How to Break the Nighttime Snacking Habit

This is a true story. Between the years of 1986 and 1996, I had a serious problem with nighttime snacking. Serious problem. It began the year before I got married, when every night when I came home from a date I’d sit down with my roommates and have ice cream or cookies or we’d even order a pizza. (At midnight.)

Once I got married, John joined me on my little venture. We’d go out to dinner and then stop by the grocery store to pick up a treat for our midnight snack. It wasn’t healthy foods we were picking up, but chips we’d smother with cheese, full-fat Breyer’s Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream with chocolate syrup, or a pound bag of M&M’s to share.

We’d sit on the couch and indulge ourselves while we watched television. Every single night. After the children started to come along we did the same thing, only by now I had a serious weight problem, and I had developed an affection for baking. Now not only did we eat store bought treats, but I was making cookies, cakes, and brownies just for us.

In 1997, when I began to lose my extra 150 pounds, I knew I needed to stop eating an additional 1000 calories after dinner. The hard part was that I had had that habit for a lot of years and it was hard to break. 

If you are like me and have a hard time with the nighttime snacking, here are some things that I did to help me get through the evening without eating another dinner after dinner. 

“Closed” the kitchen. After dinner was over, I’d clean the kitchen completely and turn out the lights. Something about seeing the counters sparkling and the lights out helped remind me I was done eating should I wander back in there in search of a treat.

Kept busy. I found that just watching television wasn’t enough of a distraction for me in the evening. During commercials I’d really want to get up and forage in the pantry. I combatted that desire by taking up some crafts. I began scrapbooking, I sewed, and I worked on my writing.

Went to bed. There were many nights where I felt the nighttime monster raging so hard that I simply went to bed. I couldn’t eat while I was asleep so I’d put on my PJ’s and tell John goodnight. He’s say, “It’s only 8:30 – you’re going to bed?” I’d nod and off I’d go.

Drank something hot. I found that the act of preparing a hot cup of tea, diet hot chocolate or even decaf coffee helped me avoid eating.

Had a back-up plan. If my strategies didn’t work, then I always had something healthy set aside to eat. Remember this was a long time ago, before the days of 100 calorie packs 🙂 so I would portion out some crackers during the day and I’d eat those. I always had carrots and fresh fruit on hand – just in case.

If you sometimes struggle with eating too much after dinner, I hope that some of these ideas will help you.

Have you ever dealt with this? How did you win?  Diane

38 thoughts on “How to Break the Nighttime Snacking Habit

  1. Cammy@TippyToeDiet says:

    I plan for a small serving of yogurt at night, so I don’t *usually* have huge snacking issues. For those times that I do, your list is almost the same as mine! (I don’t drink hot beverages.) This time of year I’ll go outside on the patio or just walk up and down the driveway and look at stars. And mosquitoes.

  2. Susan says:

    I like your list and like the first poster said I brush my teeth and floss after I’m done eating. Also, I try to finish eating for the day 2 to 3 hours before bed time. I catch up on my reading after dinner so I am on the other side of the house from the kitchen.
    When I first started working from home being home all the time got to me with food always being available worse than the night time eating thing. Now I hope I have both of them conquered:)
    Sometimes if I have a craving for sugar I will chew sugar less gum it helps a lot!

  3. Carla says:

    I always remember that my parents used to eat a bowl of chips and a soft drink after dinner while watching tv. Then when I got older my mom warned me never to snack after dinner because it was the hardest habit to break. So whenever I would get the urge, I would rarely give in, until the years where I was addicted to chocolate, when I would eat it in bed at night. Then I realized what a bad example I was setting for my boys. I always tell them only to eat food at the table, so I didn’t want them seeing me eating in bed! Some nights I am truly hungry and I’ll have a glass of milk before bed which is perfect!
    .-= Carla´s last blog ..My goals for this week =-.

  4. vickie says:

    I would add brush teeth to closing the kitchen – so it is closing kitchen and closing mouth too. I have known bloggers who put up baby gates or signs (in addition to clean table/counters and turned off light) to help them remember closed/done concept

    Your handwork suggestion is a good one – keeping the hands busy and the mind distracted.

    and I think the NO FOOD IN FRONT OF THE TV rule is helpful too. No matter what time of day – food goes on a plate and is eaten at the table – while at home. this helps with only eating PLANNED meals/snacks a lot.
    .-= vickie´s last blog .. =-.

  5. Desert Agave says:

    My most dangerous snacking time has always been between 3-6 pm, but I used to do some evening snacking too. These days the thing that I do most often when I find myself wanting something at night is go to bed early. Like you, sometimes that means before 9 pm. I tell myself that the sooner I fall asleep, the sooner I can get up and have breakfast.
    .-= Desert Agave´s last blog ..An Itchy Miracle =-.

  6. Julie Lost and Found says:

    This is a HUGE problem for me…nighttime snacking. Since I started South Beach, I was able to get through the evenings much easier, but I do have one planned snack, usually a protein source.

    I also find brushing my teeth helps. I had heard that for years and thought “ya right..not me!” but when I’m really focused on not eating at night, there are some evenings that I’ll brush 3 or 4 times to curb the monster.

    Also, many nights I have just gone to bed.

    I used to have a hobby..knitting, cross stitch..something to do with my hands at night. Now, I sit with my laptop and I either work, or I spend the evenings reading weight loss blogs and catching up on email.

    I like your idea about closing the kitchen. There is something about a clean, dark kitchen in the evening with a sparkly sink that makes you not want to mess anything up.. 🙂
    .-= Julie Lost and Found´s last blog ..Bipolar and Other Thoughts =-.

  7. Marcelle says:

    I am happy to say I have never dealt with any of the above….I have always tried to be healthy ~ even during my fatter days…I think I just ate too much and didn’t train…I did snack but only at functions and here and there during the day.
    I now see how lucky I am….
    You can be so proud of yourself Diane, you have come so so far.
    I admire you so much.

  8. Fran says:

    I have a lot of things I’m not doing right with my eating but I never had midnight snacks. I’m glad too because it’s already hard enough to change all the other habits 🙂

  9. Jody - Fit at 52 says:

    This is so huge for many! I just commented on this somewhere. I think some people just can’t do it & for them, they do that stop 2 hours or more before bed thing.

    Me, I have learned to plan for a healthy 200-250 calories eve snack.. BUT, right after, I go brush my teeth & I drink water after that!
    .-= Jody – Fit at 52´s last blog ..What is Your Way =-.

  10. Amy says:

    I used to have a serious problem eating after I put the kids to bed when they were little. It was one of the major reasons I was so heavy. I remember seeing Bob Greene on Oprah years ago saying you had to stop eating 2-3 hours before bed. It was really hard to break the habit but I finally changed it and now it feels normal to close the kitchen after dinner and not have anything else until breakfast in the morning! For me this was a huge victory!
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Weekend Recap =-.

  11. Lori says:

    After the kids are in bed, I try to get ready for bed myself. A shower, brushing and flossing, and putting on the PJ’s not only uses up a lot of the available snacking time, but I also don’t like to eat once my mouth feels clean.

  12. Diane's Husband, John says:

    Diane, I remember those late night romps with food. Knowing what we know now about food, I am amazed at what we ate. We combined high sugar and fat foods with just sitting around. No wonder the weight piled on for us both. It was hard to break those nightly habits, but your strategies worked. Love you. John

  13. Laura Jane says:

    I have a problem with all day snacking! My worst time is not nighttime snacking but at work snacking. I get so sleepy when I sit at my computer all day and I just want to snack. Unfortunately I can’t really go and do something distracting or read blogs or go for a walk like I can at home. I think that’s why I actually do better at home and at night. My most successful strategy so far has been to bring tons of healthy snacks, eat lower cal breakfast and lunch, and just kinda go with it. I’ll bring 10 oz of grapes and 2 sliced apples or something like that.
    .-= Laura Jane´s last blog ..Week 2 Results =-.

  14. Hanlie says:

    This has seriously never been a problem for me. Eating too big a dinner maybe, but not snacking while watching TV. We just never got into the habit. We stopped watching TV for a while, but are now watching the World Cup matches at 8:30 pm, during which we might have an orange and a cup of rooibos tea.
    .-= Hanlie´s last blog ..What a week it’s been- =-.

  15. Stacy says:

    This is something I have never struggled with, and wonder how it happens. Aren’t you still full from dinner? Maybe we eat later at 6:30? Sometimes I do get hunger pangs when I am up at midnight, but I just drink more water to drown them out. The concept of eating at that time of night doesn’t really sound like a good idea. It’s not that I’ve never done it. I remember plenty of times after the bar when I was in college where we would go to “breakfast” at 3am. Of course then we slept until noon, so I guess it really was breakfast. 😉
    .-= Stacy´s last blog ..Baby stuff =-.

    • Diane says:

      I think for me it wasn’t hunger that was driving the after dinner “dinner” but rather boredom and bad habits. It seemed relaxing to eat in front of the television. Even though I knew it was a bad idea I had a hard time putting the brakes on it. I’m glad you haven’t struggled with this – some people have a hard time with this habit! I too remember eating breakfast at 3:00 a.m. – but don’t tell my kids I ever did that!

  16. Tish says:

    I adopted a house rule from my growing up years. No food in the bedrooms or upstairs. This has saved me from the nighttime munchies so many times. The other big thing that helps is that my DH (my very D, DH) years ago agreed to do the dishes and clean up after dinner to help me avoid after-dinner eating.

  17. Leah says:

    Great ideas. I’ve done the “closed kitchen” myself or the sipping a hot beverage and they both work well for me. I’m also noticing that many times I am just tired and should go to bed, but it’s not just 8:30…it’s usually really late and I really do need to get to bed. 🙂
    .-= Leah´s last blog ..Let Freedom Ring- – Day 1 =-.

  18. Mbini says:

    Its soccer world cup playing. Mr V is watching and at some point he will go to the kitchen and make some tea for himself and a cup of boiled water with lemon for me. He does it all the time. He never asks what I want for snack, he just brings that every time. So that’s my snack.

  19. Paramjit says:

    Snacking after dinner is a big problem. It comes down to creating a distraction as you have nicely summed up. I think the most effective tip that you have given is to drink something hot. People should realize that the insulin spike just before sleeping is very detrimental to weight loss.
    .-= Paramjit´s last blog ..Crack the Fat Loss Code =-.

  20. Biz says:

    I am of the kitchen is closed mindset – you are right, seeing the clean counters and the lights off helps!

    Okay, well, last night I had low blood sugar, so I had to eat something, but that is the exception to the rule 😀

  21. Kimberley says:

    That is one thing I don’t have a problem with. I don’t eat again after dinner and I end my day with a cup of homemade cocoa.

    It is very rich and creamy as I use skim milk and fat free evaporated milk in it. I also swirl in some coconut oil and it tastes like a Bounty!

    If my BF and I go to see a band at night, I will usually plan to have a late night snack…we usually split an order of sweet potato fries…but it is planned and not all the time.
    .-= Kimberley´s last blog ..Worthy Cause Wednesday =-.

  22. Mary (A Merry Life) says:

    I used to struggle with this a lot. Now not at all. Some nights I have a night time snack, if my dinner was early, but its planned and its appropriate. Other than that I just tell myself I don’t need to eat and I don’t. Win!
    .-= Mary (A Merry Life)´s last blog ..Do You Feel Skinny =-.

  23. Miz says:

    now that Im more intuitive I eat a nightly snack—except when I dont 🙂
    but before when I was working my way toward intuitive I definitely planned in a nightly snack.
    I knew I needed to find a way of eating that would work for me forever—and I DO LOVE MY NIGHTLY SNACKS 🙂
    .-= Miz´s last blog ..Intuitive eating new Two Fit Chicks podcast =-.

  24. Sandy says:

    Still a major problem for me. It seems I snack between 4 and 6 and again in the hour before bed. I always have a fountain Diet Coke as my nighttime treat but usually want something else sweet too. If our local frozen custard shop has one of my favorite flavors I will have a kids dish (about 200 calories) and then I don’t need anything else so I try to save that much. Otherwise I weigh out the appropriate grams of ice cream to stay under 200 calories.

  25. John says:

    My trick was a table spoon of Peanut Butter or gum and if that didn’t work something healthy. I also drink lots of water which seems to help as well.

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