Snacking after Dinner

Nutrition, January 15, 2018

Is poor habitual snacking after dinner preventing you from your body optimisation and performance goals?

A few of my EVERFIT athletes have bought up in their catch ups that they would like to get better control over after dinner snacking. First of all lets unpack a few key questions before we get into how to make sure that this is a habit that ultimately serves us and doesn't hinder progress towards our wellness goals.


Firstly are you having to snack due to not meeting your kcal requirements for the day? I would suggest that if you are "stomach" hungry and you have had a day when you have completed two sessions or had a particularly challenging (intensity wise or duration) key session then your body might require more nutrition. If this is the case then as long as you are snacking on good quality kcal without  (eg (sweet) banana, cacao, chai and almond milk smoothie or (savory) tomato, avocado on quality crackers) 

If you have met your kcal requirements, and you have had a light day training then your snacking could be more of a "head" hungry or habit.  Now it's a good idea to look at the reason for this habit. 


In some instances it can be due to tiredness, when you are feeling tired the body releases more hormones that make you hungry (ghrelin - hunger hormone) and slow release of hormones (leptin - satiety hormone) that make you feel satisfied.  Research has shown that not getting enough sleep or poor sleep habits have been linked with a decrease in leptin, and an increase in ghrelin. Staying on top of your sleep is so important to stop this hormonal double tag team to increase your feeling to snack (please see my past article on the importance of sleep Wholistic Runner Part 2 - SLEEP

Another reason for unnecessary snacking after dinner is people looking for a reward after a tough day. Getting stressed and then using food (or worse alcohol) as a coping mechanism can lead to problems. Mindless snacking is a way of avoiding difficult emotions or feelings - it's "comfort eating" and an easy short term way to bury the problem. When we have unresolved stress then cortisol (stress hormone) rises and this increases cravings for high carbohydrate, fatty, salty, or sweet foods . During stressful times our feel good hormones (serotonin and dopamine) lower and we get increased cravings for carbohydrates to boost these chemicals. Digging down into reasons for these habits and then how to tag better habits after dinner can be a rewarding experience. Check out my article on Habits - Trigger, behaviour, reward if you would like more info on this


Here are some 5 ways to help with poor snaking habits after dinner

1) Optimise your food environment - Plan your weekly shop and have healthy nutritious, plant based whole food in your cupboards. If you have healthy options available at home this will nudge you towards better food habits. This is VERY important and one of the first things I stress in my client consultations. 


2) Hydrate - Drinking enough throughout the day means you are less likely to overeat. Simply put if you are drinking water instead of another kcal containing beverage it helps with overall weight management in the long term. Alcohol is the worst of all liquid kcal as it has an effect of stimulating food intake. Drinking adequate water is so important for all aspects of wellness, digestive health, temperture regulation; it literally maintains the health and integrity of every cell in the body. 

3) Be mindful about your snacking - before the snack, stop for a moment and analyse the real reason for the food. As discussed previously is it comfort, a reward, boredom, or are you really "stomach" and not just "head" (habitually hungry). Looking to replace the snack with another behaviour eg going for a walk, stretching, or even a tea (I love Puka's Licorice tea or a Cacao nibs and coconut brew up). I enjoy using the HEADSPACE app for meditation to help create space between thinking and action. Helping create this space allows more informed choices rather than being swept along with habitual behaviour. Headspace now has a Mindful Eating 10 day pack that I found particularly good. 


4) Eat your VEGGIES and PROTEIN - Try and include vegetables as often as possible throughout your day. They provide fibre for fullness and a wide array of vitamins, mineral, and photo-nutrients to help with the bodies moment to moment biochemistry processes. Including good quality plant protein and fat creates satiety keeping you fuller for longer periods. This helps with the urge to snack. Some good examples of plant protein are tofu, temph, nuts, and a good quality powder. We use Garden of Life - Raw Organic Protein in smoothies (choc and vanilla flavour), and we bulk up soups and stews with the natural flavour. 

5) Eat till 80% full - Eat slowly and mindfully. When finished wait for 20min before deciding on having a second helping. It can take the stomach 20-30min to send messages to the brain about it's state of fullness. The Okinawans (indigenous people of Ryukyu Islands in Japan) eat till they are 80% full. They are famous for having one of the longest life expediencies in the world. This rule is called "Hara Hachi Bu".