Eating Late? Tips on Eating Better!
A matter of time
Eating dinner less than two hours before you go to bed won't necessarily cause weight gain, but it does mean that this meal should be the smallest of the day. It simply makes sense to eat most of our calories when we're active during the day. If you find evenings are filled with activities that push your dinner hour to a less than desirable time, try these strategies:
Look at your entire day
- Make lunch your main meal of the day, and choose a small sandwich with fruit or a salad, a small plate of pasta and vegetables or even a bowl of cereal and fruit for your late-night dinner.
- Schedule a snack around a more appropriate dinnertime. Make sure the snack is packed with nutrients and not just something quick you grab on your way out the door. Good ideas include half a sandwich, yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit, a small baked potato with salsa, or one to two ounces of low-fat cheese and whole-grain crackers. This healthy snack will keep you going during the evening, and you won't be so famished that you overeat when dinnertime finally arrives.
- Pick up a healthy meal at the grocery store on your way home. Many supermarkets now have excellent salad and soup bars, cut-up fresh fruit and vegetables, whole-grain breads, and roasted chicken. Remember to choose small portions and avoid fried foods or foods coated with fatty sauces.
Some people cut back their calorie intake so far during the day that they're literally starving at night. Unable to choose small portions, they often fill up on high-fat snack foods, overeat at dinner and give in to late-night snacking urges. If you're trying to lose weight but feel evenings are your downfall, try these ideas:
Eating when stressed
- Make sure to eat breakfast and lunch. Try to consume 2/3 of your total daily calorie intake before dinner. If your goal is 1500 calories, , that means you should consume 1000 calories at breakfast, lunch and snacks; dinner should be no more than 500 calories. If your evening meal occurs very late, downsize that meal even more and replace those calories earlier in the day.
- Include protein and small amounts of fat at breakfast and lunch. If you choose foods high in carbohydrate, such as cereal and milk for breakfast and a yogurt with fruit for lunch, you're setting yourself up for a protein-driven hunger attack. Add a slice of toast with peanut butter to breakfast, and include a sandwich or legume-based soup with lunch to provide more energy and staying power.
- Include foods you enjoy in your daily food choices. Many people have tremendous willpower during the day when working, then get home in the evening and fall apart. If chocolate is your downfall, try a glass of chocolate milk with lunch. If crunching is your urge, add a handful of nuts or seeds as an afternoon snack.
Overeating is a typical response to stress. Eating relaxes many people, and some use eating as a way to escape the stress of the day. Instead of eating, try these ideas:
When nighttime eating becomes a habit
- Cut back on caffeine intake to no more than one cup of coffee or 12 ounces of other caffeinated beverages in the morning only. Drink water or vegetable juices instead and you'll find you feel more relaxed and have more energy as well.
- Practice a stress-reduction technique such as yoga or meditation on a regular basis.
- Make sure that you're getting some form of exercise every day. Not only will exercise make you feel better and help with weight loss, it also helps reduce feelings of stress.
- Figure out alternate ways to deal with your emotions. If you eat when tired, try taking a nap instead of eating. If you're angry, reduce that anger by writing down your feelings or discussing them with a friend instead of wolfing down a candy bar.
If your normal evening routine involves sitting in front of the television with a bowl of ice cream, popcorn or other snack, you've probably developed a bad habit. Like all habits, eating at night can be difficult to change. Give yourself at least two months of trying these ideas:
- Don't watch TV at night. Work on a hobby, call a friend, read a book, go dancing. Research has shown that the more hours of TV we watch, the more we weigh.
- Only watch TV if you're exercising at the same time. That's right, get out the treadmill and walk while watching your favorite show, or use your exercise bike when the evening news is on. No exercise, no TV.
- If you want to eat an evening snack, go to the kitchen, sit at the table, and eat your snack. No TV while eating! Many of us snack mindlessly while watching TV. With this method, you can still snack if you're really hungry, but it takes some effort.
- Avoid any alcohol in the evening. Alcohol not only contains calories, it also increases our appetite and reduces our resolve to change eating habits.