A Bedtime Snack: Habit or Hunger?
Emma St. Aubin

Nighttime often means snack time, but before you devour an entire box of Frosted Flakes, you should determine whether habit or hunger is driving this desire.

“Hunger is a physical state. If what you are feeling is an emotional state, it’s not hunger,” said Annie Wetter, Chair of the School of Health Promotion and Human Development.

Food satisfies all sorts of emotions at the end of the day, whether for entertainment, distraction or relaxation. It is also often associated with sedentary behavior, like watching television or using the computer which we tend to engage in during the evening.

To avoid snacking out of boredom, keep the evening interesting. Hit up the gym or get ahead on homework. Keeping yourself busy will make it easier to refrain from mindless snacking.

However, if you’re lying in bed and your stomach is grumbling so loud that you need to invest in a pair of earplugs, calm those hunger pangs and go eat something.

“It is entirely possible for students to experience true hunger, depending on how late they are staying up, the size of their last meal and the time at which they last ate,” Wetter said. “Many students are forced to eat early because of the Debot schedule.”

Even if your stomach isn’t growling, it’s okay to snack with a notion of calorie balance.

“Even if it is emotional, it shouldn’t be dismissed,” Wetter said.

If cravings are taking over your mind and preventing you from concentrating on anything else, go ahead and attend to those cravings— mindfully.

“Attend to them in a thoughtful and mindful way, so cravings don’t turn into eating an entire pizza, but rather mindfully spending 15 minutes eating a 50-calorie cookie. Attending to cravings can help prevent bouts of overeating from feeling deprived and restricted,” Wetter said.

For busy students trying to balance jobs, internships and homework, it is especially important to get a good night’s sleep while managing all of the other commitments in order to maintain a regular metabolism.

“Irregular sleep patterns have an impact on our physiology. Those who stay up late are more likely to become hormonally and metabolically disrupted,” Wetter said.

Nighttime isn’t the enemy. Eating at night isn’t necessarily bad. If you are going to eat a cupcake today, it won’t make a difference whether it’s consumed at 10 a.m. or 11 p.m.

Time of day doesn’t change the number of calories entering your body. What matters is the type of food being consumed. Whether you snack during the morning or in the evening before bed, be conscious of the nutrition value.

So next time you’re experiencing a late-night trip to the kitchen, it’s okay. Instead of spending the entire night trying to avoid these cravings, attend to them – as long as you are doing it mindfully.