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How I Tamed the TV Time Snack Attack

vampire woman (1)I’ve been snacking in front of the TV at night since – well – since that TV had three channels, a big knob to turn those three channels, and a set of rabbit ear antennas. Yeah, I’m that old.

Growing up, my brother and I religiously watched the tube from 8-9 every night, usually with a bag of something crunchy at our side. Chomping along with the Dukes of Hazzard, Magnum, P.I. and Happy Days. Fun times!

I’d like to think my choice of shows has evolved. But the chomping hasn’t. Over the years as my understanding of wellness has grown I’ve slowly dropped a lot of unhealthy habits and added healthy ones. But the TV time snacking has been an incredibly hard habit to break for me. I eat real, wholesome, nutritious food by day. But at night, the snack vampire appears, wanting not blood but potato chips. Or popcorn. Or anything salty and processed. And somewhere, along the way I added a glass or two of red wine to the ritual.

Nope, not giving up my nighttime TV habit. I don’t want to. I’m a morning person, really annoyingly bright and productive from an early hour in the morning. The downside? by 8 or 9 pm I’m sort of brain dead. If I am out, I can usually get energized and act human but if I’m home, I want to zone out. (Sorry TV of mine, but you’re a perfect activity for the brain dead).

But the snacking and sipping that goes with it, that’s another story.  I am so over it.

I am fascinated with habit formation and I’m avidly following along on Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project website as she researches a new book on habits and blogs about what she’s finding.  She writes frequently about “abstainers” vs. “moderators” – two styles of avoiding temptation.  Go without altogether, or just take a little – the names are pretty self-explanatory.  I’m a moderator through and through. It’s at the heart of what I believe in, when it comes down to healthy lifestyles. I’m so moderate I am even moderate in my moderation.

Or so I thought……

The truth is, my nightly sodium and wine fest can get immoderate if I don’t keep serious tabs on it. A five-ounce glass of red wine and a handful of pretzels are about 225 empty calories total, no big deal. But it’s tempting to pour myself a bigger glass of wine – or take a little refill. The snacks are even harder – they’re pretty addictive for me, so I probably rarely stick with a handful. By the time the first person shows up in the ER on Gray’s Anatomy impaled on a pogo stick, we’re up to maybe 400 calories, or more.

Every night, I’d be kind of fighting against the urge for more of my little comfort snack. Fully half the time, I’d eat more than I intended to. So have I been successful in keeping my evening snack moderate? Mostly, yes. But is it annoying and tiring to think about it every night? Yes! I really just didn’t like being in thrall to this not very good habit.

Sometime in January, the month of resolutions, I decided to try something new: giving up the TV time refreshments altogether. My rules: absolutely no food or drink (except water) in front of the tube at night.

I’m not going to claim victory yet, but I think the cold turkey thing is working much better. It’s been about six weeks, and it’s still hard. I’m amazed at the absolute power of this habit that I’ve had since childhood. It’s been well over a month, and I still think about those snacks every night. Anyone who’s tried to fight a craving will know what I’m talking about. I may be a recovering TV snacker my whole life.

But it seems like abstaining altogether has been absolutely the way to go. It is so much simpler for me. There is no gray area, no thinking about it, how much I’m having, what I’m having, when to stop. Here’s what else helped:

1.    Changing my home food environment. I’d been telling myself I couldn’t stop buying salty snacks because my family would miss them. You know what? 1) I shouldn’t be buying stuff that’s not good for them. 2) They didn’t miss them. I was the one with the salty snack problem, not them. There are still things in the house that I’d like to eat at night, but less of the major trigger foods.

2.    Keeping a diary.  I kept a log on my desktop for a month, and every morning I wrote a couple lines in it about how it went the night before. It was great to see the days add up and see each day’s success recorded.

3.    Eating a good dinner. Knowing I wouldn’t be eating again that night buoyed me to make an extra effort with cooking something both healthy and satisfying.

4.    Not eating dinner too early. Shifting our family’s weeknight dinnertime to 6:30 or 7 from 6 helped keep me full until bedtime.

5.    Going to bed early. I know that it helped me that I usually go to bed around 10.  Fewer hours after dinner to be tempted and get hungry.

6.    20 minutes of yoga: I’ve been trying to cultivate a nighttime yoga habit for a while. I don’t do it every night, but doing a gentle 20 minute yoga video before settling down at night keeps me focused on more healthful ways to get that relaxation and comfort I crave when I’m tired.

7.    Tackling one habit at a time.  I have some other tweaks I’d like to make to my habits – like eating more mindfully, watching my portions, and really being regular about doing the 20 minutes of yoga at night. But I am finding it is much easier to concentrate on just one habit at a time, and be forgiving to myself about the other stuff.

8.    Not giving up after a slip up. One night after a particularly stressful day, when I was really tired, there happened to be a small bag of chips in the house left over from a party. The rest is history…. but I just got up the next day and kept working at it.

9.    Making healthy choices all day. Eating healthfully and exercising earlier in the day keeps me motivated in the evening. Who wants to undermine all that good stuff with an out of control nighttime snack attack?

10.  Really wanting it. I’m not sure why it happened now, but I just got so sick and tired of giving in to this bad habit. When you’re ready, you’ll know it.

Are you a TV snacker? What habits have you tried to give up and how have you done it?




  1. The nighttime snacking is one of the biggest hurdles in our house. Last year, the Husband and I gave up all snacks after the kids’ bedtime. It was REALLY hard, but so worth it. And after 40 days of going cold turkey, it’s been a lot easier to moderate how much we snack at night because we both know we don’t NEED to have it. That said, #10 is the most important for sure. If you don’t want it…it isn’t going to happen.

  2. I am a total TV snacker. It is terrible. The best way for me to fight it is to go take a group class and wear myself out so I just want to go to bed instead of eat. Unfortunately, if I have school work to do…I’m in trouble.

  3. I love this column! I definitely need to be an stainer. But, I will have to work my way up to it. 🙂

    • Ahhhh… How do you edit a comment? I meant to write: I definitely need to be an abstainer. But, I will have to work up some will power for that! 🙂

  4. GREAT tips!! Ditching the salty snacks (including “healthy” chips) is one of the best moves that I’ve made–for myself and my family. We still enjoy them occasionally, but not all the time. I try to provide carrots, cucumbers, apple slices and (for a splurge) popcorn during TV time.

    • Thanks Stacy! One thing that has really struck me is that this habit has been so hard to break because its one I’ve had since childhood. So I’m really cognizant of trying to see to it that the kids don’t pick up the unhealthy tv snack habit too – good job keeping the snacks healthy in your family.