How snacking before bedtime piles on the kilos

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  • Snacking could be the reason behind your weight gain.
  • Being mindful about snacking plays an important part in staying slim.
  • You should assess the types of snacks you're consuming and consider other options.

We all know the feeling. You're lying on the couch, watching a gripping series, when you suddenly get the munchies, also known as “Netflix Nutrition”.

Unfortunately, the urge is usually not for celery sticks and hummus, but rather chips and milk chocolate – highly processed, high energy and low nutrient foods.

Take for example a bag of chocolate-covered malted puffs. The 250g version contains more than 5 000 kilojoules of energy, 160g of which is carbohydrate.

To help put this into perspective, a single potato contains only 15g of carbohydrate, so your late-night snack, finished in just a few minutes, has the same amount of carbs as an entire pocket of potatoes (10.6 potatoes to be exact).

Let’s blame it on the hormones

Your circadian rhythm, also known as your body clock, controls your sleep/wake cycle as well as several body processes that occur when you are sleeping.

Interestingly, when you are sleeping your body prioritises fat oxidation (burning) and breaks down glucose.

If however, you choose to eat a large, high-kilojoule meal, or indulge in some late-night sugary/salty/fatty snacks, your insulin level rises (which is secreted as a response by the pancreas to your meal). 

Insulin is a hormone that facilitates the transition of glucose, fatty acids, and proteins from your bloodstream into your cells.

In addition, it also has the domino effect of increasing your appetite and fat storage and causes fluid retention.

This means that when your body is naturally moving into sleep mode and fat oxidation (burning), you are hitting reverse and going into fat storage mode. 

You have a choice

When the urge to eat at night is so strong, surely there are nutritious low-energy options? Absolutely. Having options available such as flavoured yoghurt, or a low kilojoule hot chocolate drink or a small portion of popcorn is important. 

Are you hungry?

However, before you fix yourself a dietitian-approved snack, pause to evaluate how hungry you are.

Are you hungry, or is there a trigger such as watching a screen, boredom, stress, or needing a reward fix (you’ve had a long day, you deserve it) that prompts you to eat?

Try a simple and quick technique of rating your hunger level out of 10. If it's anything below seven, you do not need to eat. If it's over seven, head to the kitchen to fix yourself something healthy. 

Manage your triggers

Avoid eating when you are not hungry, as you not only override your natural body cues of hunger and satiety, but you also strengthen the neural pathways of eating out of habit or in response to a trigger.

Determine what your trigger is and create new and improved replacement habits, such as consuming low kilojoule fluids such as herbal tea (often we are dehydrated by the end of the day) or low kilojoule hot chocolate. 

It is also essential to assess your triggers, if watching a screen is a trigger, consider changing this behaviour to help decrease the impulse to eat.

Restful behaviours to incorporate at night may be anything from reading, doing crosswords, building puzzles, or dusting off granny’s crochet needle.

There is, therefore, a lot of truth in the saying that you should eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and supper like a pauper.

For optimal body functioning and weight control, it is recommended that you keep your evening meals light and manage your post-dinner snacking.

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