The Road to the Cupboard

“I do really well in the morning and throughout the afternoon, but during the evenings it is really hard to stay on point.”

When it comes to your eating habits, does this sound familiar?

It sure did to me during a recent nutrition consult. With elevated glucose levels and liver enzymes, this patient’s labwork pointed to a diet too high in refined carbs. Yet her weight was healthy, her body fat percentage at 27.1, just within the normal range of 18 – 28 for women.

When I asked about her vegetables, she stopped and smiled.

“We don’t do a lot of veggies in my house.” With two little kids and both parents working full time, she struggled with meal prepping and incorporating veggies into their days.

I see many patient with these similar concerns. When we leave the house early and rush around all day, healthy eating can be a challenge. For some of us, we take the time to make something substantial like eggs and avocado for breakfast, eat a salad at lunch and munch on nuts during the day. But when we get home? All bets are off.

When evening kicks in, so does the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) does a fine job during the day to keep us active and efficient. It elevates adrenals to help us make quick decisions, get kids from school, stay on task at work, etc. When we return home, our systems begin to shift.

The rest and restore part of our days biologically begins around sunset, even though our minds don’t always cooperate. The PNS plays a crucial role in helping us unwind, calm down, and destress so our brains, cells, nutrients and more can go to work to keep our bodies healthy as we sleep.

But we keep moving. We may go out to run a last minute errand, help with homework, catch up on housework. When we finally sit down, the daily tasks done, our brains are still buzzing though our bodies are craving quiet.

We sit down to watch TV at 8 pm. Sometimes we may not even be hungry, or are still digesting dinner. Right away, our brains say “you need something to snack on.”

Has this happened to you? Have you found yourself in front of the cupboard during a commercial, searching for something sweet or salty to much on?

Sometimes, we skip dinner and find ourselves ravenous during this crucial time of the day. In either scenario, we face an uphill battle with temptations lining the shelves.

Part of shifting a pattern begins with recognizing it. All of us are confronted with cravings; we are biologically hard-wired with rewards sensors. We crave comfort and pleasure in our food, especially if we live with high stress.

Don’t beat yourself up about these evening “bad choices” or cupboard searches. They’re part of being human, of making good choices all day and wanting a break from overthinking when we slow down. We want to graze, munch, wind down, socialize over snacks.

Strategies in combating evening munchies differ. I’ve heard some patients say they brush their teeth and go to bed early rather than feel tempted; others will replace the craving with something smarter. Some will allow a small serving only of a familiar treat, or go for a walk instead of feeling deprived.

LaCroix or Perrier soda waters can satisfy a beverage craving, with their fizzy consistency and slightly sweet flavor. Flavored nuts can be a great salty and crunchy choice, as can a small tangerine or apple to replace a cookie fix.

You can try eating before you feel yourself get hungry. Grab an apple or orange ahead of the brain sending a craving signal to your belly, or before your belly tells your brain it needs food. Our brains love the fast track to Crave Town.

Mary’s Gone Crackers or more nutrient dense crackers will always trump potato chips. If you’re on a high fat low carb diet, go for celery or cucumber slices with a favorite dip. With this option, you get taste, crunch and sound if you are a texture eater.

Roasted veggies can be delicious as a snack. So can veggies sautéed in oil and topped with roasted pine nuts or almonds. It may seem sacrilegious to view a vegetable as a treat, but try them. As you learn to prepare veggies with different flavor and texture, your body will start to crave them.

Find Keto-friendly dessert ideas online – there are dozens of websites. Plan ahead, making baggies for the week so you grab a small portion instead of a whole bag.

Whatever strategy that works for you, follow it. Instead of depriving or punishing yourself, embrace the following:

1. You are human. You are hardwired to want comfort food and tasty snacks.
2. You are deconstructing an old pattern and creating a new one.
3. You every day are understanding your own body better and how to read its signals
4. As you learn what foods work best for your unique metabolism, you are better equipped to make good choices when it comes to snacks.
5. You will make a “mistake” and indulge in that craving every once in a while, whether it be pretzels or red vines in your kids’ “treat” jar.
6. You will get back on track.
7. Your body is smart, and so are you.

We would love to hear your best strategies for making optimal snack choices. We can encourage each other to replace instead of repress cravings, and together create an environment of success. Instead of dieting, we want to implement “life eating” to empower you.

And that is the best feeling of all, something to relish and enjoy. Maybe – just maybe – you will start to crave it more than that rogue sleeve of Thin Mints.

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