It's 10 p.m., your jammies are on and you're settling in to watch the latest episode of your favorite show. What's missing? If you answered "a bag of barbecue chips," you might have a late-night snacking problem.
Let's face it: Midnight snacks were never meant to be part of a normal diet. Researchers at Texas A&M University found that eating food late at night disrupts the body's internal biological clock, a clock that not only regulates your sleep patterns but also plays a key role in the development of metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. That means eating after dark promotes an unhealthy weight not only by adding extra calories but also by bending biological processes in your body to favor weight gain.
Keeping cravings under control
The following strategies can help you curb late-night snacking and fend off those after-dinner cravings when they strike:
• Exercise. It seems counterintuitive, but a 2007 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that people who exercised vigorously -- above 60 percent of their maximum oxygen uptake -- rated their hunger lower than those who didn't exercise. According to researchers, this may be because exercise suppresses the production of ghrelin, a hormone in the stomach believed to stimulate appetite.
• Watch your eating habits throughout the day. Healthy choices build on healthy choices. In other words, if you have a habit of snacking throughout the day and eating sweet, salty or calorie-laden foods at mealtime, your body will start to crave these things on a regular basis. Likewise, if you limit daytime snacking and keep the amount of fat, white flour and sugar in your meals to a minimum, you'll be less likely to crave these things over time.
• Make dinner count. The nice thing about exercising during the day is you can eat a few more calories at dinner. Get more mileage out of those calories by adding low-fat, high-energy foods to your meals, including beans, legumes, lean meat and dairy, starchy vegetables and whole grains. Replace white rice with long-grain brown rice. Swap out dinner rolls with a baked sweet potato. Sauté your veggies with olive oil and garlic instead of butter and salt.
Adjust your schedule. Listen to your body's natural clock. That is, eat dinner when you're hungry and go to bed when you're tired. If you keep getting hankerings for ham sandwiches at 11 o'clock at night, it may be that you're eating dinner too early or going to bed too late.
If you can't resist, keep it light. You may be craving a grilled cheese sandwich but try to satisfy your munchies with something less heavy. Emergency late-night snacks could include popcorn, whole-wheat crackers or lightly salted mixed nuts.
Three foods that ruin a good night's sleep
Late-night snacking can derail your weight-loss goals, but so can poor sleep. Several studies have found a strong link between chronic lack of sleep (sleeping fewer than seven hours each night) and obesity. When certain foods are eaten close to bedtime, they can hinder your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep, making them doubly dangerous. If you're trying to lose weight, avoid eating these foods after dinner:
• Chocolate -- Coffee isn't the only bean that contains caffeine. Cocoa beans also contain the notorious antisleep stimulant. The darker the chocolate, the more caffeine it contains.
• Bacon -- Any food with high-fat content is a no-no before bed. Fat encourages your stomach to produce more acid, which can lead to sleep-disrupting heartburn.
• Hot sauce -- Spicy condiments and five-alarm foods can cause indigestion. They also stimulate your senses, giving your body mixed signals when it's time for bed.
If you're having trouble sleeping, talk to your health care provider about scheduling an appointment with the Siloam Springs Regional Hospital Sleep Center. Visit NorthwestHealth.com/sleep-care for more information. If you're looking for a provider, visit NW-Physicians.com to find one near you.
About Siloam Springs Regional Hospital
Siloam Springs Regional Hospital is a licensed 73-bed facility with 42 private patient rooms. It is accredited by the State of Arkansas Department of Health Services and The Joint Commission. Some services include inpatient and outpatient surgery, emergency medicine, medical, surgical and intensive care units, obstetrics, outpatient diagnostic services and inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation. With more than 50 physicians on the medical staff, Siloam Springs Regional Hospital provides compassionate, customer-focused care. SSRH is an affiliate of Northwest Health, the largest health system in Northwest Arkansas. Siloam Springs Regional Hospital is located at 603 N. Progress Ave. in Siloam Springs. For more information, visit NorthwestHealth.com.