Snacking: Why we do it and how to prevent it

Lethia Lee EFNEP Program Assistant

October 27, 2013

Have you ever noticed that you have excellent will power throughout the day to stick to your diet and exercise goals, but then things go haywire during the evening and nighttime hours? If so, you’re not alone. It’s easy to see why snacking late at night is so common. Maybe you’re less busy and your evenings are less structured, giving way to mindless eating. Perhaps you have created a pattern of habits that you’re now having trouble breaking, including snacking while preparing dinner, having desserts afterwards or mindlessly snacking while watching television or browsing the internet. However there may be physiological factors involved.

Did you know that Biology is working against you? Recent research is revealing that your internal clock, also called your circadian system, causes an increase in your hunger and signals your body to crave foods that are sweet, salty and high in starch, particularly when the clock strikes 8pm. A study just published in the research journal “Obesity” found that the participants’ innate circadian rhythm regulated their hunger, showing that they felt the lowest amount of hunger at 8am. This causes you to crave starchy, salty foods. Light is also working against you - scientists believe that since artificial light lets you stay up later than you should, you’re awake during those hours when you’re most likely to crave high-calorie foods and give in to those cravings. It’s a vicious cycle because not only are you storing more of those calories, you’re getting less sleep than you need, and these two factors can cause you to gain weight.

A few tips for breaking the snacking cycle are to practice mindful eating: switch up your nighttime routine, plan your meals ahead of time, try having your biggest meal earlier in the day, go to bed earlier, and try logging your foods by keeping a food journal.

Bottom line is there are many causes for you to gain weight, with the most obvious being your dietary habits and exercise pattern. Research shows that the time you eat may play a larger role than previously thought. Take steps to avoid late-night munching to stay at a healthy weight.

For more information contact Lethia Lee, EFNEP Assistant with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at 910-592-7161.

Something to think about - nighttime snacking isn’t the only habit that’s bad for your waistline…… so is watching cooking shows.

Information taken from FitDay dietitians Kari Hartel, RD, LD