A dear friend recently mentioned she is trying to stop snacking at night and asked if I had any thoughts. DO I. This is actually my bugaboo these days as well. After a momentary pause, I’m back to snacking. Every. Night. Some of this I’m fine with. Some of it I want to stop.
If you are looking to slow your snack roll, these are the top strategies I can think of from a self-professed habits afficionado.
Examine your dinner
I know we are all sick to death of cooking these days. It feels like it is literally all I do anymore. (On top of everything else I do, of course.) So me saying to construct a more exciting, flavorful, fulfilling dinner is likely not the top of your priorities. I know.
BUT. If you are snacking later because you are kinda hungry, you may want to examine your dinner. Are you never really stopping to eat? Are you just scrounging off of kids’ plates? Make sure you are getting enough FOR YOU. Try to make sure you are excited about eating it, at least some of the time. Sprinkle some lemon juice and chopped herbs to make it fancy. Do you. Just make sure you are getting enough food.
You could also take a tip from the French and serve your dinner in courses. This could be a way to bring some of your snack situation into dinner in a more purposeful way. Try a cheese course after dinner. Serve fruit with whipped cream. Slap a few nuts on a plate with a piece of fruit. Go ahead and serve tiny scoops of ice cream.
Again, I know that adding more to dos to dinner is likely not a priority at the moment, but hear me out. Would incorporating a bit of a treat into your meal blunt the desire for it later? Just something to think about.
Break up with your snacking activity
If you are like me, 99% of the time your snacking has absolutely nothing to do with hunger. This means that I could whip up a 5 course gourmet meal and STILL feel snacky at night.
For me, snacking has become a comforting part of my nighttime routine. We get the kids to bed. We tidy as much as our energy allows. Then we delight in loading up a tray with a few choice snacks to snuggle into the couch with and watch TV.
TV is definitely the key to my snack situation. I have wired the connection so hard into my brain that sitting down to TV at night makes me want to snack. I could continue to fight this. OR I could try to have less TV in my evenings. At least until I can help break the connection.
It used to be easier not to TV. For awhile, James and I were doing face steams and masks on Mondays. (We also did things like plan trips which is just sad now.) We haven’t done that lately. It seems our energy is too depleted to contemplate much else these days. Even things we enjoy.
To turn away from the siren call of evening TV (or whatever your snacking activity is), try to make other activities more attractive. Indulge in some magazines. Buy kindle books with abandon. Go ahead and get the nice bath stuff or nail polish. Maybe you invest in something like MasterClass or another fun activity. Again, do you. Maybe you have zero energy to invest in thinking about this now. Maybe you are like WHAT FREE TIME IN THE EVENINGS. That’s OK too. But, if you can, try to think about other enjoyable ways to treat your self. Especially if you only have limited free time. You want to make it count.
Overwrite your snacking habit
Many of the habit books I’ve read suggest that you can never really break a habit. The grooves of cue, craving, habit, reward are wired deep into our systems.
In this case, instead of trying to break the loop, you replace part of it. So if my previous loop was kids are in bed (cue), wanting relief (craving), get snacks for TV (habit), and TV snacking (reward), I could replace the habit with something else. Instead of getting together my snack tray, I could make a cup of tea. I could try loading up with some veggies and hummus. Whatever I choose, the idea is that the feedback loop is still there. I’m just hijacking it to shape the behavior I want.
Keep it out of the house
This may depend on what your snack of choice is. Let’s say you are SUPER into Cheetos. You live for those greasy orange fingers. You have It Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy street cred for days.
(This is a joke for myself. I love many junk foods, but I think Cheetos are an abomination. I just cannot with the Cheetos. Which my family can attest the few times I’ve tried to get them a treat and they try to tell me that puffs are not Cheetos. What do you mean they aren’t Cheetos??? It says Cheeto on the package! FINE. I didn’t want to buy them anyway.)
So when you are ordering your groceries or making your precision grocery strike, you just need enough willpower not to get those Cheetos. It’s done. Then, maybe you are still snacky at night, but nothing sounds as good as Cheetos so you just don’t. Maybe it’s hard for a bit, but maybe you get over it? It sounds good, right? I dunno. Your mileage may vary. I do know that it is easier to make “responsible” decisions earlier than in the day than what our snack brain wants at 8:30 pm. Use that.
If your snack of choice is something that you actually DO need in the house like nuts and olives or pickles, you’re in more of a pickle. Hehe.
Contain your snack habit
Here, I go against everything I said in the previous section and I say LEAN INTO YOUR SNACK. Just make it more of a special event. Let’s say you decide that Fridays are the day. You are going to get downright romantic styles with your snack. You make sure you have all your favorite stuff and you enjoy with abandon. That sounds like a win to me! You contained your snacking to one day, and then you made sure to extra enjoy it. Woohoo!
Let’s say that once a week isn’t enough. But even if you are snacking 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 days of the week, that is still less than 7.
This system really appeals to my schedule loving self. In my ideal world, I would have things like Face Steaming Monday, phone calls on Tuesday, travel planning Wednesday, postcard writing Thursday, podcast bath Friday, and then lots of weekend snacking and TV. Or something like that. I’m spitballing.
The point is that I find schedules comforting. I don’t have to stress about not doing it now or never doing it again because I know that there is an appointed time for it, and I can see where it is. (This really helps me on our daily chore system. I don’t have to stress about the gross toilets today. I know there is a scheduled time to deal with them soon.)
Speaking of schedules, I would remiss if I didn’t have a note for the ladies to keep an eye on your cycle. Those shifting hormones really make a difference in your wants and needs. Is the week before your period the time to fight your snacking efforts? Probably not.
Maybe scheduled snacking days work for you. Try deciding which days you will get your snack on and which you will try other things. And remember, it doesn’t need to be “perfect” whatever that means. But maybe it helps some of the time.
Brush your teeth
Never underestimate the power of a clean mouth in stopping the snack. Similar to the decision not to buy Cheetos, if I can just make myself brush my teeth when my kids do, it changes the course of my whole night. I don’t even want to snack, no willpower required.
(As an added bonus, putting on PJs and washing my face earlier just makes it easier to go to bed as well. Instead of messing around on my phone because I can’t get off the couch to get ready for bed, it’s already done!)
You have to want to stop
I could throw all sorts of additional strategies here. Make a public declaration that you won’t snack! Find a no snack buddy for accountability! I know this particular friend likes to log streaks of behavior. I’m sure adding a no snack Monday to Thursday column would do something.
BUT this same very wise friend also said that this is a time when we need ALL of our coping mechanisms. Good and bad.
We all know that this won’t be forever, but it will probably be longer than we want. It’s a hard time. So many of my self-soothing behaviors (seeing friends, going to an exercise class, etc.) are just off the table right now. If snacking at night is the thing that does it for me these days, that just might be where I’m at right now. I’ve felt tiny bits of bandwidth coming back. That will likely continue. Maybe I can dedicate more of that energy to changing this, but maybe not right now. And that’s OK.
I’m more comfortable with my snacking habit because I’ve been trying to protect my not drinking habit. This isn’t something I’ve talked about here, mostly because I’m not completely sure how I feel about it. Or what to even say really. I haven’t stopped drinking entirely. (I think I’ve had 8 drinks in 2020. Not that I’m counting or anything . . . ) I’m not publicly declaring that I will never drink. I don’t know how long any of this will last. The reason it has lasted is that for the most part I’m really happy with it, and I haven’t wanted to drink. But this means that the few times I’m feeling really low and craving a treat, I’m more than happy to grab some chocolate than let myself think about a glass of wine. (Not that we have any in the house these days anyway.)
Also, I recognize that this is a privileged conversation. Stopping snacking at night is not something you care about if you are worried about getting food on the table at all. One million percent. But I think there is space to recognize that things can be hard for you even if you have a lot of things going for you. Remember, if snacking is working for you right now, ignore all of this. If changing things up would make you feel more in control during an out of control time, these are my thoughts. If you are reading this in ten years when the pandemic and ensuing global depression are behind us, yippee! I hope we made it OK and that we are enjoying a time again where our biggest concerns are snacking at night which led you to this post.
What is your snack situation these days? Are you into it or fighting it? If you are fighting, what’s your attack plan?