Evening Food Cravings

Another Seattle web journaler describes a familiar habit: giving in to high-calorie food cravings in the evening, between dinner and bedtime. She asks people with good ideas about resisting these cravings to make suggestions in the Comments box.
Here’s what has worked for me. I eat a medium-sized, dense, tasty meal as early as I can in the evening—something high in protein (though I’m not avoiding carbs). I think of the protein and the tastiness of the meal as high-quality fuel, physical and psychological, that I can rely on to get me through to breakfast the next morning without cravings. I literally tell myself while I’m preparing the meal: “This will be a good meal, I’ll enjoy it, and I won’t crave snacks later on.”
A piece of fruit afterwards can help remove the lingering taste of a savory meal so that I don’t long for dessert. (Lately, though, I tend to eat a piece of fruit before meals instead of after.)
If I do feel hungry later in the evening, I try not to let it become a craving. I look at the clock and tell myself that before I know it, bedtime, morning, and breakfast will be here. In the meantime, because of the good fuel I put into my system at dinner, a little hunger before bed is to be ignored. My stomach may be empty, but the rest of me is thriving on the good meal.
I don’t cook. Meals have to be quick and convenient. This was my most intimidating challenge back when I started to try to change my eating habits: finding foods that met my convenience and tastiness requirements and were not astronomically high in fat and calories. One key to this puzzle was realizing that not every meal has to be perfectly balanced, if I achieve a balance throughout the day that includes fruits and/or vegetables, protein, calcium, and not too much sugar or fried food. Not every day’s eating is ideally balanced, and I’m not an exceptional role model for eating habits. Still, I’ve improved my nutrition a lot in the past four years, lost weight, and kept it off.
My convenient, tasty, protein-y evening meals include:
Tuna salad. I use the full six-ounce can and add just one tablespoon of mayo. (For a low-fat kind, Spectrum Low-Calorie Canola Mayo tastes really good, but I can’t always find it so I use regular mayo a lot.) I also add chopped celery if I have it and lemon juice, salt and pepper. If I’ve been exercising a lot, I add sunflower seeds too. I’m sure that makes the calories go sky-high. (I’ve been extremely active for the past few years, so if someone who doesn’t exercise as strenuously tries these meals, eating a smaller portion might make sense.) I eat the tuna salad with reduced-fat Wheat Thins crackers and I only eat the number of crackers that are indicated as one serving on the package.
Smoked salmon, also with the above crackers. I buy the cooked or “hot smoked” kind by the Portlock brand. It’s almost as moist and delicious as if you cooked a fresh piece of salmon yourself.
Which isn’t a bad idea. I like to pick up a piece of fresh salmon at the store, only big enough for me (or for me and Tom if he wants some) to make one meal, and a bag of ready-to-eat fresh spinach. I sprinkle salt and pepper on the fish and bake it, having figured out exactly how many minutes my oven requires so that I can set the timer and forget about it. Five minutes before the fish is done, I put a giant handful of spinach in a frying pan with a little water and let it steam itself. Salmon and steamed spinach has got to be a good meal by just about any non-vegetarian’s standards.
Campbell’s Chunky or Healthy Request soups. I heat and eat the whole can, choosing one with beef in order to get the most protein and iron.
Chicken salad from the supermarket deli. The problem with that is I have no idea how much mayo they use. I buy it once in a while if I see a kind that has especially good ingredients in it, like almonds or something spicy. I only buy enough for one smallish serving and I eat it the same night.
Thai take-out. I’m sure a lot of take-out Thai is astronomical in calories, but if I’m watching my intake and want a balanced meal with protein and vitamins, I get the cold, spicy grilled-beef-strip salad that they call Tiger Cry or something similar. It comes with a small ball of sticky rice, not a vat of the regular kind, so I don’t eat as much of the rice. With it, if I’m at a place that has this, I like to get the Som Tum shredded-papaya salad. If you haven’t had that, try it if you see it on the menu. It usually has fresh or dried shrimp in it, peanuts, carrots, and hot peppers.
And if I’m lazy… a peanut butter and honey sandwich. I think I’ve eaten one of these every day of my life since age 7 and it has become my basic, generic “food unit” that is always able to get me through to the next meal. It’s high in calories and fat, but also in protein and fiber (on whole-wheat bread).
Any one of these dinnertime meals are filling and healthy enough (according to my standards, anyway) to allow me to deny nighttime food cravings almost all the time. But if I have to have something, I’m always thankful if there’s some fruit in the house.
Well, now I’m hungry and off to make a peanut butter sandwich. Do you have any suggestions for other convenient, tasty dinners?

5 thoughts on “Evening Food Cravings”

  1. I try to manage calories throughout the day, and generally plan what I’m going to eat the day before so I don’t get caught off-guard. I find that I eat poorly when I am hungry and have not planned how I am going to eat that day, and therefore am stuck without the right choice.
    I more or less eat a higher protein diet, merely because I think it is easier to control cravings and appetite this way. For breakfast I usually have a couple of eggs with oatmeal or a piece of whole wheat toast. If I go the oatmeal route, I’ll throw a sprinkling of berries on top and a small amount of honey on top for taste. I don’t mind using preserves in moderate doses on toast.
    Throughout the day I normally eat fruit (apples and oranges, or a banana in the afternoon if I have a heavy cardio session coming up that night), and have a sandwich on whole wheat with lean meat, lettuce, tomato and mustard for lunch. I’m predictable in terms of my lunch habits when I’m behaving myself. A good mid-morning snack for me would be a handful of peanuts and an apple, or a low-fat cup of yogurt.
    I generally pack in carbs around exercise. Before I workout I will eat higher glycemic (but not real high glycemic) foods if I intend to do more than an hour on my bike. For a 2 hour bike ride I’ll pop a Clif bar beforehand. During rides of 2 hours or less I will rely on Cytomax, which has 100 calories per serving (what I generally use in one large bottle) for carbs during the ride, and after I get done I’ll make a recovery drink with Cytomax and glutamine powder and eat yogurt (the full calorie variety) or a banana. FOr ride longer than 2 hours, I’ll consume a Clif bar each hour I’m riding.
    Dinners are almost always poultry or fish with sides like sweet potatoes, broccoli, etc. I generally stay away from pasta these days and don’t eat any “white” carbs like potatoes or rice. I like peanut butter based marinades for chicken, and mustard-based for fish. You can bring the calories up in the meal while not increasing your intake of simple sugars too much.
    When it comes to simple sugars, with the exception of sports drinks and sports bars, I try to stay whole foods oriented, and generally go with honey as my primary “sugar.”

  2. Thanks for the great suggestions. I’m glad you brought up planning. It seems like a hassle to think ahead but is well worth it. Don’t need to stop at Taco Bell if you’ve got an easy meal to make at home.

Comments are closed.