Late-night snacking can be difficult to overcome. It has both psychological and physiological components that can work together to make quitting a real battle of the wills between your conscious mind and your snacking alter ego.
Other barriers include boredom, insomnia, loneliness, self-denial, nutritional imbalance, grief, self-sabatoge, procrastination, and lack of time outdoors.
At the outset, when urges and cravings are most likely to be making you crazy, be prepared to try anything — including distractions, substitutions, self-lectures, and new rituals — to make it through your weakest hours and get a few nights of success under your belt.
The good news? Putting new practices to work can help you break the habit faster.
Try these ideas to help curb your late-night snacking habits:
1. Set a timer. Most cravings subside in under 10 minutes. If the bell goes off and you still have the craving, reset again, this time, for 15 minutes. Meditate or busy yourself and reassess your craving when time is up.
2. Plan an exit strategy. Get out of the house. Go to a bookstore, a coffee shop (for tea), or better yet, go to the gym!
3. Try self-talk. Go to the mirror and talk to yourself out loud about what you plan to eat and why, why you’d rather not, what you might do instead, etc.
4. Enjoy music. Filling your house with music at night may keep you feeling more active, and less like vegging out and eating. Making music will also keep your hands busy.
5. Tidy up. Whether you wash the floor, clean out the closet, iron shirts, or sort socks, there’s something therapeutic about doing housework late at night. Plus, you’ll wake up to a clean place!
6. Get naked. Snacking is easier when your body is buried in PJs. Before you start an eating spree, force yourself to strip down to your skivvies or your birthday suit.
7. Practice self-care. Instead of doing something that trashes your body, do something to treat it: Give yourself a sea-salt body polish, mud mask, or pedicure.
8. Read a book. Whether you read histories, novels, or self-help books, you’ll be enriching yourself, keeping your hands occupied and your cravings at bay. You could also journal or work on your own ideal-body book.
9. Discover aromatherapy. Research shows that burning aromatic candles or incense can turn your appetite off (but avoid chocolate and vanilla aromas). Keep a sachet of lavender under your pillow and sniff at will.
10. Boost your dental hygiene. Brush your teeth and floss directly after dinner and again before you go to bed. You’ll be less likely to get up and eat.
11. Drink water. Sometimes your body will send you food cravings when it is really thirsty. Need more flavor? Try hot water with lemon, ginger, a little real maple syrup, and a dash of cayenne pepper. It’s warming, cleansing, and stimulating enough to your taste buds to kill a lot of cravings.
12. Be productive. Learn a new skill, paint, knit, take up an instrument, research a new topic on the Web, plan your next vacation, or make a new music playlist. When you have more fun, interesting things to do, you’ll have far less reason and opportunity to munch.
13. Choose a healthy snack. If you really are hungry, and if you’ve been active during the day, a nutritious pre-bed snack may be a good thing. Have a little protein to help muscles rebuild, and avoid refined carbs and sugars.
This list originally appeared as part of “The Hidden Causes of Late-Night Snacking” by the Experience Life team in the January/February 2002 issue.