How to Stop Snacking After Dinner

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Overeating after a long day is a common pitfall many people face while trying to lose weight. You know the scenario: You were “good” all day, and then you get home and want to empty the fridge. Or maybe you decide to have an after-dinner treat to unwind — you had a stressful day at the office, after all — and one square of dark chocolate turns into a whole bar (or more). You’re left feeling tortured and wondering, How did that just happen?

Well, according to Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, LDN, the Director of Nutrition at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa, it’s probably one of three things. “One is that you’re physically hungry—and that would be because you didn’t eat enough during the day and this is catch up. Or that you went to, say, a spin class after dinner and are hungry and need a snack.”

The third rationale is a little less cut and dried. “The brain has neurons that make you repeat habits,” Gomer explains. “It will make us eat for reasons that have nothing to do with hunger, and once the floodgate opens, we’re done.”

To make matters more complicated, a recent study in the International Journal of Obesity found that our hunger hormones—leptin, which makes us feel full, and ghrelin, which makes us feel hungry—are hard-wiring us to eat more later in the day. Sigh.

Scientists have found that night eaters consume more than 50% of their daily calories after 8 p.m. For many nighttime eaters, weight challenges would be solved if they could simply stop eating at night.1

It’s important to note the distinction between overeating and bingeing, says Pritikin Director of Behavioral Health and Wellness Coral Arvon, PhD, LMFT, LCSW. “Overeating is something that we do now and then. On the other hand, binge eating is eating a whole lot in a short period of time. Binge eaters eat more rapidly, until uncomfortably full. They typically hide food and eat alone. They’re known to have recurring binges—at least once a week for three weeks. It’s about having a lack of control, and it results in shame.”

But whether you’re eating one too many snacks after dinner or engaging in full-blown bingeing, these behaviors are important to address, especially if weight loss in your goal. Here, Gomer and Arvon share their best strategies for overcoming evening-time eating, plus what to do when you do succumb to it. (Hey, we’ve all been there!)

How to Stop Snacking After Dinner

  1. Be a Planner

    The old adage, that failing to plan is planning to fail, couldn’t be truer when it comes to establishing a healthy eating pattern. “Have food prepared and available, and take care of yourself and eat it,” Gomer recommends. “You want to avoid getting too hungry, which makes your body crave more calorie-dense food because it feels like you’re starving.”

    Another thing to pencil into your schedule, according to Gomer:…

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