You’ve finished dinner. You’re not hungry, but ……nom nom nom….So, every night without fail, shortly after what technically should be your final meal of the day – why do you find yourself pulling open the fridge door? Cookies, cake, icecream – anything – you don’t really care – you’ve got the munchies as badly as a stoned teen who’s scored a ride to 7-Eleven!
Over time – this habit can result in weight gain as it contributes surplus energy daily needs – or otherwise it seriously dents your efforts to have eaten well during the rest of the day. So lets nip this in the bud in a very matter of fact way! Try thinking of ‘post-dinner snacking’ in the way that you would deal with any risk.
Simplistically – a risk assessment may consider:
- Identification and source of the risk
- Ascertaining the likelihood and consequences of that risk
- Managing that risk – eliminate/avoid, reduce/mitigate or accept it
- Monitoring that risk – periodically evaluate how you’re doing
With this in mind, therefore most important aspect to first ascertain is why are you snacking? What is the cause or what is the likely trigger? You may have to take a little diary over a few days to record your moods, any dramas which have passed over the day and what you’ve eaten that day – a trend might just start to emerge.
- Have you restricted your intake during the day too much – either, that you literally haven’t eaten enough or have you become nutrition’s Mother Teresa and eaten nothing but kale and kombucha which has left you feeling unfilled and wholly unsatisfied with the world?
- Are you bored and it’s just something to do?
- Are you using food to comfort you (Bridget Jones style!), as a stress relief, to reward yourself or because you’re angry at somebody, your workplace, a rotten spell of luck (or are you angry at yourself?).
It’s usually one or a combination of the above 3 reasons and once you’ve figured this out – you can start to address this habit at the root of its cause. Either starting to eat properly during the day will diminish this drive and/or you may have to work to put in place other means to deal with your emotions or boredom. This may require some trial and error and you may need to assess your sleeping habits, stress levels or work on identifying the ‘negative influences’ in your life and either reducing those or learning different ways in how to manage them.
STRATEGIES TO COMBAT THE MUNCHIES
Unfortunately, despite this being a common issue and a key source of extra energy for many – there has not been much research done into effective strategies to lower the drive for post-dinner snacks. However, I have reviewed a lot of evidence-based research around food behavior and eating environments as well as anecdotal evidence to formulate the following ideas for you to try.
- Immediately brushing your teeth after dinner – Potentially works as: it’s a good psychological trick – the action/taste of mint informs your inner food-god that offerings have ceased for the day, you maybe too lazy to have to brush again – or perhaps as food can just simply taste weird after toothpaste – so whichever theory rocks your boat – this simple strategy may just result in you avoiding further food.
- Make a household rule that there is no eating on the couch or in front of the TV or ask others who are munching after dinner to eat elsewhere – or remove yourself. Potentially works as: your environment/company hugely affects what you eat and your behaviour around food and as eating in front of the TV, computer or ipad has been shown to increase the quantity of high-calorie, low nutrient-density food consumed.
- Savour a large cup of flavoured herbal tea or decaffinated tea – Potentially works as: it maybe a good substitute for ‘going through the motions’ – many find that a large cuppa, lightly sweetened if desired can do the trick with the bonus of additional hydration.
- Do something productive or join some social sports, clubs or go for a walk after dinner – Potentially works as: it changes up your normal ‘high-risk’ snacking environment and replaces potential boredom with a positive task which may strengthen or fulfill you both physically, emotionally and mentally.
- Consider removing all of your ‘vices’ out of the house and clean out the pantry and fridge of all temptation. Potentially works as: limiting visual exposure and access to food decreases consumption and wanting of that food. At the minimum, remove your ‘danger’ snacking foods from eye-height and make them difficult to get to – the effort just may not be worth it – if you are inherently lazy, use this to your advantage!
OR AFTER TRYING A FEW OF THESE, IF THEY ARE NOT WORKING…
…. DO YOU SIMPLY EMBRACE THE MUNCHIES AND BE AT PEACE WITH THE LITTLE BUGGERS?
Even once these issues are identified and addressed and you’ve tried a few strategies from above, the feeling of ‘enjoying something sweet’ after dinner can remain and this is where you can either continue to fight it – or acknowledge that it’s an aspect of your day which you actually enjoy and which you don’t want to eliminate completely.
If this is you (this is me!) – then I suggest planning this inevitable post-dinner snack into your day so that it doesn’t become surplus to your daily energy and nutrient needs. You may find it useful to set yourself some guidelines to work within and they may include the following:
- Energy value of an ‘everyday’ post-dinner snack should be 100Cal or less – this generally requires an overhaul of what you consider a ‘normal serving’ size to be. Take a look at your favourite post-dinner snacks and see how small a serving size of 100Cal actually is – of course, 100Cal worth sometimes just won’t cut it – but endeavor to establish that as your serving for most days.
- Accommodate for this snack by decreasing your dinner size – think of the post-dinner snack as a slightly delayed part of your dinner – not as an additional extension. Stop eating your dinner at 80% full, so that this snack is not consumed on a full stomach.
- Try to make most days at least semi-nutritious! – a handful of berries, a few tablespoons of good quality yoghurt with a 2-3 teaspoons of granola, some quality dark chocolate or a bowl of strawberries with a teaspoon of honey are far better choices (even if fruit/honey maybe a bit high on the sugar side) than a Tim Tam or some Ben and Jerrys.