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How To Kick That Late Night Snacking Habit: 6 Simple Tricks To Ease Your Cravings

As the moon rises, so can our tendency to grab less-than-nutritious snacks in out-of-control portions.

What sorts of reasons has Cynthia Sass, a Tampa-based registered dietitian, heard from her clients about why they snack or binge in the evening hours? "Lots!" says Sass, also a national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Everything from stress, boredom, loneliness, habit, and suggestive TV ads, to eating too little during the day to pressure from friends or family.

Here's what she advises to get through the nighttime hours without giving in to overindulgence.

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  • Figure out your pattern.

    Start by keeping a food journal, suggests Sass. Include what you ate, how much, where, and who was with you (if anyone). Note how you were feeling before, during, and after, and how hungry you felt on a scale from zero (being hungry with physical symptoms) to 10 (stuffed) before and after. "Tracking the details can be very eye-opening," says Sass. "It can help someone see their patterns — the bonding ritual of night eating with their 'partner in crime' or eating alone while watching TV."

  • Determine why you do what you do.

    Once you know what you're doing, stop and consider what it is that triggers this behavior. What's the need you're trying to meet? Are you eating a bag of chips out of boredom or bedtime habit? Soothing your loneliness with chocolate? Trying to ease your sadness with spoonfuls of peanut butter? Relieving stress with a dish of ice cream?

  • Try out healthy alternatives.

    The most helpful ways to take your mind off of food will be those that match the need, says Sass. "If you're sad, cleaning isn't going to help you not want chocolate, but talking to a friend might. On the flip side, if you're really just bored, cleaning might help." Remind yourself that meditation, yoga, or deep-breathing relaxation methods can relieve stress better than eating high-fat foods. Then practice taking care of yourself in ways not found in the fridge.

  • Skip the fast.

    If you skip meals during the day in an effort to lose weight, you may find yourself ravenous at night and overeating as a result. Your body quickly gets used to being fed at a certain hour. Break the nighttime cycle by eating small healthy meals during the day to maintain a sense of fullness. Also, keep away from caffeine and alcohol at bedtime.

  • Make smart choices.

    If you're truly hungry and not just eating out of habit, make smart choices by paying close attention to food labels and portion sizes, says Sass. For satisfying, low-calorie snacks, she suggests a serving of 94 percent fat-free microwave popcorn, hummus with raw veggies for dipping, or fresh fruit. A half glass of skim milk and a graham cracker is another healthy comfort snack that can take the edge off your hunger.

  • Give yourself time.

    Altering your eating patterns is a process that takes time, says Sass. "Don't beat yourself up if you can't change it right away. We don't learn to speak a new language or play a musical instrument overnight — it takes time and practice, and this does too."

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