Health Tips > Nutrition Bites > Tips for Combating Late-Night Snacking and Fighting Weight Gain

Tips for Combating Late-Night Snacking and Fighting Weight Gain

View All Section Pages

Tips for Combating Late-Night Snacking and Fighting Weight Gain

We know what you eat and how much you eat matters—so does when you eat really matter? Some studies show that eating too much at night lowers the body’s production of two key hormones: leptin and melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep hormone that increases in the evening hours—lower levels make you more alert. Leptin is a satiety hormone that gives your brain the message that you are full. Low leptin levels can drive a desire to eat more. The hormonal imbalance of leptin and melatonin can lead to a damaging cycle: eating a heavy meal late in the evening, becoming overly alert, becoming increasing more hungry and then sleep deprived. Over time this can inevitably lead to weight gain. 

If you eat more calories at times of the day when you’re not expending as much energy, which is typically at night, you’re then more likely to gain weight. The key to reducing your desire for late night snacks is to spread your calories throughout the day and get a good night’s sleep. Favorite snack foods after dark typically include the sweet, salty and starchy options like ice cream, chips, chocolate, desserts and pizza. All are high in fat and calories and can pack on the pounds. If weight loss is your goal, it is better to eat three meals a day and try to resist the temptation to snack after dinner. This can be a challenge but try some helpful tips below.

Tips to help avoid the midnight munchies:

  • Eat three meals per day and one-two planned snacks within you calorie range.
  • Make a commitment to stop eating after dinner.
  • Start your day with a healthy breakfast.
  • Increase the fiber in your diet, especially at dinner. Add beans or whole grains to keep you satisfied.
  • Protein can help you feel satiated so plan to include lean choices such as chicken, turkey and low-fat cheese at meals and snacks. 
  • Eat mindfully. Designate a place to eat, such in the kitchen or dining room. Make a “rule” to always eat while sitting down at the table. Turn off the TV and electronic devices. Mindless eating can lead to overeating. Pace yourself and enjoy your bites slowly.
  • Give yourself 15-20 minutes for your brain to get the message that you have had enough.
  •  Journal to keep track of what you eat and when you eat. Break unhealthy patterns of overeating after dark. Try using a logging app such as My Fitness Pal or Lose it!.
  • Plan activities to distract yourself from snacking after dinner. Try: taking a warm bath, walking the dog, playing a fun game on your wireless device, calling a friend, meditating or reading a fun book or magazine.
  • Stock your house with easy access low-calorie snacks or alternatives when you have a craving. Try an herbal tea, handful of veggies or a piece of fruit. 
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.    
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Plan to eat your last meal at least two to three hours before your bedtime. 

Knowing your body and understanding how it works can help you make better choices. Getting more rest at night and choosing lower-calorie foods can help with your health-related goals. Start the day with a healthy start at breakfast, including a whole grain, low fat dairy food and piece of fruit. Plan to eat about every four hours to keep your blood sugars normal and to prevent excess hunger, especially in the evening. Learn to control portions by eating consciously and slowly which gives your brain time to know there is plenty in your stomach. Exercise regularly to keep burning calories all day—every step counts! By doing all these you will be better equipped to manage dinner and the evening hours. Don’t let the late night munchies spook your efforts to be healthy! 

To meet with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Cooper Clinic, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Colleen Loveland, MS, RDN, LD, CDE