As the evenings draw in we might find ourselves reaching for more nibbles as we settle ourselves in front of the TV earlier. But relaxation usually makes us reach for comforting sweet and salty snacks. Here’s a look at how we can tackle that urge to nibble, and the healthiest snack choices if you really can’t resist.
The trouble with eating late in the evening is that as well as filling the body with calories it doesn’t really need, you are overloading it at the wrong time of day and contributing to ill-health. Research shows that eating unhealthy food in the evening, or even eating dinner late at night can disrupt our circadian rhythms, affecting hormonal balance and adversely affecting obesity, diabetes, gastro-intestinal problems, blood pressure, immunity and mental alertness. Also consider that our body does most of its rebuilding and healing at night, so it really benefits from an overnight ‘fast’ as lengthy as possible. Do we really want to pile it full of low-quality food last thing at night?
Research from the journal ‘Obesity’ indicates that our circadian system is programmed to crave starchy, sweet food at 8pm. This was to keep our ancestors topping up their fat stores to sustain them during times of scarcity. However, today we don’t have that problem, so grabbing inappropriate nibbles between 8 and 11pm is usually either down to poor planning or genuine hunger.
The key is to discover whether you are genuinely hungry or just eating for the sake of it. If it’s the latter, finding something to distract you from eating will help.
Eating an evening meal rich in protein such as a chicken curry is helpful because your appetite will be suppressed for longer. Also consider boosting your protein at breakfast. An American study showed that eating a high protein breakfast containing eggs, lean beef or cottage cheese was effective at curbing unhealthy snacking in the evening.
Initially, cutting down evening nibbles may be easier than stopping completely. You could first try ‘one night on, one night off’. If this doesn’t work, try saving your treats for Fridays and weekends only. Alternatively, you may find the cold turkey approach works better for you in which case chuck out all the unhealthy snacks and get on with keeping yourself occupied.
Keeping yourself busy is a good way to resist nibbling. It may sound obvious, but rather than sitting in front of a screen every night, you could use the time to learn a new skill, preferably with your hands to keep them occupied. Ever fancied learning a musical instrument, knitting or doing aircraft modelling? Now might be also be a good time to tackle all that sewing, ironing or folding that needs doing. If you tend to grab snacks during commercial breaks, use this time to do some sit ups, trying to beat your record each time! If being at home is too tempting, book yourself in for some regular classes at the gym, look for some clubs to join or meet up with friends.
If all the light nibbles you have in the cupboard is a ‘sharing’ bag of Doritos (can anyone else easily munch their way through a pack unassisted?) and some peanut m&ms it’s going to be very hard to resist indulging. Once we’ve started nibbling this may lead to a beer or two, and perhaps another bag of crisps if the urge takes us! So instead, fill your fridge and freezer with healthy, easy to prepare meals and snacks. Good examples are:
Beating hunger pangs
Many people find that whatever they eat or do during the day they are genuinely starving in the evening. This is particularly the case for very active people who have done a workout during the day or who eat their main meal early. If so, try the following advice:
Don’t let the darker evenings cast a shadow over your healthy intentions. Feed yourself well, at the right time, and you’ll be rewarded with energy and vitality throughout the autumn.