Is Snacking a Nightly Battle? - Here's How to Win [Podcast]

Welcome to Season 1, Episode 4 of the Reclaiming Your Life podcast. In this episode Lonnie Carbaugh, MS, LPC, NCC will show you how to gain control over nighttime snacking.

You’ll learn:

  • 3 ways to approach nighttime snacking
  • the one habit that determines if you snack at night
  • subconscious cues that lead to snacking at night
  • how to break the habit of snacking in front of the TV
  • the difference between habit and binge eating


Download podcast here

Link Referenced In the Podcast

Do You Snack When Bored or Lonely? - how to stop eating when bored.
Do You Struggle With Binge Eating Disorder? - the difference between giving in to snacks and binging.

Podcast Transcript

[0:00] [music]
Ricky Seiler: [0:12] Welcome to "Reclaiming Your Life" podcast with "Full Plate Living," where our goal is to share positive and practical steps you can take to lose weight, boost your energy, and reclaim your life. My name is Ricky Seiler. I'm your host, and I'm joined today by Lonnie Carbaugh. Lonnie is a Licensed Professional Counselor.

[0:29] He plays a key role in teaching our flagship online course, the "Full Plate Weight Loss Program." Welcome, Lonnie. Thanks for joining us today.

Lonnie Carbaugh: [0:38] Glad to be here.
Ricky: [0:39] In this episode, we'll be asking Lonnie some important questions that a number of you sent in on the topic of nighttime snacking. What do you think of that Lonnie?
Lonnie: [0:48] It's a big problem.
Ricky: [laughs] [0:49] Sounds like it. Here are some of the questions.

[0:51] "Why do I seem to want to snack the most in the evenings?" "Why do I feel like I need snacks when I watch TV, what gives with that?" "How do I break the nighttime snacking habit?" Those sound like some pretty good questions, Lonnie.

Lonnie: [1:06] They are.
Ricky: [1:07] These are just a few of the great questions you'll be getting answers to today. Let's go ahead and get started.

[1:13] This question, Lonnie, came in, "Why do I seem to want to snack the most in the evening time?"

Lonnie: [1:20] We come home. We want to unwind from the stress from the day. We get busy on our to-do list. Either way, food is there to comfort us, especially foods that are high in sugar, fat or salt.

[1:34] These foods trigger our brains rewards system, make us feel good.

Ricky: [1:39] I've been in that situation. [laughs]
Lonnie: [1:41] We all can relate to that. Since we're looking for the foods that make us feel good, that's why we tend to go towards the ice cream and the potato chips, not the carrot sticks and the broccoli.
Ricky: [1:54] It's amazing how that works.
Lonnie: [1:55] It just doesn't seem to cut it. Obviously, these foods that are high sugar, fat, salt, it's a problem when you're trying to lose weight and keep it off. Besides, when we get home, we're just plain tired, that's why snacking is a problem in the evening.

[2:11] We've had a long day, our energy is gone, our willpower is shot. We have nothing left to resist the charms of chocolate or the cravings for cookies that we may have.

Ricky: [2:20] What can we do about evening snacking if it's such an issue for a lot of us? What are some key thoughts we can do there?
Lonnie: [2:30] There are three things. First of all, start your day right with a nice big breakfast, high fiber foods and natural fibers foods that are part of the full plate diet. Start your day with a lot of those foods, have a big breakfast.

[2:46] A study done by Jon Castro from the University of El Paso, he actually analyzed the food diaries of 900 men and women, and when he was done analyzing those food diaries, he concluded that eating a bigger breakfast was the single most effective way of curbing evening snacking, so starting the day right.

Ricky: [3:06] I would think that surprises a lot of people, that by eating this meal, what, 12, 14 hours earlier would make that big of an impact.
Lonnie: [3:16] Absolutely. I'm betting that it doesn't even cross most people's mind, but if you don't get that big breakfast, the studies have shown that later in the day you're going to be craving higher-calorie foods. It's like, "I didn't get what I wanted. I need it now."
Ricky: [3:34] Interesting. Wow.
Lonnie: [3:34] Getting it early in the day. Eat a very good breakfast, 75 percent natural, fiber-rich foods. Your plate, 75 percent full of oatmeal, quinoa, fruit, even beans for breakfast.
Ricky: [3:46] Beans for breakfast.
Lonnie: [3:47] Absolutely.
Ricky: [3:48] That's probably a novel idea. [laughs]
Lonnie: [3:49] That is a novel idea, isn't it?
Ricky: [3:50] I got to tell you, I didn't eat beans growing up, but as I've learned a lot of these principles, it's not uncommon to have beans for breakfast.
Lonnie: [3:57] No. We do it in our house as well. It makes a huge difference.
Ricky: [4:01] It does, doesn't it?
Lonnie: [4:02] Absolutely.

[4:03] The second thing you can do is to keep problem foods out of the house to begin with. Keep temptation away. For me, that means no ice cream in the freezer.

Ricky: [4:13] You know what that means for me?
Lonnie: [4:15] What does it mean for you?
Ricky: [4:16] M-and-Ms.
Lonnie: [4:16] M-and-Ms.
Ricky: [4:17] No M-and-Ms.
Lonnie: [4:18] You don't keep M-and-Ms in the house.
Ricky: [laughs] [4:19]
Lonnie: [4:20] I could see that would be a problem as well. Absolutely.

[4:25] Keep the tempting foods, the biggest problem foods, out of the house, if you can. If you can't get the food out of the house because somebody else wants it there, then put it in the back of the freezer, or better yet, maybe a freezer in the garage. Make it as difficult as possible to get to.

[4:45] You can also put notes on the fridge to remind yourself not to snack. That' what Joy -- she lost 95 pounds a few years ago and has been able to keep it off -- what she did is she got these nice, flowery notes, and she wrote reminders to herself not to snack.

[5:04] She would put them in places where she would be tempted to snack, such as she'd put them on the television, or she even put it on the front door, as she was leaving, to remind her not to go get snack foods. Of course, obviously, the freezer or the refrigerator, put it there. The steering wheel of her car, she had a little note on there that says, "You're beautiful. Don't go and get snack food." Now, I know that probably wouldn't work for you.

Ricky: [5:35] What are you trying to say, Lonnie? [laughs]
Lonnie: [5:37] It wouldn't work for me as well, to be honest. [laughs] You want to write something more like, "You're worth it. You can do it. Don't go and get snack food," something like that.
Ricky: [5:47] I just think about how I use little Post-It notes. When I hear you saying, it's like it could be a little Post-It note or something almost.
Lonnie: [5:55] Yeah.
Ricky: [5:56] I'm a little, probably, of more simplified than flowery notes and stuff...
Lonnie: [5:58] Yeah!
Ricky: [5:58] I could see how a Post-It note, putting that on and just as a nice gentle reinforced reminder.
Lonnie: [6:05] I've seen that in your eye, you've got a lot of Post-It notes on your desk. It works!
Ricky: [6:10] Yeah!
Lonnie: [6:11] A third thing that you can do is find something relaxing that doesn't involve food. A lot of eating in the evening is out of boredom. One way to deal with that is to use a "bored" jar, that's bored, B-O-R-E-D, not the 2x4 kind of board.
Ricky: [6:32] Bored like you don't know what to do with yourself.
Lonnie: [6:34] Yeah. You don't know what to do with yourself. Put a label that says "Bored" on the jar and then, on slips of paper write down all the things that you could do in the evening that don't involve eating. Read a book, watch a funny YouTube video, whatever it is for you.

[6:48] Write down as many as you can come up with and put those ideas in your jar. When you're tempted to eat in the evening, pull one of those slips out and do whatever the paper says.

Ricky: [6:58] It'd be like a surprise...
Lonnie: [6:59] Yeah, it'll be a surprise. If you don't like it, you can always throw it away and replace it with something else.
Ricky: [7:04] Pull another one out.
Lonnie: [7:05] Pull another one out, yeah.
Ricky: [7:06] Probably you're not going to have one there like, "Go serve up a couple of scoops of ice cream" [laughs]
Lonnie: [7:11] No, something that's not food-related.
Ricky: [7:14] Right.
Lonnie: [7:15] Yeah. You'll find that it's a lot of fun. There is actually a blog linked to this podcast that can give you more ideas on how to use that bored jar.
Ricky: [7:26] Bored jar. That interesting. I hadn't heard that one before. I could see how that could keep someone thinking of moving in a positive direction.
Lonnie: [7:37] You might even start looking forward to having cravings so you can go get something out of your bored jar.
Ricky: [7:44] Yeah, exactly. Here's another question. Why do I give in to evening munchies? Is it because the cravings are so strong, or it is just a habit? I know you mentioned something a minute ago about eating a good breakfast might help in that area, but maybe there are some other things here as well.
Lonnie: [7:59] Yeah. Really, when it comes to habits and cravings, they go together. Habits are simply the things you've done so often that you don't even think about it anymore. In fact, it feels almost wrong if you don't do it.

[8:12] For example, you're driving along and you see a red light. What do you do without even thinking about it?

Ricky: [8:17] Stop!
Lonnie: [8:18] Yeah, you put your foot on the brake, right?
Ricky: [8:20] Sure.
Lonnie: [8:21] It would feel wrong to step on the gas.
Ricky: [8:22] Yeah, if you were to gun it...
Lonnie: [8:24] Yeah, that just wouldn't feel right.
Ricky: [8:26] That probably wouldn't work well.
Lonnie: [8:27] Probably not.

[8:28] Snacking in the evening is the same way. There is a cue that triggers the desire to eat. You walk in the door after a long day at work, you head to the kitchen, and you grab something to snack on.

[8:38] You probably don't even think about it, you've done it so often. You don't remember where the habit started from, it's just a habit. You've been doing it for a long time.

[8:46] If you don't do it, you'll likely to experience a craving. Walking in the door is your cue to get something to eat; the craving is your body reminding you that you're not giving it what it's come to expect. You feel like you need it even though you don't.

Ricky: [9:04] A lot of times, like you were talking about habits, we do it without even thinking about it, right?
Lonnie: [9:10] Right. That's what a habit is, it's an automatic behavior.
Ricky: [9:13] Yeah. Here's another question, Lonnie. You mentioned walking in the door as a cue, you just said that, right? What are some other common cues people need to be aware of?
Lonnie: [9:25] The big one that people need to be aware of is emotions. Most overeating comes from using food to deal with your emotions. Emotions are a common cue for us to snack.

[9:38] We feel bad, we eat a cookie, we feel better. The next time we feel bad, our brain remembers, "Well, OK. I felt a lot better after having a cookie." We crave the cookie and the habit begins to form.

[9:52] It's not just negative emotions. The same thing happens with positive emotions. We're feeling good, we eat a pizza, now we feel great. Next time you're feeling good, our brain remembers it felt even better with the pizza, so we start craving a pizza.

[10:09] That's why when we celebrate, what do we use? We have food there.

Ricky: [10:12] Yeah. I can find sometimes when I fall into that where I feel good for the moment but...
Lonnie: [10:21] Afterwards it's...
Ricky: [laughs] [10:24] It's a different story.
Lonnie: [10:25] Yeah. It's a different story.
Ricky: [laughs] [10:27] Exactly. How do we deal with cravings? What are some steps that we could use to help deal with some of these cravings?
Lonnie: [10:35] First of all, it's not enough to just say no. You need something more than that. We need to develop a new habit, one to replace the old habit with.

[10:46] Walking in the door has become your cue to snack. Plan to do something different next time you walk in the door. You'll have to do this beforehand, because if you don't, the old cue -- you walk in, the cue's there, because it's a habit, it's automatic. You need to think beforehand what you're going to do instead next time you walk in the door.

[11:10] It might be, next time I walk in the door, I'm going to go directly to wherever I keep my sneakers, put them on and go for a walk. Or, I will go to the kitchen, but instead of going to the refrigerator, I'll get a nice, cold glass of water. Then do a crossword puzzle, watch a movie, something that I enjoy doing. Then keep doing that day in and day out, until the new routine becomes a habit, something that you do automatically.

[11:39] If you eat when you feel bad, find something you enjoy and do it every day. What you're trying to do is to make this new habit as strong as your old urge was to go and eat, to snack. You're replacing one habit with another one, a more healthy one.

[12:00] You'll probably still have cravings along the way, but as you eat more and more natural, fiber-rich foods at mealtimes, those cravings will decrease over time.

Ricky: [12:09] I know. I've heard you mention that before, and I know that Dr. Diana Fleming has mentioned that. That's the idea that just eating more of these foods actually helps you curb cravings.
Lonnie: [12:20] Yes. For some people, it works better. It has a lot to do with how strongly the habit has been formed.
Ricky: [12:27] Right, right.
Lonnie: [12:28] It's important, though, to remember that the goal is not to get rid of cravings altogether. Studies have actually found that people who make it their goal to get rid of their cravings altogether -- I hear people say, "I don't like these cravings. They're really strong. I want to get rid of them completely." I understand that. They're not pleasant, but those who make that their goal, studies have actually shown that they wind up having more cravings and they give in to them more often.
Ricky: [13:00] The idea that having that hardcore goal of, "I want to get rid of these cravings, whatever it takes..."
Lonnie: [13:07] Altogether, yes. The better goal is to give in to cravings less often. You need a plan on how to deal with the cravings. When cravings do hit, remind yourself that they go away. They're not a permanent condition. Usually, they only last a few minutes. I like to encourage people, set a timer for 10 minutes, go do something else, and by the time the timer has gone off, you probably will have your mind on something else and you won't even be thinking of it. The craving's going to be gone.

[13:36] Find something else to do. Remind yourself that it's not there for very long, I can handle this, it's not that bad, and if I give in to the cravings, as you mentioned just a moment ago, I'll feel better for a little bit, but afterwards I'm going to feel worse. Do something else and the craving will go away.

[13:56] If you do give in, don't beat yourself up. You'll likely give in from time to time. Just do it less often. With practice, like anything, you'll get better at it.

Ricky: [14:09] That's good advice. OK, here's another question, Lonnie. No, no, here it is. I seem to need snacks when I watch TV. What's up with that? What gives about that?
Lonnie: [14:21] There's a lot of snacking that goes on with TV watching, doesn't it? It's a good question.

[14:26] The person who asked this question is certainly not alone. According to one poll, 61 percent of us binge while watching TV. That's a lot of binging that's going on.

Ricky: [14:39] Binging meaning that you're not just eating an apple or something.
Lonnie: [14:43] Right. You're eating more than you normally would eat, in a very relatively short period of time. It's not just TV watching that does that. It's when we eat in front of the computer, while reading a book, just listening to music.

[14:58] Anytime we're distracted, we're likely to overeat. That's why it's best to limit eating to one room in the house -- the dining room, or maybe the kitchen. What you're doing is you're developing a habit, a cue. "When I'm here, I eat. When I'm over here, I don't eat." OK?

Ricky: [15:17] Right. Right. If you're accustomed to eating a lot in the living room while watching TV, if you were just to say, "OK, I'm going to choose not to do this anymore," you'd probably be more mindful of what you're actually consuming, huh?
Lonnie: [15:29] Right. Yes, absolutely. Yes. Why do we eat in front of the television in the first place? One big reason has to do with all the food commercials we've seen through the years. Right? There's a lot of them.
Ricky: [15:42] I've had my fair share of food commercials. [laughs]
Lonnie: [15:44] We all have. We've been conditioned to eat while watching TV. It goes back to that cue-behavior reward system that we've been talking about. TV has become the cue for us to grab something to eat. That something is usually high in fat, sugar, and salt. The reward is we feel better. We feel good, so it becomes a habit.
Ricky: [16:08] That ties right into our next question. How do I break the habit of snacking while watching TV? That's a good question, I thought, someone asked.
Lonnie: [16:17] That's an excellent question. You could get rid of the cue, by not watching TV, right? Just get rid of the television, but it's probably not realistic for most people. Besides, even if you did, at some point you're probably going to watch it again, so you still have to find a way to deal with it. There are two things you can do.
Ricky: [16:38] What I've found, Lonnie, is, as I've gotten older, I do watch less television, but it seems like some of that's been replaced by reading news on the Web, going online. The screen, maybe, has changed a little bit, from a TV screen, but now it's a computer screen.
Lonnie: [16:58] Maybe we should talk about screen time, rather than just TV, right?
Ricky: [laughs] [17:02]
Lonnie: [17:02] That's an excellent point. Everything we're talking about with television applies to our computers as well. Same principle.

[17:11] The first thing you could do is to wean yourself off the foods that are higher in calories. A couple months ago, I interviewed Madeline. She lost over 100 pounds last year.

Ricky: [17:23] Wow.
Lonnie: [17:23] Before losing the weight, she would eat a bowl of ice cream every night while watching TV. TV was the cue. Ice cream was what she did. That was her reward. Once she decided to lose weight, she knew that had to stop. She wasn't going to be able to lose weight eating ice cream every night.
Ricky: [17:44] Maybe that's what really helped. Something there obviously prompted her to want to change that habit.
Lonnie: [17:50] Right.
Ricky: [17:51] I picked up on that aspect, once she decided she wanted to lose weight.
Lonnie: [17:54] She had quite an experience. She had been in the hospital with some pretty serious problems.
Ricky: [18:02] There was some...
Lonnie: [18:03] A big motivation, big motivator for her, yeah. What she decided to do, she didn't feel like she'd be able to just do this cold turkey, just giving up eating while watching television. What she decided to do was to substitute sugar-free chocolate pudding instead of the ice cream. OK?
Ricky: [18:24] It was like a transition.
Lonnie: [18:26] It was a transition. She did that for a month or two, and after a while, she went from the pudding to some yogurt, and then eventually she went from yogurt to eating an apple, and that's what she has now. If she watches television, she eats an apple.
Ricky: [18:44] That's a big step.
Lonnie: [18:45] That's a huge step.
Ricky: [laughs] [18:45]
Lonnie: [18:46] Bowl of ice cream, an apple. Big difference between the two, but she didn't just go from the ice cream to the apple. There was a transition that she went through.
Ricky: [18:54] I bet that could work for a lot of people, something like that.
Lonnie: [18:56] Yes. It can work, yeah. Now, what the transition is may differ from person to person based upon their preferences, but the idea is to go from a higher-calorie food to a lower-calorie one, and even better, one that has fiber in it, like an apple.
Ricky: [19:13] Imagine you'd say that, Lonnie. Fiber.
Lonnie: [19:14] Yeah. Amazing.

[19:14] [laughter]

Lonnie: [19:17] The second thing is to actually decrease the amount of time you spend watching TV. As you mentioned, we could decrease the amount of screen time as well, but this is specifically watching less television.

[19:29] You don't have to give it up all together, but watch less. This study, which had to do more with television, not with computers, but they found that the average American watches 28 hours of TV a week.

[19:41] According to national weight loss registry, those who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for over a year, they watch a lot less, and the majority of them -- I think it was 60 percent, something like that -- watch less than 10 hours of television a week. That's significantly less than what the national average is.

Ricky: [20:00] It's a big difference.
Lonnie: [20:01] There is something to watching less TV and spending less time in front of a computer screen.
Ricky: [20:07] Yeah. That's a good message for all of us, I think. Here's another question, Lonnie. "I start snacking as soon as I walk through the door and don't stop until I go to bed." This seems like this is a little ramped up from what we were talking about a little earlier.
Lonnie: [20:24] This is more than snacking once in a while.
Ricky: [20:26] It has helped with an explanation point after it.
Lonnie: [20:28] Yeah, absolutely.
Ricky: [20:30] What's going on there, you think?
Lonnie: [20:31] If you're constantly snacking and can't stop yourself, or you're eating more than most people would when they snack, you may be struggling with binge eating disorder. It's an actually disorder that's in the DSM-5, which is what is used by mental health professionals to identify mental health disorders.
Ricky: [20:56] It's actually a diagnosis, then?
Lonnie: [20:59] Yes. It's an eating disorder.
Ricky: [21:00] Yeah. OK. I'm with you.
Lonnie: [21:01] With this podcast, there's a little link that describes binge eating disorder. Check that link out. If you think this is a problem, talk to your doctor or your mental health professional.

[21:13] There is treatment. Studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy, behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy all can effectively treat binge eating disorder. There are even some medications that can help.

[21:25] So, I would encourage a person, if this is what they're doing, get help. The earlier you get the treatment, the better off you're going to be.

Ricky: [21:34] Yeah. It sounds like there's a typical snacking that goes on by some people, and then it can get to a point where it really becomes serious.
Lonnie: [21:44] Absolutely. Definitely.
Ricky: [21:46] OK. Good, Lonnie. Thanks for sharing that. Let's take just a moment and recap the key points from today's discussion. The first one is we tend to be more tired at the end of the day and crave comfort foods.

[21:58] However, eating those full, nutritious, fiber-rich meals throughout the day, and you mentioned especially at breakfast, will reduce the need for snacks late at night.

Lonnie: [22:09] Right.
Ricky: [22:10] OK. That's one. Here's the second point. Keep problem foods out of your house. I like to think of it as your home as a safe haven, so that you're free from these tempting foods.

[22:22] If you're not able to free your home from these foods right now, then you had mentioned place them away so that they're at least out of sight.

Lonnie: [22:30] Out of sight, out of mind.
Ricky: [22:32] Yeah. That works.
Lonnie: [22:32] It does.
Ricky: [22:33] Yeah. In a lot of ways, that helps. Number three is limiting your eating to one room in the house. You mentioned earlier, the kitchen or dining room makes it easier to not indulge in snacking while watching television.
Lonnie: [22:46] Right. You want to have fewer cues for eating.
Ricky: [22:49] So I guess if your TV is in the dining room, you might be consider moving it. [laughs]
Lonnie: [22:54] That would probably be a good idea. Yes.
Ricky: [22:55] Of course, another point, number four, I have down here. Weaning yourself off of high-calorie snacks is a great way to break the nighttime snacking habit, like you used in the illustration with Madeline, going from the ice cream all the way to an apple. Substituting healthier options until a piece of fruit, actually, is sufficient, and you feel satisfied by that.
Lonnie: [23:20] Right.
Ricky: [23:21] So, if you enjoyed today's conversation, you can get all the show notes and a full transcript of the entire episode. Do you have any final thoughts for us today, Lonnie?
Lonnie: [23:30] What I've shared with you works. I've seen it work, but it takes a focused effort. So don't try to change everything all at once.

[23:39] If you're trying to get on an exercise program, eat more natural fiber-rich foods at every meal, you're doing the full-plate diet, you're trying to get all of these different things down, and you're trying to deal with snacking.

[23:52] If snacking is the big one for you, make that your focus, because if you try to do all of it at the same time, you're going to get overwhelmed. Pretty soon all of it, none of it has an opportunity to become a habit, and that's what you want to do, is to give it enough time to become a habit. It does take focused effort.

Ricky: [24:15] Good advice. Thank you for being with us today. Make sure you get the weekly "Full Plate" email, so you know about our next podcast. I hope to see you then.

[24:24] [music]

Full Plate Living is a small-step approach with big health outcomes. It's provided as a free service of Ardmore Institute of Health.

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