How to put a stop to your night time nibbling

© Moniphoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Moniphoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Are you an endless muncher in the evening? Well, you’re not alone. Many of my clients come to me for help to put an end to their night time nibbling. Among the  countless reasons for their snacking,  habit is usually number one.

Or so they think.

My first question following this call for help frequently surprises them: what do you eat for breakfast?

The common answer is, “My breakfast is not a problem.” My comeback? “I bet your breakfast is the cause of  your nibbling.”

While I have had many, many years of experience along with  research to back me up, it’s always great to see more scientific investigations continuing to show just how important breakfast is as a foundation to keep your appetite and food intake on track.

The latest study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the impact of a high-protein breakfast versus a normal protein meal containing the same calories or breakfast skipping on overweight or obese teenage girls who normally skip breakfast.  While both breakfasts contained the same number of calories, the high protein meal included eggs or meat offerings. The normal protein one was a more typical cereal and milk meal. Both supplied similar amounts of fibre, sugar and dairy and plant protein.

The researchers looked at issues such as  appetite control, satiety, evening snacking  and whether food is looked at as a reward.

The subjects followed each pattern for six days and underwent a series of tests on the seventh. They filled out questionnaires about their appetite including how satisfied they felt at various points during the day. They also underwent blood tests which measured various hunger hormones. As part of the research, the participants were supplied with a cooler  to take home which contained evening snacks that they could eat as desired throughout the evening.

The coolers were filled with  a wide range of snacking options: cookies, cakes, granola bars, candy (hard, chocolate, gummy), nacho chips, popcorn, crackers, pretzels, microwavable macaroni and cheese, string cheese, apple slices, grapes, carrots, snack-size ice cream, beef jerky, yogurt, and microwavable pizza pockets.

A fascinating aspect of the research was the use of a MRI brain scan to assess the effects of various photos on brain activity before dinner while the subjects were on the different regimes.

Not surprisingly – to me – the high protein breakfast led to a number of waist management perks. After consuming this breakfast, the subjects were less hungry, had a decreased desire to eat and felt fuller each day. While you may think these are all the same actions, they are indeed very different. How many times have you grabbed something to eat even though you may not have felt hungry. Or what about continuing to eat when you feel as though you’ve had enough?

There were also reductions in the hunger hormone levels. As for the MRIs, the brain activity following  breakfast skipping and the normal protein breakfasts was greater when the subjects were shown pictures of food than when they ate the high protein meal.

And finally, after the days of  skipping breakfast or having the normal protein meal, there was more evening snacking than when the high protein breakfast was eaten.

If you’re a mindless muncher at night and  still not a believer that what you eat in the morning  makes a difference, why not give a higher protein breakfast a try for a week and see for yourself.

Next up: if you eat protein the morning, what’s on the menu at night?

Are you a night time nibbler? Have you found any strategies that  help you curb your eating?

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Categories: Research Roundup, Weight Management

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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4 Comments on “How to put a stop to your night time nibbling”

  1. March 26, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

    Hi Rosie,

    What is considered enough protein for breakfast? I have 2 egg whites with my steel cut oatmeal, and I still get the evening munchies.

    Thanks, S

  2. March 26, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    Hi Rosie, So how much protein is “high protein” at breakfast? I eat two egg whites with my steel cut oats every day, and I still get the munchies – less so than with just the oatmeal, but still I’m starving by 8 pm. Is there a range that will curb the cravings without getting “bodybuilder ridiculous”.


    • March 26, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

      I have found, anecdotally, that egg whites alone do not suffice. Adding a yolk or whole egg to the meal seems to do the trick. Let me know!

    • March 26, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

      Generally speaking, an egg or two or a few ounces of lower-fat cheese,lean meat or fish will be enough if the amount of carbohydrate-containing foods is not too high. That means a slice or two of bread or a serving of cereal along with some fruit. Throw in some lower-fat milk or yogurt and you’ve got a great breakfast!

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