And we thought there was no downside to binging all of Stranger Things in a single weekend. “Screentime, be it TV or internet, promotes mindless eating,” says registered dietitian Lauren O’Connor of Nutri Savvy Health. We’re especially prone to excess munching during exciting moments (alien chases, monster attacks, that sort of thing). “These stimulate our adrenaline, which can consequently stimulate our hunger,” O’Connor says.
If you’re watching late at night (aka prime Netflix hour), the snack cravings increase. “Missing out on sleep is setting you up for sugar and carb cravings the entire next day,” explains Diane Sanfilippo, certified nutrition consultant and author of Practical Paleo.
To curb these tech-induced food binges, try pausing your show when you feel a hunger pang and stepping away from the screen to eat (instead of sitting the bag of pita chips next to you). And give yourself a TV cutoff time, adds Sanfilippo. “The shows will be there when you’re ready to come back for more,” she says. “Simply let your friends know not to spoil it for you while you catch some z’s in an effort to keep your healthy choices on-track.”
This seems counterintuitive, but one of the most common reasons we consume excess calories is because we’re mistaking thirst for hunger. “Often we eat because we think we’re hungry when in fact we may be dehydrated,” explains Abbey Sharp, registered dietitian at Abbey’s Kitchen. Luckily, the fix is simple. “Before you eat, have a glass of water first to see if that satisfies before grabbing a snack,” Sharp says.
O’Connor reminds us to try drinking water consistently throughout the day, as well. Keeping a cute water bottle by your desk can be helpful. S’well bottles are a Byrdie favorite because they keep beverages cold (and thus more appetizing) for 24 hours. Fill one up with water four times a day and, O’Connor promises, you’ll feel less snacky.
“This is a very common culprit for unexplained cravings,” says certified holistic nutritionist Vanessa Packer, founder of ModelFIT and co-founder of BonBeri. If your sleep patterns are irregular, it can mess up your eating patterns and digestion. (Ever notice how stopped up you feel when you’re sleep-deprived?)
Not getting enough sleep also elevates cortisol levels, which stimulates hunger. “We tend to crave sweets and simple carbohydrates to compensate for our feeling of fatigue,” says O’Connor.
So how much shut-eye should we be getting exactly? According to Tricia Griffin, registered dietitian at Muscle Milk, seven hours a night is the minimum. By making an effort to go to bed just 30 minutes earlier each night (and then slowly increasing that week by week), you can drop your cortisol levels, curb your appetite, and normalize your eating schedule.
Just because a food is marked as “low fat” doesn’t mean it’s healthy, especially if it’s processed. “‘Diet foods’ tend to be super low in fat and protein and high in refined carbs, which aren’t as satiating as fat and protein, so it’s easy to get ravenous and binge soon after eating them,” says Sharp. (If you’re interested, you can read more about the dangers of low-fat dairy.)
Instead, Sharp suggests aiming for a combination of protein, high-fiber carbs and choosing fat for your meals and snacks. Avocado toast with hummus on whole grain bread is a great option!
Speaking of refined carbohydrates, starting your day off with a sugary breakfast guarantees excess snacking later. That means cereal, pastries, sugary coffee drinks, granola bars, and even fruit should be off the table.
“The hidden sugars and processed carbs in many breakfast cereals set us up for a blood sugar roller coaster, making you feel hungry even though you’ve just eaten,” says Elizabeth Brown, registered dietitian of The Kitchen Vixen.
Granola bars and fruit aren’t any better, even though they’re marketed to be. “Sure, fruit is a ‘healthy’ breakfast, but it’s metabolized in less than an hour,” says certified nutritionist Dana James. “By the time 11 a.m. rolls around, you’ll find yourself eating breakfast meeting leftovers like stale croissants or energy bars, which are loaded with sneaky sugars that cause a blood sugar drop and mess with your appetite hormones.”
The bottom line: Choose a protein-based breakfast like a veggie omelet or chia seed pudding.