"More research is needed, but if you are going to cut out snacks at any time of day, the late-night ones are probably the place to start."
Joel Snape/The Guardian
It's a fasting day today and so I suppose my mind is a bit more focussed on snacky kind of food than usual, because I no longer even pretend to eat 500 calories in a mini meal on my fasting days. I generally eat barely anything - a piece of fruit perhaps. Which I know most people would find very difficult, but not me. I would much rather eat nothing at all than a small portion of something. A small portion, particularly if it tastes good, just makes me want to eat more of it. I guess I'm just fundamentally greedy. And this day off food keeps me on an even keel weight wise.
It does focus the mind a bit though, and today it made me think about my bad habit of snacking on this and that after dinner, whilst watching television. My main weakness here is cheese and biscuits or even cheese and bread - and the extra guilt of butter on the biscuits or bread as well, but oh so delicious.
However, of late I have been feeling doubly bad because of the Christmas chocolate that has to be eaten. I mean people have gone to some trouble to provide you with delicious - even expensive chocolates at Christmas - mostly in appreciation of the Christmas Eve turkey feast - so it would seem very rude to me to either not eat them at all, or give them as presents at similar invited events. And the same thing is inevitably going to happen at Easter as well.
Even giving them away as charity somehow seems wrong - although here I cringe, because of course it cannot be wrong to give things to people in need. I could easily just dump them in the community share boxes at the supermarket. Which is worse? Rejecting generosity to yourself, or providing the poor with a treat? Although - if you were trying to justify not doing the latter, I guess you could try and say that it's just encouraging them to eat the wrong things - and don't the poor and uneducated just eat junk food?
I do not mean that of course - it's a very feeble justification for not being charitable. However, that deep down reluctance to pass on something that has been given to you as a present - even if not a lot of thought went into it - is very hard to shake - for me anyway. I am not into regifting. It's rude and ungrateful.
There are two questions to ask here - why do we do this after dinner snacking and how can we stop it? Maybe we should even ask if it's OK anyway, because the scientists seem to say some surprising things, although it's not just about the science of nutrition.
Let's start with the big question - why do we do it? There seem to be two main categories of reasoning here.
The first is the, to me anyway, easily fixed one - we are still hungry because we haven't eaten either enough or enough of the right things - and curiously protein and carbohydrates seem to be the main culprits here. So this one is easily fixed - just eat the right food and enough of it. And I think I do - even possibly a bit too much of it.
"If you are still hungry after ruling out other factors, it's OK to have a snack. Opt for foods with high protein and fiber and eat small portions slowly, and without distractions." Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
In fact most of the 'experts' do not seem to think there is anything inherently wrong with eating later at night, as long as you are eating the right things, and it's not more than you need:
"Eating at night will not slow down your metabolism and if you're smart about snacking, you won't gain weight either. Do a mental inventory of what you've eaten throughout the day and see what you've missed. Most often, it's going to be fruits, vegetables or dairy. If that's the case, get in that extra fiber and calcium." Sarah Pflugradt/Eating Well
"When you have calories left in your budget, it DOES NOT mean you need to spend them. If you're not hungry, STOP, and ask questions. Sometimes you do need a thing, and when you do, you can usually compromise. But most of the time you don't actually need the thing. And occasionally you do need the real thing." InstaWhaaa/Reddit
And yes, I know that's just a sort of anonymous statement from a probably unqualified person, but he or she is actually putting in everyday language what most of the 'experts' said on the topic. If you're still hungry it's alright to snack but snack on the right things - although do you really need to? There are heaps of people out there to tell you what are the right things. Try this one for a start - 5 best late-night snacks from Sarah Pflugradt. (what a weird surname).
And the lady also had this bit of rather interesting information, which I didn't know and may well try:
"Walnuts are an awesome late-night snack because they naturally contain melatonin, a compound that supports healthy sleep," Sarah Pflugradt/Eating Well
The second category of answer to the question of why we do it is rather more troubling and so much more difficult to solve, because it involves emotions. Again Reddit says it rather succinctly - and perhaps in an extreme manner, and in this case completely anonymously:
"Usually TV watching and mindless eating are signs you are trying to numb pain. Pain of loneliness, of boredom, of aimlessness, of purposelessness. Reddit
Which is troubling and obviously rather more difficult to solve, particularly as this kind of snacking generally involves the bad stuff:
"People often eat out of boredom, because of stress or out of habit rather than from true hunger. Consider asking yourself the following questions before eating: Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? Am I tired? Am I bored? Am I sad?" Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
And certainly then don't go for the buckets of chips, doughnuts and chocolates. Although curiously I saw at least one 'expert' suggesting that popcorn - surely a more American thing - is actually OK:
"Popcorn is a high-fiber snack that can keep you feeling satisfied until the morning, Just be cautious with what you flavor it with—lay off large amounts of butter and salt. Sprinkle with heart-healthy fats like olive oil or fresh herbs. Buy single-serve bags or portion the popcorn out into a bowl to help keep calories in check instead of mindlessly eating out of the bag on the couch," Kristen Smith/Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"Emotional engagement can trigger emotional eating." says a writer on the Cookist website, so it's therefore going to be much more difficult to snack on the right things. Personally I have never been one to eat and eat, when desperately sad - as when young and love has gone wrong. I'm much more likely to cry, sleep and starve than stuff myself with chocolate. However, I do know that others resort to snacking and deliberately almost, snacking on the wrong things.
Obviously if the reason you are snacking is because of one of these emotional reasons then it's not just a matter of just stopping or even of snacking on the right things - although that would obviously help. You need help - and honestly although I get mildly depressed every now and then I don't actually think that any of those emotional triggers are why I snack.
Maybe it's just a habit. This is an allied reason that was suggested. You sit down in front of the television and whether it's just a habit, or whether you get involved in what you are watching and the emotion of the program nudges you into snacking, it's a sort of habit, or ritual. David has a ritual, for example of sitting down after dinner and the washing up has been done, with a knife and an apple and then cuts it into portions, one of which is given to me. I don't really feel the need for the apple, but I tell myself it's good for me so I eat it. Habit.
The trick - if there is one - is not to bring in any food with you when you sit down. Getting up to get something takes more effort - although there are those ad breaks aren't there?
My biscuits and cheese, or bread and cheese is just a sudden craving with a touch of nostalgia for the cream crackers and cheese my father used to make for us as children before going to bed. The suggested solution for these kind of habits and rituals is to install another ritual. The one suggested was to make oneself a cup of tea, so as to signal an end to all eating. Well I don't like tea, so that's no good. Cleaning your teeth after dinner was another suggestion which might work - after all that would signal no more food wouldn't it? But then you would be losing part of your going to bed ritual. Or if you are strong, just say - no more food after 8.00 pm. Too hard I think.
Most radically - find something other than watching TV to do after dinner. Which is a whole new discussion really and probably impossible in this household. For many, many years I think this is David's major form of relaxation, and I would not to take that away from him. TV does indeed have a lot to answer for. Far more than I can cover here. I will end with this longish comment in Reddit again, which seemed heartfelt, noble, and probably unachievable, but which we should all have in the back of our minds anyway:
"There are so many useful things you could do with your spare time. Read books, join meetups, go to board game cafes, volunteer at soup kitchens, go pick up litter at your park or street, learn to cook healthy nutritious meals, exercise, become active in your local government, raise funds for cancer by running, become a big brother or sister, go to a library, take a night class, learn a practical skill, get really into cycling, paint, draw, write your book you've been thinking of, journal, upgrade your work skills, learn a new language, ask someone out on a date, try kayaking, travel, visit all 50 states, make a videogame, call your mom, try yoga, write down why you exist, listen to audio books, clean, become a minimalist, sing, visit a grave yard, write to your favourite creator, support a struggling artists Patreon, kickstart an invention, make a website, clear your mind, save for retirement, floss, change your fire alarm batteries, be epic, make your life more interesting than the characters on TV." Reddit
"Write down why you exist" That would keep you busy for a while. "Clear your mind" too!
And what am I going to do about all that chocolate?
This has nothing to do with food - or the above. On the left a painting by Monet of The Doge's Palace Seen from San Giorgio Maggiore. In the middle almost the same picture in a photograph taken by me in 2006 on a trip to Venice. My first trip to Italy. On the right myself and my friend Carole - the closest friend of my life - from university - with whom I still keep in touch. We were sheltering from the burning sun of that day whilst we waited for the vaporetto to take us back to the city. I have done this postscript because the painting was so like that photograph in the middle - well of course not - so like in the sense that the same scene still exists. Most of all though it reminded me of that day. We had hoped to visit the cathedral itself with the angel on top, but of course it was the middle of the day - mad dogs and Englishmen and all that - and it was closed. A magic, well memorable at least - moment in time. So much history in the moment and of times long gone by - both personal and historical in a general sense. And yes - magic - as is Monet's painting.