Free office snacks and happy hour hounds have been putting the kibosh on diet success for ages, but it’s not just nine-to-five temptations that can trip you up—your pre-bed rituals are also suspects. From too much TV time to sneaky habits that disrupt sleep, these evening activities are standing between you and your weight loss, so it’s time to take notes, cut the cord, and start dropping the pounds today!
1. Watching Too Much TV
First things first: Your Netflix habit is not doing your body any favors. Researchers from the University of Vermont found that overweight folks who cut their tube-time in half experienced an increase in daily calorie burn, burning an added 119 calories per day on average. It may not sound like a lot, but over the course of a year alone those can add up to significant weight loss. You don’t need to cut ties with your favorites shows altogether, but reducing the amount of time you spend watching them each day will certainly help to tip the scale in your favor.
2. Relaxing With Food
Nothing seems to melt away the aches and pains of a tough day like a bag of chips or bowl of ice cream on the couch watching your favorite show. The problem is, that food that makes you feel oh-so-good at night may actually be the reason you aren’t seeing results with your weight loss regime. “Using food as a relaxation method is very common because for a lot of people food comes along with relaxing on the couch at night. What you need to do is tune your brain into paying attention to what’s happening during that day. Ask yourself, ‘Why is this happening? Did I not eat enough? Did I not drink enough water?’ Sometimes not drinking enough water can make you feel hungry when you’re actually thirsty,” says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. Becoming more aware of why you’re always hungry and eating at night is the first step to cutting back on it. Next, you’ve got to replace the chewing with something else to calm your nerves, like taking a hot shower or maybe doing some yoga.
3. Eating Large Meals Before Bed
Late nights spent munching can lead to even longer nights tossing and turning in your bed—and when you don’t sleep, your body suffers. “Generally, if we eat big meals before we go to bed, our body has trouble winding down because there’s still a lot of blood flow required to our stomach for digestion which is disruptive. In a perfect world, if you can resist eating 2-3 hours before going to bed, that’s great so long as you’re not hungry. However, being more realistic, I would aim to have a smaller meal for dinner and eat more during the day, so that eating an hour before bed won’t be as disruptive,” says Smith.
4. Picking the Wrong Snacks
Once you crunch down on that first chip, sometimes there’s no going back. Worry not, though, because we’ve all been there. “If someone is really having trouble and can’t stop the eating at night, then I suggest they choose foods that it won’t matter if they eat a ton of. Something like popcorn is really satisfying for many and while veggies are not so exciting, they’re always a good choice. I definitely recommend staying away from any artificial sweetener because that can make you hungrier,” says Smith. Note that chemical and saturated fat-laden microwave popcorn does not qualify! Use an air popper if you’ve got one or simply throw some plain kernels in a brown paper bag, fold over the top, microwave for two minutes and season yourself.
5. Zoning Out
Our minds are turned on all day, so it’s only natural to want to completely zone out at night. However, when we aren’t actively paying attention we tend to not make the best food choices. “I have a lot of my clients journal to become more aware of the other things that are going on in their brain that they’re not paying attention to. When people start to write down what they’re thinking on paper it makes it easier to see what’s really going on. Maybe they’re experiencing some anxiety, stress, or dissatisfaction that [they aren’t addressing]. Sometimes, just being aware of these things can make you more able to discern physical hunger versus emotional hunger,” says Smith.
6. Going to Bed Late
Research continues to stack up supporting the ties between sleep and weight. “When we don’t get enough sleep our hunger hormones are greatly affected, [which can mess with your body’s ability to determine when it’s actually hungry, when it should stop burning calories, and when it should store energy as fat],” says Smith. Not to mention, the stress hormone cortisol is increased when you don’t sleep enough, which can affect blood sugar levels and also lead to poor food choices.
7. You Have Nothing To Do
Maybe you’ve run out of shows or things to clean and suddenly you’re fiddling around the pantry for something to occupy your time. “I think that people find that they’re bored and that’s why they’re eating too much. When we’re looking for an activity eating becomes the easiest thing to do. I usually like to talk them through finding a couple activities to do that are specific to the evening that can help keep them occupied like reading, taking a bath, or calling a friend,” says Smith.
8. Surfing the Web
Look away from the screen if you care at all about your body. Looking at your phone, computer screen, or television too closely to bedtime can get in the way of your body’s natural wind-down process by suppressing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin—and, as a result, make it more difficult to fall asleep. As you already know, when you don’t get enough sleep, it’s much harder to manage your weight.
9. Eating Dessert Every Night
If you live by the “treat yo-self” motto, then you might want to take a second to think about just how often you’re expressing it. Dessert on occasion is fine and can actually help you stick with your diet. However, eating dessert too often will no doubt slow down or altogether halt your weight loss plans. “Try drinking herbal tea at night. They make all sorts of fun flavors now like herbal chocolate teas, which can help quench the need to eat something,” says Smith.
10. Scrolling Instagram
It’s actually a scientific fact that scrolling through delicious and perfectly arranged foods on your Instagram feed can actually lead to weight gain. Research published in the journal Brain and Cognition found that regular exposure to virtual foods might be exacerbating our physiological hunger way too frequently. Translation: There are plenty of Insta-Worthy Foods to Never Actually Eat, so put the phone down!
11. Drinking Caffeine
This should be a no-brainer, but in case you forgot: skip the caffeine at night! It’s not just your evening espresso or caffeinated tea that needs distance. Sodas and certain sweets like chocolate actually do contain some caffeine and may make it difficult for you to pass out when your head hits the pillow. Go herbal or just stick with plain old water.
12. Going to Happy Hour
You may be bonding with your co-workers and getting on your boss’s good side—and yes, there are some benefits of drinking alcohol—but there really is nothing happy about what those post-work drinks pack on the pounds. “Not drinking at all may be unrealistic, so less is, of course, more. I recommend choosing the most satisfying option. Choose that drink that’s going to take you the furthest satisfaction wise with the least quantity. I also generally find that cravings-wise wine is the worst and can open up the fridge more easily than something like a vodka soda,” says Smith.
13. Not Packing Lunch
Preparation is the ultimate key when it comes to effective weight loss plans. If you pack a healthy lunch before you go to bed, then you’ll have a healthy lunch ready to go the next day. However, if you’re too lazy to throw something together, when noon hits the next day you’re left answering your hunger pains with the questionable lunch spots surrounding your office. Chances are whatever you pick won’t nearly be as healthy as what you could have thrown together the night before—not to mention much more expensive.
14. Not Scheduling Your Workouts
Scheduling your workouts—whether it be spin class or a date with your trainer—is going to set you up for success time and time again. Failing to do so will most likely leave you battling your snooze button in the morning only to find you’ve missed your workout window and have to head straight to the office. The less you move, the more strict you’ve got to be with your diet. It’s your choice!
15. Eating Spicy Foods
Yes, spicy foods can boost metabolism. But think twice once the sun sets. Spices like cayenne and tabasco can actually increase your blood flow, which can keep your body revved up and make it more difficult to wind down at night and get the sleep you need.
16. Keeping Dinner on the Table
Go ahead and pat yourself on the back for making a delicious meal, but don’t forget to put it away once you’ve had your fill. Keeping food out and accessible for quick seconds and thirds (no matter how healthy) is going to up your total calorie intake for the day and as a result make it more difficult for you to lose weight. Throw your feast in some Tupperware and save it for lunch or dinner the next day.
17. Eating Your Biggest Meal at Night
Whatever is preventing you from eating regular meals and snacks throughout the day, well, it’s time to figure it out. While your daily snacks (if properly portioned) won’t ruin your diet, the intense hunger that hits at night after undereating all day has the potential to do a lot of damage. “A lot of times people aren’t eating enough during the day, so they’re really hungry at night, [which can lead to overeating],” says Smith. It’s also one of the 31 Ways You Messed Up Your Metabolism Today.
18. Going to Sleep Hungry
While eating too much at night presents its own problem, going to bed on a totally empty stomach brings about a different issue. Hunger pains can actually keep the brain on high alert preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep, and when you don’t sleep well your body produces too much of the hormone ghrelin which can boost appetite and disrupt your body’s natural hunger cues.
19. Ordering In
When you cook for yourself you have complete control over ingredients and portions. When you order in, portion control becomes more difficult and you can only guess how many calories, fat and sodium you’re shoveling into your mouth. That pad thai may taste amazing going down, but the nutritional unknown is impactful enough to just stay away from it completely.
20. Eating Whatever You’re Given
If you’re lucky enough to have someone else cook for you, then chances are you’ve got a decent meal on your hands. However, it’s easy to forget that you don’t always have to eat every last bite of what’s on your plate. Mothers are notorious for wanting to fill you up, so eat slowly and practice mindfulness and moderation at every meal. Know when to stop, compliment the chef, and save leftovers for another time.
21. Not Brushing Your Teeth
You’ve had your dinner, you’ve had your healthy snack, and you’re still up wandering around not quite ready to hit the sack. Do yourself a favor and just brush your teeth! Commit to no more eating until bed because you’ve had enough. Brushing your teeth earlier in the night is an easy way to extinguish overeating, which all too easily happens at night.
22. Eating Off of Large Plates
Whether it be fine china or mismatched plasticware, the size of your dishes can and will influence how much food you eat overall. The bigger your plate the more likely you are to fill it up and eat up all that extra food. If you keep your plates small, your portions will remain smaller and make it easier for you to stay on track.
23. Forgetting the Recipe
Cooking your own meals is one of the best ways to take control over your diet and lead you to your goals. A common mistake, however, is failing to measure ingredients and guessing how much oil or butter or cheese the dish calls for. One extra tablespoon of oil may go unnoticed to your taste buds, but as a calorie dense food, it can certainly add up over time. Keep measuring cups and spoons handy at all times to prevent any sneaky calorie additions. Bonus: Don’t miss these 20 Genius Healthy Cooking Gadgets that help you keep things healthy in the kitchen!
24. You Eat Too Fast
Did your mother ever tell you to slow down and chew your food? Well, there’s actually some logic behind that. It takes your stomach close to 20 minutes to signal to your brain that you’re full. At night especially we are prone to mindless eating, so it’s more difficult to cue into the volume of food we’re consuming. However, research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that people who took their time eating actually consumed 66 fewer calories on average per meal compared to those who scarfed down their food. Over time, that adds up—trust us.
25. You’re Not Addressing Your Stress
Eating is strongly tied to our emotions and so it can be rather difficult to moderate. The evenings are especially tough on all of us because our energy is low and we’ve had more opportunities throughout the day to encounter stressful situations. “People might notice that they’re particularly more hungry on days that they’re more stressed,” says Smith. Finding other outlets for stress such as exercise or listening to music can help divert your desire to drown your feelings in food. Deal with it tonight so that you can make tomorrow a great day—and start becoming a happier you!