It’s worse than Dracula sucking blood, the power that cookies, candies, pies, chips and ice cream have over us after the sun goes down and the dinner dishes have been washed.
New Year’s resolutions are no match for the late-night snack attack: People who count every calorie at breakfast, faithfully avoid fast-food burgers for lunch and fix nutritious evening meals suddenly lose all resolve and find themselves face-planted in the refrigerator or snack drawer in the hours between dinner and bedtime.
This after-dinner/late-night snacking is so common, dietitians have a name for people who cave in to the evening munchies.
“We call them nighttime nibblers,” says Lisa Herzig, associate professor and director of the Dietetics and Food Administration Program at Fresno State. “They’re finding themselves all of a sudden in the kitchen and all of the good habits they’ve kind of built up so far go out the door.”
Some even refuse to face facts that they’ve sabotaged their diet, believing that the calories from the snacks they consume after dinner don’t count, Herzig says.
But oh, the calories do add up.
One bag of potato chips (about 160 calories) crunched between dinner and bedtime can undo a 42-minute after-work walk. Two chocolate-chip cookies (because who eats only one?) can wipe out an hour’s walk, packing as much as 220 calories apiece – or more – if they’re the big, gooey, home-baked kind.
We call them nighttime nibblers.
Lisa Herzig, registered dietitian and associate professor at Fresno State
For Joyce Mayhew, 42, of Clovis, her nighttime snack of choice: cereal. “Tons of bowls,” she says. And, there were bowls of popcorn and lots of cheese. “I loved cheese and leftovers.”
Before she knew it, Mayhew says, “I would double the calories I ate in the whole day at nighttime.”
A drama teacher and theater director, Mayhew turned last year to Herzig, a registered dietitian, for help to stop the snacking. She has lost 20 pounds by following the advice, which includes saving out something during the day to eat before bed “because I know I’m going to want it.”
People have emotional attachments to food, Herzig says. People eat when they’re angry, sad, lovelorn, hurt, stressed. Instead of testing your snack-control willpower, let yourself eat a small amount or substitute a less-caloric item for the salty, sweet or chocolatey-smooth item that you’re craving, she says. For example: “If you want to have a candy, take it out and pre-portion it. You can still have that familiarity.”
Mayhew says she also is following another tip from Herzig. “She told me to go to bed. Go to sleep.”
Studies have shown a possible link between sleep deprivation and obesity. When you’re tired, give into it, Herzig says. “Don’t fight through the fatigue with food because the food is going to wake you up. We don’t need to wake up. We actually need to sleep.”
And Herzig has her own method for avoiding snacks. “I am probably the slowest eater on the planet.” She takes 45 to 50 minutes to eat a meal. “I think we’re all in such a fast-paced world that we forget to savor our food.”
The Bee also asked people through Facebook for ways to curb after-dinner/late-night snacking.
Here are some of the tips:
▪ Take a long soak and read in the bathtub.
▪ “Eat about a handful of pine nuts. AMAZING to curb my appetite in the evening. They are full of protein and help you feel full, on fewer calories. Many more benefits as well.”
▪ “I have a bag of carrots in the fridge that I munch on. The crunching and chewing signal my brain that I am full (I eat far less) unlike the processed junk that I would normally turn to.”
▪ “Get braces – too much trouble to eat and clean the food stuck in them (lol).”
▪ “I don’t watch TV stations with food commercials. PBS, videos and on demand movies are good alternatives if you want to veg in front of the TV.”
▪ “One cup of hot decaf tea with honey helps when I’m hungry late at night.”
▪ “Eating nutritious organic food so the body doesn’t need to keep eating to get the nutrients it needs.”
▪ “Brushing teeth or chewing mint-flavored gum … the mint flavor makes food less desirable as it would ruin the flavor of many foods.”
And another suggestion, “romance,” got a nod of approval and a chuckle from Herzig.