It’s the end of a long day, you just want to put your feet up, watch some mindless tv or catch up on your Facebook newsfeed, and maybe indulge in a little snack while you do so, right? Late night cravings and snacks are often the biggest nutrition and health downfall for even the most avid meal planner and healthy eater. After a long day of stress, work, great eating, it’s easy to get lured into the temptation of a little treat. And that treat then spirals into a second one…or the whole bag of chips…or the rest of the leftover Halloween candy. So, what to do? How do you prevent late-night cravings from derailing your progress and overall health?

1) Figure out why you’re doing it. Is it boredom? Emotional? Actual hunger? Determining the cause is often the first step in deciding on the right approach to stopping the behavior.

2) If boredom, find a hobby! In our busy society, multitasking has become nearly second nature. As I write this, I’m glancing at my inbox telling me I have a new message, thinking about when I need to start dinner, and keeping an eye on my toddler. Our brains are constantly on overdrive and we tend to try to do more whenever we can out of pure habit. So, if eating in front of the tv or computer is a habit because it means you’re doing “more”, try replacing it with a healthier option. Take up scrap booking or knitting. Sort your mail. Drink a big mug of tea to keep your hands occupied. Or, maybe start making mindfulness a part of your day and just focus on the task at hand, not allowing yourself to do “more”.

3) Emotional eating is a constant influence. If you find you’re just rundown and looking for a pick-me-up or some “comfort” at the end of a long day, consider swapping your snacking habit for a more healthful form of self-love. A long bath. A good book. A phone call with a good friend. Food for comfort is occasionally ok, after all, food is for the soul, not just the body. But, making it a regular part of your routine allows you to ignore the underlying issues and emotions, further fueling the fire and leading to reduced health, not just through poor eating, but through a denial and avoidance of the stresses you’re facing.

4) True hunger can also be a motivator for snacking. Most often, this is a product of depriving yourself during the day or not eating enough/often enough throughout the normal day. All of a sudden, you’re getting ready for bed and your body is still ravenous for nutrition and energy. Prevent these types of cravings by making sure you’re eating 3 solids meals a day, that are well-balanced and nutritious, as well as a snack or two. Restricting your intake all day only to binge at night will never be the solution for long-term health or weight loss.

5) Eat at the table. If you really decide you want a snack, and you’re actually hungry, eat it at the kitchen or dining room table. It’s easy to overdo it when you’re sitting munching in front of the tv. More than that, if you force yourself to go and sit NOT in front of the tv, leaving the “action”, you may find you’re not that hungry after all. When faced with either eating a snack or missing the Bachelor, you might discover food isn’t all the necessary…

6) Portion it. Don’t take the whole bag of chips or the whole box of cookies. If you’re going to have a snack, portion out what you really want and need and put the rest away. Enjoy the snack you prepared. Pay attention to it as you’re eating. Experience how it tastes, feels, looks, smells… be mindful. Mindless eating leads to overeating and underappreciating the food eaten.

7) Choose a healthy option. Again, if you’ve decided you’re actually hungry and need a snack, let it be a good one. Choose something that contains protein and carbs, carbs and fat, or protein and fat. Make the last thing you eat one of the best things you eat that day. After all, it’s your last chance to fuel your body with the nutrients it needs that day!

Don’t let a full day of good eating and exercise go to waste on a late-night binge. Find other ways to keep yourself entertained and occupied other than munching, and if you must munch, do so wisely and mindfully.

Aubrey Phelps MS RDN LDN