially during the day, while you’re running around—without food, you set yourself up to grab whatever food looks appealing—even if that means fast food, or high calorie, fatty food. That can no doubt lead you to eat well past your comfort point.
The Flip: Always keep healthful, pre-portioned snacks on hand. Instead of ignoring hunger, satisfy it with some easy that you can easily store in your desk drawer, purse, or backpack. Some options include:
- Dried fruit
- Shelled nuts like cashews, peanuts, pistachios, almonds, or walnuts
- Whole grain, high fiber crunchy cereal
- Whole grain crackers (such as Triscuits)
- Low fat popcorn
If you have a place to safely store perishable foods—like the office refrigerator or a cooler—here are some healthy protein and fiber-packed snacks you can have mid-afternoon:
- A few whole grain crackers with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter or an ounce of cheddar cheese (sliced or cubed)
- A piece of fruit (eg an apple or banana) with a tablespoon or two of nuts
- One cup of low fat, plain, unsweetened yogurt (or Greek yogurt) topped with fresh berries or dried fruit
- Half of a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with a touch of mayonnaise and one slice of Swiss cheese
- One cup of whole grain, high fiber cereal topped with nonfat milk
If you tend to work through your hunger, make sure to set your phone alarm to the time when hunger usually strikes as a reminder to eat a little something.
The Slip: You graze all night. In theory, eating every few hours throughout the day is a great way to keep your blood sugar levels steady and give you lasting mental and physical energy. But at night, when you’re less active—and when you’re priming your body for sleep—your body requires fewer calories. Eating too much too close to bedtime can also contribute to sleep problems—you may find that on nights you eat late, you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
The Flip: Instead of grazing throughout the night, plan to have two evenly spaced mini meals (make sure to leave about an hour between the last mini-meal and bed time). Choose two to three foods from each of the five basic food groups for each mini meal. For example, the first mini-meal can include two ounces of skinless grilled chicken, one cup of brown or wild rice, and one cup of broccoli or another non-starchy vegetable. For the other mini meal, choose something like a cup of low fat plain, unsweetened yogurt or nonfat milk with some fresh berries.
The Slip: When it comes to dessert, one is never enough. Having dessert is a ritual many families—including my own—enjoy. But most desserts (can you say Haagen Dasz ice cream?) pack in lots of calories in relatively small portions. To make things worse, when you mindlessly eat your dessert while you talk on the phone, watch tv, or use your computer, your brain won’t easily register when you’re satisfied or full.
The Flip: The good news is that current dietary guidelines include room in the diet for some empty calories—calories from added sugars and solid fats found in foods like cookies, cake, chocolate, candy, and ice cream—each and every day. A good rule of thumb when it comes to night-time desserts is to stick to a small but satisfying 50 to 100 calorie snack. That’s two to four Hershey® kisses, one to two small chocolate chip cookies, or ¼ to ½ candy bar. Keep only those treats in the house that you aren’t tempted to overeat. If you know you can’t limit these treats to an appropriate portion size, don’t bring them home; instead, think of them as once in a while, pre-planned treats. Stock up on some other sweets (those that come from the basic healthy food groups). Examples include:
- Frozen 100 percent fruit/fruit juice fruit bars (100 calories or less)
- Fresh fruit in season
- Frozen grapes or bananas
- Dried fruit
- Unsweetened applesauces (in 4 ounce containers)
- Low fat, low sugar granola bars
- Whole grain, high fiber cereal
- Low fat, unsweetened yogurt
- Low fat flavored milk
What’s your biggest night-time food slip? What helps you flip it?
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and award-winning author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips," "Feed Your Family Right!," and "So What Can I Eat?!." She is also a past national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information, go to www.elisazied.com. Sign up for the free weekly ZIED GUIDE™ newsletter for nutrition tips and news you can use (go to right side of home page at elisazied.com). Follow Elisa on Twitter/elisazied and on Facebook.