Stop Mindless Snacking at Night: Identify Your Triggers with These Easy Tips

I don’t know about you, but I like to watch a TV show or two in the evening before bed. It’s the time I sit on the couch next to my hubby and catch the latest episode of some popular show, or some mystery or drama.

We got into the habit of drinking a glass or two of wine, and having some sort of dessert. I don’t really remember how it happened, but one day I realized we were drinking wine and eating some sort of dessert EVERY SINGLE NIGHT!

I can hardly believe how easily things like this become habits, but it’s true. The thing is, it had become literally mindless. Once we fell into the habit, there was no thinking, “hmmm…should we have something sweet to eat this evening?”

Nope, it was just expected. So, I took out a notebook and began writing down what we ate each night (and how much wine we drank), and after a week I added it all up and was astounded.

There’s no doubt I was in a habit, and it wasn’t going to be easy to break it. And in the end, I didn’t break it, but I changed it up so that it was no longer mindless, but now it was planned!

And what about you? Are you ready to once and for all stop mindlessly snacking at night?

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered when it comes to the nightly pull of the fridge, freezer and cookie jar!

Wave goodbye 👋🏽 to the struggle, because I’m going to teach you how to:

•Identify your triggers for snacking at night

•Plan your meals & snacks

•Discover healthier alternatives

Let’s go!

Identify Your Triggers For Snacking At Night

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.

We don’t do anything in life without a trigger, also known as a cue.

You eat breakfast because it’s 8 AM. You brush your teeth because it’s bedtime.

Visually, it looks like this:

Cue→ Action→ Reward

It’s time to watch the next episode of The Crown on Netflix (cue).
You go to the freezer and scoop some ice cream into your bowl (action).
Your sweet tooth is satisfied and all is right with the world! (reward).

So what you need to do is figure out your triggers. It may look completely different from what I shared above.


We assume here that you are not actually hungry and are eating only out of habit.

You may snack as soon as you get home from work, or after you went for a walk, to reward yourself!

You may resist and resist (“I’m going to be strong tonight and NOT have a snack”), but then each and every time you give in again, repeating the same tired line…”tomorrow I’ll resist!”

You may even tell yourself how good you were today so you deserve a treat! And so the nighttime snacking struggle continues. And continues.

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Nighttime Snacking Triggers

You don’t normally think about your triggers. They just happen.

So I’m going to have you go through an exercise to discover your own cue…the thing that happens right before you go to get the snack or treat.

little notebooks to record why you're snacking at night

It requires a bit of work, but what good thing doesn’t?

You’ll need some sort of notebook. Just something small, perhaps that can fit into your purse or pocket.

Even one of those little notepads will work just fine (you know, the tiny ones with the spiral binding).

When you realize you are getting up from the couch, have put down your car keys, have flipped on the TV…whatever moment you feel yourself moving toward the kitchen, stop, take a deep breath and get your little notebook.

Write down the time, what you were just doing (be specific), and what you are on the way to do.

Write down how you feel…try to be specific again. Are you tired, bored, stressed, angry, sad or lonely?

Are you looking for comfort? Or a reward for a tough day?

You may even be telling yourself, “what’s the use, I’ll never stop so why even try?”

Anything that pops into your mind when you’re just on the way to get the treat, write it down.

You can still have the treat!

a healthy frozen yogurt pop to snack at night

Don’t fret. This is just to get a handle on your triggers and thoughts before we devise a plan.

Do what is described above for the entire week…not the weekend for now (whatever your weekend is).

If after the week is over you begin to see a pattern, great! You can move on to the next step. If not, don’t fret.

Just do it for another week. Be sure to write this down in your notebook.

If you’re still not sure after two weeks, feel free to shoot me an email! I’ll help you work it out.

Plan Your Meals & Snacks

Now that you’re more aware of what you’re doing and also getting a handle on why you’re snacking every night, it’s time for some planning!

In fact, you may actually be hungry when you reach for a snack in the evening.

willpower going the way of the dodo bird

Think about it. If you’re dieting (and if you’re over 50, chances you are either on, or about to start a diet), you may restrict yourself all day, but when you get home and unwind, your willpower has all gone the way of the dodo bird.

So you need to be sure you’re fueling properly throughout the day and not leaving yourself famished in the evening, searching for anything and everything.

In the evenings, we’re usually just about fresh out of willpower, so avoiding the tempting treats becomes all that much more difficult.

Planning Your Meals

sack of groceries for meal planning

There’s some wisdom in the old adage to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.

Studies show that rising on the earlier side and eating a relatively hearty breakfast with adequate protein, and then gradually eating lighter fare throughout the day, can more easily quell the urge for snacking at night, especially with junk food!

Be sure to add a good source of lean protein in adequate quantity to your dinner meal and that will not only help you feel satisfied, but won’t leave you craving as much salty, fatty, or sweet foods later on.

Healthy Breakfasts

Healthy Lunches

Healthy Dinners

I can remember, and you probably can, too, back when I was younger we almost never ate dessert! Certainly not every evening.

We ate 3 meals, and most of the time when I got home from school I had a couple of oranges or apples. The fruit was the only snack!

We just did not eat a bunch of crap. Partly because we couldn’t afford it, but partly because it just didn’t exist!

So plan your meals every day, eat enough protein, and you’ll decrease your craving for unhealthy food in the evening.

Planning Your Snacks

Now, what if you still want to eat something in the evening? I know I do!

What we’re trying to do here is stop eating mindlessly in the evening, and also stop eating unhealthy snacks every single night.

So if you still want to fit a snack into your evenings, then pay attention. This part is crucial to your success! Don’t skip it.

It’s so easy to get into an unhealthy habit when the unhealthy thing either tastes so good, or you associate it with something quite pleasurable.

The “something pleasurable” can be watching a TV show with your partner in the evening! I know that’s a time I look forward to each and every night with my husband and I don’t plan to give it up!

delicious healthy treats for snacking at night

Sure, I could be more productive during that time, but it’s a chance for us to wind down, giggle a little on the couch, and just watch something funny. It’s a time we both treasure.

And we also want something to eat! We don’t need it, and aren’t usually super hungry, but it just seems to “fit.”

So for a while now I’ve been planning for the snack, saving room, and looking forward to a reasonably healthy, measured snack in the evening.

Healthy Snack Ideas

We have air-popped popcorn often, or some fresh fruit mixed with low-fat vanilla yogurt (which is oh-so-yummy), and even a measured quantity of crackers and cheese.

Once again, getting some protein in there can help you sleep and make more tryptophan available to your brain, which also helps with sleep! That’s a win-win in my book.

I sometimes have a small ramekin bowl with fat-free chocolate frozen yogurt. It satisfies my sweet tooth and gives me a bit of a protein boost. Yes, it’s got sugar, but I tend to watch that throughout the day, so I have rationalized it!

Make Sure To Plan & Measure

No bringing over a big bag of Doritos with a couple of paper towels and going to town!

Putting your healthy, satisfying snack on a plate or in a bowl is also helpful for limiting how much you eat. All part of the planning!

What if the very idea of having to plan and measure makes you shudder? Then it may be best for you to stop eating after your last meal.

Give yourself a window of time in which to eat (usually 9-12 hours) and just don’t eat anything after that time.

It’s simple, and it works for a lot of people.

spicy tea in a cup to help with snacking at night

If you need something to do with your hands and/or mouth, drink a hot cup of herbal tea.

A really good herbal tea with a sweet and spicy flavor is Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice. It’s caffeine free, so good to drink in the evening.

One of the best tricks I have found is to have some sort of minty taste. Chew a stick of minty gum (sugarless), or brush your teeth and rinse with a strong mouthwash.

This teeth-brushing trick works surprisingly well. And once it becomes a habit, your brain will actually crave the minty, fresh feel! 

This only works well if you’ve fueled your body well throughout the day, as per the advice above. Otherwise, you may still be hungry.

One other thing…and I saved the best for last!

If you have regularly eaten only 200 calories on average of a snack in the evening, and you quit completely, say, stopping any eating after dinner, all other things being equal, you will lose 20 pounds in a year!!

This is amazing when you think about it. Twenty pounds in a year is just a little over 1.5 pounds a month, a number about which most people wouldn’t dance a jig.

But they add up. If you were wolfing down 500 mindless calories and you instead began planning your snacks and had, say, a 250 calorie snack instead, you would lose over 25 pounds in a year!

We’re talking some serious pounds here. It shows how small things really do add up.

If you do this over other aspects of your life, such as, cutting down (or out completely) your nightly wine drinking (a 5 oz glass of Chardonnay is 120 calories) , or cut a meager 50 calories from each meal (VERY easy to do, by the way, if you’re planning and tracking your meals) the effect will be even greater.

Now we’re saving 200 or more calories from your former evening snack, and another 150 or more total from your meals or wine, you’ve now lost 36.5 pounds in a year without starving yourself AT ALL.

This is really the key to the whole weight loss over 50 conundrum and what I teach in every single thing I write or share in Facebook lives.

You Can Break The Habit Of Snacking At Night

Now that you have some solid ideas to help you stop unplanned nighttime snacking, you need never be caught mindlessly chomping on chips again!

Remember the three steps to stopping your nighttime (mindless) snacking:

  • Discover your triggers
  • Plan your meals & snacks
  • Find healthy snacks if you still want a (planned) snack

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  1. Yes! All such great advice! I think such a big factor is being prepared by already having healthy snacks on-hand and even prepped. For me, this really cuts down on the chance I’ll fall victim to mindless eating. Identifying and understanding cues, too! Thanks for this! 🙂