The Story of the Late Night Snacker

When I meet with patients who are looking to lose weight for reasons X, Y, or Z  one of my most valuable tools as an RD is conducting a thorough diet recall. Essentially I’ll start by asking them to tell me at what time they wake up, when and what is the first thing they eat, and so on and so forth. They’ll proceed to walk me through a typical day, uninterrupted, telling me about their meals and wrap up their story by saying, “See, I don’t eat that much” or “I feel like my meals are healthy, I just don’t get why I’m not losing weight”.

As an RD I know that asking them to walk me through their day once is never the end of their eating story. I’ll carefully revisit their day, asking for elaboration on brands, portion size, and timing, which usually reveals a bit more. Towards the end, almost as a sneak attack tactic, I ask about their drink and snack habits, which have conveniently been left out of their original telling of their story. At long last, I usually uncover their “zinger”, the answers to why weight loss has been so difficult!

photo by bethany newman

For many people, snacks between meals or after dinner aren’t considered “meals” and so are usually left out of their diet recalls. These ommissions happen either consciously or subconsciously for many reasons; however, it is often this habit of grazing, especially in the evening hours, that stalls weight loss goals. But rather than putting on the food police pants or laying down the dietitian iron-fist and banishing snacks forever, I gladly take the opportunity to provide some education on why late night snacking may be occurring and from there we can move forward and work together to change their story from one of late night snacker to balanced eater, which will help to move them in the direction of their weight loss goals.

This problem is not an uncommon one for patients in my clinic, nor for the athletes at Crossfit Soto, who have been submitting me fitness, but also food questions. Since it’s not completely workout related, I’m featuring this one athlete’s question as a non-Workout Wednesday post. They asked me:

I eat good meals all day long, then at night I’ll be watching tv and relaxing and before I know it I’ve eaten a bag of chips, or too much peanut/almond butter or my week’s worth of guac is gone…..I don’t even realize I’ve been eating it….

To this inquisitor, and for anyone who struggles with breaking the cycle of late night eating, allow me to shed some light on the situation.

First off, I feel it’s important to try to understand WHY this late night snacking is occurring. For many people, the answer is often that breakfast is overlooked as they rush out the door or my personal favorite line of, “I’ve just never been a breakfast eater” (me either folks, but have you seen my Instagram feed now? Breakfast fanatic over here, people). For others, the reason could be that their lunch was a skimpy low-carb salad or perhaps they did a post-work exercise class and forgot to fuel with an afternoon snack. As you can see, late night eats are usually the result of insufficient, unbalanced fueling throughout the day.

And the key word there really is balance, meaning a meal containing a large portion of fiber from vegetables or fruit (usually at breakfast), alongside moderate portions of whole grains and lean protein. A snack should apply the same principles and aim for well-roundedness to stave off hunger and boost your energy. If you’re on the ball with this, then your true hunger should pretty much be satisfied by the evening and a snack on the sofa isn’t even a thought.

an example of a balanced, healthy plate I use for patient education in my clinic

However, true biological hunger at night is not always the reason for that late night snack. Tapping into your emotional “hunger” can help to determine if your body is saying, “I need food” or “I need your attention”. Rebecca Scritchfield, author of the intuitive eating guidebook “Body Kindness” encourages you to use the HALT Method in such times. Hungry? Yep, go ahead and eat (more on what to choose in a bit). Angry, lonely, or tired (or any other emotion besides hunger)? Nope, don’t need to eat. Instead, work on finding other actions that pull you away from the fridge, such as doing some light stretching, sipping a mug of tea, organizing emails, or reading up on your favorite fitness or food blogs :) Using this intuitive eating strategy can help you become a more mindful eater and realize that bored eating might be a deeply ingrained habit for you.

In the end, if your tank is really running on empty and you don’t want to battle a grumbling tummy before bed, or it’s movie night with the family and a snack is routine, you can at least implement some strategies to rein in the grazing.

  • Choose a neutral snack, for example, an apple, or a small yogurt. These foods don’t scream “over-eat me!” and so it is easier to eat less of them, but still helps fill your hunger.
  • Try a voluminous snack like popcorn- 3 cups is 1 serving! Skip the butter and use seasonings such as cinnamon and turmeric, or black pepper and rosemary.
  • Portion out a single serving. Take a look at the serving size on the nutrition facts label and try to portion that out into a small bowl. This comes especially in handy for nut butters- 2 tablespoons (served with a fiber filled piece of fruit or a crisp bread) is plenty for a snack!
  • After having your single serving, it may be helpful to wash it down with a glass of water or tea, or brush your teeth the signal the end of eating for the night. No one wants to ruin a fresh minty palate!

As you can see, the story of the late night snacker is not one of poor willpower or a sweet tooth on steroids. Snacking is usually driven by irregular and unbalanced eating throughout the day, mindless emotionally-driven munching, or a combination of both.

To break this habit and gain control of your weight loss goals, or to simply feel more connected to your food choices, I recommend following the walk-through exercise outlined above, noting where your “skips” occur and figuring out ways to make your meals or snacks more complete. Becoming a more intuitive eater can allow anyone to rewrite their story as a more nutritious tale.

 

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Workout Wednesday: Is afterburn legit?

Welcome to the second installment of Workout Wednesday!

Last week’s query focused on calorie “budgeting” for weight loss and how that fits in with increased hunger levels post-workout. While going to the gym for a workout is a huge boost for your metabolic health, you would be mistaken in thinking that the fridge is completely free reign for the afternoon or that becoming a couch potato for the rest of the day is a valid reward for your hard work. In other words, relying on the “afterburn” effect of your hour workout to magically erase any calories over-consumed later in the day would be an ill-advised strategy.

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Rainbow Collard Green Wrap

Of his own choosing my husband requested a recipe with collard greens and portobello mushrooms this week- seriously! If you knew Mr. CN five years ago your eyes would be popping out of your head right now. This is the guy whose vegetable intake was basically limited to guacamole and a tomato pasta sauce when I met him. Now, after years of gentle nudging and a few fancy dinners to expand his culinary horizons, my husband pages through Eating Well magazine in a manner similar to which I delve into newly published nutrition studies. Oh how my dietitian heart sings!

The point of this post is not the fact that we enjoyed delicious Collards and Portobello Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, but rather that I have collard greens for days and created a delicious and refreshing lunch for myself this week.

Collard green wraps are a great low-carb lunch option and a cool answer your cooking woes during this oppressive NYC heat. The best part is their versatility. I chose to prepare mine in more of a Mediterranean style (still reeling about my recent travels to Spain I suppose), but you could roll up a Mexican or Asian variety by changing the fillings (corn/black bean/bell peppers or tofu/kimchi/scallions, respectively) and perhaps serving it with a spicy or soy-based sauce.

Now, if you’re looking at that thick stem running through the leafy green thinking, “this is WAY too much crunch and will taste like I’m eating a twig”, trust me when I say it’s delicious! I was rolling my wrap with a little trepidation, but within my first few bites I was glad I didn’t break down the integrity of the collard by cutting it out- keep those leaves intact!

Collards are a Southern staple that are ripe with good nutrition- some of the standout nutrients are vitamins A & K, folate, and calcium. Plus, you get so much bang for your buck- my massive bunch, which will easily feed me/us for 3-4 meals, only cost $1.50. When you get big nutrition for a low cost it’s a win-win!

Rainbow Collard Green Wrap- serves 1

Ingredients

  • 1 collard green leaf, washed and pat dry
  • 4 Tbsp hummus- I have found this Brooklyn-based company that I LOVE! Find it at Fairway.
  • 2 Honey and Ginger Love Beets, sliced
  • 3/4 bell pepper, sliced
  • sliced red onion
  • crumbled feta cheese

Directions

Layer

Roll- via a twitter video ’cause i’m new to this whole video thing :)

 

Caramelized Fennel Pasta

Do you have a back pocket pasta recipe? You know, one that’s easy to pull off for a weeknight dinner when your meal planning efforts fail, but pleases everyone in your house? With the arrival of spring and carbo-loading for the half marathon in full effect, I may have just discovered my new favorite back pocket pasta recipe featuring caramelized fennel, tender spinach, bright lemon zest, and creamy goat cheese.

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A Savory “Pie” for Pi Day

Today is March 14th, so math nerds, rejoice- it’s 3.14 or Pi Day! I’m celebrating today, not because I am a math nerd (I actually HATED math as kid), but because it’s also a snow day here in NYC and I’m spending the day in the kitchen whipping up some yummy recipes.

While I may not be very fond of math, I am very, very fond of pie. Of the sweet variety, I would have to say some of my favorites are strawberry rhubarb, peach, or blueberry, but I will certainly not turn down a chocolate mousse or peanut butter pie! However, seeing as it’s just me and my husband, and we don’t feel like scarffing down a whole sweet pie by ourselves (sadly, I don’t think it’s in the half marathon training meal plan either), I made a savory “pie” today in the form of a Swiss Chard and Leek Frittata.

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National Nutrition Month

To my fellow RD’s, foodies, and health nuts- Happy National Nutrition Month!

Each year during the month of March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics  celebrates all things good food and nutrition, and encourages the public to adopt a healthier lifestyle according to specified theme. This year the theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward”, which is meant to serve as a reminder to start with making small changes in your habits, which will more likely lead to lasting and enjoyable eating practices.

I absolutely love this theme, because it’s something I actually discuss with patients and they do see results! When we declutter our minds from the overwhelming number of guidelines and “do’s and don’ts” of nutrition, and focus instead on choosing one behavior that is going to be easiest to change and sustain for ourselves personally, then we are much more likely to succeed and feel motivated to change other behaviors going forward!

Feeling inspired, I decided to share my advice on the topic of making small and realistic changes in one’s diet on the Stone Soup, a blog by dietitians that runs as a companion to the Academy’s Food and Nutrition Magazine. My tips are centered around shifting your healthy habits during spring vacation travels, so I hope you will find them useful.

I’m proud and excited that this is my second time being published on the blog, and you can find my current article right here– enjoy!

Training for My First Half Marathon

Every time I stand on the sidelines and cheer friends and family on as they race towards the finish line of half or full marathons, I feel exhilarated and inspired. I think, “if they can do this, so could I!” And so, after using my internship year, nuptials, and new job as convenient scapegoats, I have finally run out of excuses, and figured it was time for me to run my first half marathon! I’ve been training for the past 5 weeks, with 7 more to go, and I’ve learned a lot about my physical capabilities, mental toughness, eating intuitively, and enjoying running! Today I’m sharing with you my biggest lessons learned so far on my road to 13.1

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Better Breakfasts with Steel Cut Oats

My readers and patients alike have frequently heard me talk about quick and easy meal ideas, especially breakfasts. After all, breakfast really is found to be one of the most important meals of the day as it is associated with reduced risk of overweight and obesity (Szajewska & Ruszczynski 2010); better glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, which is especially critical for individuals with type II diabetes (Versteeg et al 2015); and improved satiety that leads to less overconsumption at subsequent meals (de Castro J 2007).

For the most part, I am a fan of breakfasts that require minimal effort during the week- Siggi’s yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts, hard boiled eggs over homemade bread, or a mason jar of delicious overnight oats. Lately, however, I have fallen in love with steel cut oats.

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