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Snacking in the evening is almost never a good idea and there are plenty of reasons why you should avoid eating pretty much anything before bed. When you snack in the evening your body is more likely to store the excess calories as fat. Snacking at night can also cause other health issues such as heartburn, difficulties with sleeping and maintaining a normal sleep schedule and overeating. Unless you're snacking on a small portion of healthy foods, you almost always want to avoid eating before bed or in the middle of the night.
Eating before bed can lead to heartburn because laying down can cause acid reflux, and the heartburn can lead to sleep disturbances and insomnia. Also, when you eat before bed you give your body a surge of energy which can make sleeping almost impossible. You don't necessarily want to go to bed hungry either because this can cause sleep issues, but if you do need to eat something before bed it should always be something healthy and a food that is not going to cause heartburn or other digestive symptoms.
The main problem with eating before bed is that most people choose to eat something that isn't all that healthy. If you stick to a small snack of fruits and vegetables it isn't as bad to eat before bed. Eating unhealthy food in the evening on a regular basis can definitely be a major factor for weight gain and it is well worth the effort to try to limit it. If you're struggling with this, there are a few things you can do keep your evening cravings to a minimum.
The easiest way to avoid snacking is to keep unhealthy foods out of the fridge and pantry. Easy access to junk food is one of the primary causes of weight gain. If you have to go out of your way to snack on something unhealthy in the evening, you'll be much less likely to do it. Stock your fridge with plenty of healthy options for when you do snack. You should definitely keep processed foods out of your kitchen no matter what, and when you go grocery shopping buy as many whole foods as possible.
There are plenty of whole foods that can work as great snack substitutes, and if you have to eat in the evening you should always stick to natural foods with the exception of grains and high glycemic index fruits. Some good snack ideas include nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios), a piece of low fat string cheese, a piece of fruit, or fresh veggies. When you do snack, keep your portions as limited as possible, and drink plenty of water which will help keep you full.
Your body will sometimes mistake hunger for dehydration, so you should try drinking a glass or two of water whenever you feel the urge to eat in the evening. If your hunger goes away then you were just dehydrated, and you should make sure to drink enough water throughout the day. Some people recommend eight glasses, but it depends on your body weight and how active you are. If you are active and move around a lot, or if you exercise regularly you need to be extra conscious of the amount of water that you drink, because even mild dehydration can leave you feeling fatigued or hungry.
Eating breakfast can help you avoid snacking later on in the day, and studies show that people who eat breakfast are less likely to eat in the evening. You don't necessarily have to eat as soon as you wake up, but you should have a healthy snack or meal ready to go as soon as you are hungry in the morning. Something as simple as a piece of fruit and oatmeal can make a major difference in how much you eat throughout the day, and balance is the key with your meals. Don't try to cram all of your calories in just a few meals; even if you're busy you can manage to make a small breakfast or take one with you, and it is well worth the effort if it helps you avoid snacking at night.
If you don't have something to do in the evenings, eating can become a way to relieve boredom, but unfortunately it comes with consequences, one of which is weight gain. Try taking up a new hobby in the evenings which can help keep your mind active and focused so that you don't turn to snacking to kill time. You might find that staying busy with a simple hobby can help you take your mind off of food and may help you eat less before bed, because hunger is often just as much psychological as it is physical.
Your kitchen might be a comfortable place to read or go on the internet, but spending too much time there can backfire and cause you to eat more than you normally would. Sometimes it's easy to eat out of convenience, especially if you find yourself in close proximity to food. Don't hang out in the kitchen in the evenings if you find that you're compelled to eat. You can trying making ritual around "closing the kitchen" where you put the food away, clean up, and move into a different room to relax for the night.
If you eat your dinner longer than five hours before your bedtime, you are almost always going to be hungry. Try to time your dinner to be no longer than four hours before you sleep, and always include meat or protein with your meal so that you stay full longer. Every person is different; some people may need to time their dinner to be closer to their bedtime to avoid being hungry, while other people can get by on an earlier dinner. Find out what works for you and try to schedule your dinner around that same time every night.
If you have to eat an early dinner and find yourself having to snack after dinner, trying picking a "stop eating" time, where you don't eat anything after a specific time. The latest that you want to eat anything is about two to three hours before bed, and you should pick a "stop eating" time around this time.
Snacking and television often go hand in hand, but this can quickly become an unhealthy habit that leads to weight gain. It's easy to grab a bag of chips and eat the whole thing while watching your favorite show and not think twice about it. If you can't get by watching TV without grabbing a snack, try reading a magazine or a book which can keep your mind active and help you avoid mindless eating.