Does this ever happen to you? You start your day sticking to your diet – maybe a bowl of oatmeal or an egg white and spinach omelet and some berries with a big glass of water. For lunch, you have some salad or a small container of leftovers from last night’s dinner and drink more water. Mid-afternoon you get hungry and grab a piece of fruit. For dinner, you have a small plate of some protein and steamed vegetables. If you have dessert, maybe it’s another piece of fruit or a few strawberries. You clean up the kitchen and move onto the couch to watch TV. You watch for 30 minutes, maybe an hour, and then start to think about the ice cream in the freezer, the cookies in the cookie jar, and the bag of chips in the pantry. You promised yourself you wouldn’t eat after dinner, but you can’t stop thinking about eating again. You decide to allow yourself just 1 cookie. Or maybe just a small bowl of ice cream. Or a few chips. So you have them and return to the couch. And before you know it, you’ve gone back in the kitchen, returned to the couch, and the whole pint of ice cream, the jar of cookies, and the bag of chips are empty!
How did that just happen?
Halloween might be over, but the Witching Hour strikes all year round.
The term Witching Hour refers to the time of day or night when creatures such as witches, demons, and ghosts are thought to appear and to be at their most powerful. It may be used to refer to any arbitrary time of bad luck or in which something bad has a greater likelihood to occur.
For dieters, the Witching Hour is when food cravings are strongest, usually in the afternoon or evening. You know the scenario: You were “good” all day, and then you get home and want to empty the fridge or raid the pantry. Or by 9 or 10 pm you are looking around for what else you can eat.
The witching hour usually strikes when our defenses are down - when we are mentally or physically exhausted, or both when we are stressed or emotional and needing comfort, or when we are just bored. When the witching hour strikes all of our best-laid plans, every ounce of willpower and lofty health goals can’t survive the power of the snacking demons. The best strategy to survive the witching hour with your healthy eating plan intact is to first understand what your triggers are and then modify your environment and change your habits to defuse the cravings and stop the snacking.
Here are some common causes for witching hour snacking and ways to avoid them:
Cause: We didn’t eat enough during the day — When you try to lose weight, you immediately start thinking about restricting your calories. You might have a small breakfast or skip it altogether and then a light lunch. So when the afternoon or evening rolls around you are ravenous because you restricted yourself too much earlier in the day.
Solution: There’s a saying that goes: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” Instead of making dinner your biggest meal of the day, try front-loading your calories to the earlier part of the day. Research has shown that people who consume larger breakfasts and smaller dinners lose more weight and have a reduced risk for heart disease. Put together a hearty breakfast full of protein and fiber, like a bowl of oats with ground flaxseeds, walnuts, and berries. Or a tofu or egg scramble with dark leafy greens, vegetables, and spices.
Cause: We didn’t eat balanced meals – the first thing most of us do when trying to lose weight and eat healthily is to cut carbs or eat low fat. But if we are not careful, our meals lack the nutrients that give us energy, help us feel full, and satisfy our taste buds. And when you eliminate carbohydrates or fat, our bodies will start to crave them, and you will start thinking about something to satiate you.
Solution: Focus on creating meals that have a balance of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Eliminating highly processed carbs and unhealthy fats is generally a good idea, but there are plenty of healthy whole grains and fats that are good to eat even when trying to lose weight. Try adding lentils, beans, oats, quinoa, and/or brown rice to your meals for added protein and fiber to keep you full and energized. A few seeds or chopped nuts or some avocado are great sources of healthy fats to help your body feel satisfied.
Cause: We didn’t eat satisfying meals – if your diet meals consist of plain grilled chicken and some steamed vegetables, you might not be satisfied. Even if you are physically full, you are not mentally or emotionally satisfied. You will continue to crave more until you can give in to your cravings.
Solution: For a meal to be satisfying it should taste good, be enjoyable to eat, and fill you up. Be sure to include a variety of colors and textures, and flavor from herbs and spices, and ingredients you love. Include lots of nutrient-dense, low-calorie vegetables to fill your plate so you don’t feel deprived.
Cause: Emotional Reasons — After a long day, we use food to relax, unwind, de-stress or entertain ourselves. We might reach for a pint of ice cream when we’re feeling down, order a pizza if we’re bored or lonely, or swing by the drive-through after a stressful day at work. We eat to make us feel better, to fill an emotional need. The problem is emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional problems.
Solution: Food doesn’t solve emotional issues. It usually makes you feel worse. Afterward, not only does the original emotional issue remain, but you also feel guilty for overeating. Explore other ways to address your stress or boredom, such as vigorous exercise, a walk in nature, meditation, or a phone call with a friend.
Cause: Habit — We have a habit of eating while we are doing something else, like watching TV or while working. So even if we aren’t hungry, when we sit down to watch a show, we automatically grab food. And because we are distracted by work or a movie, we aren’t paying attention to our food.
Solution: When the craving strikes, remind yourself that you aren’t hungry, you have just gotten in the habit of eating while on the couch or at your desk. Try drinking a cup of tea or a glass of lemon water instead of eating. Or try an activity after dinner, like going for a walk, playing a board game with a family member, or working on a puzzle, instead of watching TV. Take one day at a time, but it will get easier after a few days and you will break the habit.
Other ways to resist the witching hour:
Plan – Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Plan balanced, satisfying, and filling meals and snacks ahead of time. Have healthy food prepared and ready to cook or snack on.
Get enough sleep – Sleep deprivation can affect hormones linked to hunger and appetite. When we don’t get enough sleep, our body may confuse tiredness with hunger. And when we are constantly tired, we have less energy to carry out all the previous solutions! If you're tempted to keep snacking after a balanced dinner, that may be a sign that your body needs rest. Listen to your body, turn off the TV, and go to bed!
Need more help? Reach out at any time – I’m here to help!