Beat the midnight munchies

Special by Bob Greene

A couple of snacks are a good thing during the day - they give your metabolism a little boost so you burn calories, they give you an energy lift, and they help you spread out your calories so you don’t overeat at any one meal. But late-night snacking is one of the worst habits you can get into.

When you eat just before bed, you don’t get the same metabolism-boosting benefit as you do during the day, because a couple of hours after dinner your body begins preparing for sleep. This natural slackening of your metabolic rate overrides any metabolic boost you might get from eating. Once you hit the pillow, the only calories you’re going to use are the basic calories you need to keep your heart beating and your lungs breathing and allow your eyes to move in REM sleep.

Trust me on this: To succeed at losing weight, you’ll need to stop eating two, preferably three, hours before going to sleep. Here are some strategies that may help you achieve this goal.

• Replace a late night snack with a cup of herbal tea. This is my personal strategy, one that a lot of other people also find useful. The warmth of a cup of herbal tea (chamomile is especially calming) is comforting and the liquid gives a feeling of fullness. And if it’s boredom that’s driving you to eat, the tea will help keep you busy until the urge to eat passes. The ritual of tea drinking also gives you time to reflect on your day and set up your personal goals for tomorrow.

• Write! You might even combine writing with tea drinking, since tea can put you in a contemplative mood. But even if you’re not a tea drinker, writing is a good way to foil late-night snacking. Jot down what you’re feeling - it could convince you that maybe what you need is not a bag of crisps but a phone call to a good friend. Write about the ways you want to change your life and what you think can help you do it.

• Keep yourself busy. Again, boredom is the enemy of all late-night eaters. Read a book, watch a movie (though not if you’re the kind of person who associates TV with snacking), take a bath, challenge someone in your family to a card game, listen to music, put pictures in a photo album, surf the internet. If it’s safe, go for a walk. Choose something that enriches your life in some way, not simply a substitute for eating that you will ultimately throw aside. If the activity you opt for is absorbing and enriching, your cravings will most likely subside.

• Close the day by renewing your commitment to yourself. You did it first thing in the morning, now do it again at night. Review your day. What did you do right? What needs to change?

Best-known as Oprah's personal trainer, Bob Greene is the author of several best-selling books including Get With the Program! and Get With the Program Guide to Good Eating.

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