It’s finally evening. You worked a full day, made dinner, spent time with your kids, got them to bed, and got everything prepped for the next morning’s rush. Now it’s your time to crash. You sit down, ready to relax, when the urge to eat something hits you. What do you do? Resist or give in?
Conventional advice tells you not to eat past 7:00 pm or your body will store that treat in places you don’t want it to. Snacking at night can derail all your progress and the good effort you put in during the day, and it’s not worth it. But in the real world, dealing with the stress of real life, this late night snack is your escape; a brief moment in time where you can forget about responsibility and just enjoy yourself.
So instead of asking what DO you do, I think the better question is what SHOULD you do.
My answer… well, it depends. (Don’t you hate that?!)
My husband and I snack almost every night. Though for us, “late night snacking” starts around 7:30 pm. And you know what? I don’t feel bad about it. When I eat my snack, I don’t feel guilty and I don’t punish myself for it the next day by attempting to eat less or exercise more. We’ve fit this snacking into our routine in a healthy way. That, my friend, is the key.
I shared what an average day in our house is like in this post and this post. When it comes to food, I plan. I select healthy meals and snacks a week in advance and buy everything I need to make them ahead of time. This gives us a good balance of protein, carbs, and fats at every meal plus our morning and afternoon snacks right at our fingertips – no thought required.
Due to this planning and careful snacking during the day, we never get to the point where our hunger controls us and clouds our judgment. But since we eat dinner early (4:30 – 5:00 pm), my husband and I are both ready for a light snack after we put our kids to bed. The challenge here is keeping it “light.” (By light I don’t mean low-fat but properly portioned, like one serving of pretzels and not the whole bag.)
I personally believe that it doesn’t really matter when you eat your calories as long as you’re eating the right amount from the right sources. If you like to eat two big meals a day but those meals are well balanced and provide you with all the nutrients you need, then all the power to you! It’s not so much the timing of the calories but the quality of the calories that matters. (Unless you’re focused on improving athletic performance. In that case, the timing of your calories does matter. But for the general population who just wants to be healthy, it’s more important to focus on what to eat instead of when to eat.)
With that in mind, there are certain guidelines that are helpful to follow when trying to make healthy choices. When I say it’s OK to have a snack in the evening, I don’t mean you should sit down with your daily piece of pie or bag of favorite candy and have at it. I also don’t mean to imply that it’s a free for all and you should eat until you can’t possibly eat any more, even if you’re eating seemingly healthy food. There is a certain amount of what I’ll call “health integrity” that is required. If snacking is a habitual practice for you, then you cannot afford to compromise by eating unhealthy foods this regularly.
There are times when I mindfully choose not to snack. If we ate a particularly large (or unhealthy) dinner or had dessert then our evening snack is automatically cut out. I don’t miss it on those nights because I’m already satisfied, my stomach is full. If I don’t feel hungry, I try not to eat just for the comfort of eating. It can be a struggle at times and I don’t always succeed, but it is something I am conscious of and do my best with. Remember, the goal is to make habitually healthy choices, not achieve perfection.
I want to reassure you that I am not against occasional treats. Have that birthday cake. Take your kids out for ice cream once or twice during the summer. Eat it and be guilt free! This freedom will help you maintain healthy habits for years to come. If you never allow yourself to enjoy decadent food , you will eventually revert back to eating as much of it as you want whenever you want. This type of regular, daily indulgence is detrimental to both your body composition and your performance goals. Instead, indulge occasionally and be healthy for life.
Train yourself not think of eating healthy foods as a diet but as a lifestyle. Diets are temporary. Lifestyles are forever.
FitTip: The key to long term success with snacking is to make eating healthier options a habit. To start, it is probably best if you don’t keep your trigger foods in the house. If you can’t resist a nightly bowl of ice cream, then don’t buy it. Experiment with healthier options and proper portion sizes. Pinterest is full of ideas. Have you ever tried banana ice cream? Yum!