Late-night food cravings are the bane of my existence. Like actually, they suck more than almost anything. I could eat healthy all day and feel completely full after dinner but once 10:30 pm rolls around, my stomach (or head) will disregard the past 13 hours and convince me I really, really need Red Velvet Cake Ben & Jerry’s at that exact moment.
Searching “how to beat late night cravings” on Google provides you with 811,000 results, so apparently it is possible.
First, I think it’s important to understand the reasons why your body craves food at that hour. One study suggests that the body’s internal clock increases a desire for sweet, salty or starchy foods at night.
This totally makes sense because I can say with confidence that I have never once thought to eat kale at 1 am, regardless of how good it can taste. This innate desire is linked to a survival tactic that helped our ancestors when food was scarce, but it doesn’t help your diet.
One doctor says that an imbalance in what he calls the “four hormones of the apocalypse,” can lead to specific cravings. Insulin and ghrelin control hunger, signaling when you want some food, and leptin and peptide yy tell you to put the fork down because you’re full.
If your “feed me” hormones have a monopoly, your “full AF” (technical science term) hormones don’t have the power to tell your body to chill. Also cortisol, the stress hormone, has an effect on hunger if those four weren’t enough for you.
Another article I read identified 10 potential psychological causes for these unnecessary snacks, such as loneliness, grief, procrastination, and even a lack of outdoor time. The article included some ways to avoid them, but I’m a little bit skeptical of these (talking to yourself in the mirror about making good choices? I don’t think so).
I read like 18 articles filled with tips to curb these late-night cravings. The vast majority were pretty stupid so here are nine methods that seemed most reasonable to me.
Go to bed earlier
It’s that simple. If you’re not awake when you’d normally be binge-eating Sour Patch Kids, you can’t do it. Additionally, when you’re more well-rested, you’re much more likely to make healthy food choices and your risk for obesity is lower. That’s a win in my book.
Stop binge-watching TV (sorry, Netflix)
It hurts me to type that more than it hurts you to read it. I know these snacks look perfect for your next Netflix and chill, but resist. Binge-watching is detrimental in more ways than one: it throws off your internal clock, making you stay up later (see above) and it allows you to mindlessly shovel food into your mouth. If anyone has been there, it’s me.
Nothing is more shocking than reaching into a freshly opened family size bag of pita chips only to realize it’s empty 25 minutes into Orange Is the New Black. Watch TV right after dinner as opposed to late at night so you’re not tempted to reach for food.
Keep yourself busy
This goes along with quitting binge-watching. Instead of associating food with comfort and relaxation, find a new hobby that doesn’t deplete your calories. Learn to knit, read a book, or get a coloring book – they’re not only for toddlers.
Modify your diet
That sounds more extreme than it is, I promise. Incorporate more protein, good fats and fiber during the day and you won’t find yourself obsessing over Mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as soon as you finish your work at night. Learn more about protein here, learn the difference between good vs. bad fats, and use this poppin’ recipe for muffin tops (that won’t give you a muffin top) that are a good source of fiber.
Insoluble fiber keeps you full while soluble fibers, protein and fats keep your blood sugar stable. Try to reduce sugar and simple carbohydrate consumption as they lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes.
Change your eating habits in general
This is also deceptively difficult. First, you need to eat a healthy breakfast (here’s 1,999 options) within 90 minutes of waking up to balance your blood sugar throughout the day (see a pattern here?). Even something as easy as oatmeal puts you on the right path.
Second, eat regularly. Even if you’re trying to drop a few pounds, it really is important to eat in a rhythm. Skipping meals is dumb. If you don’t find yourself wanting three large meals, try eating five smaller meals to keep that rhythm.
Another really easy fix is eating dinner later; here’s a recipe I’d eat at any time of day. It just gives you less time before bed, lessening the chance of you snacking. And perhaps the easiest of all, brush your teeth right after dinner. No one wants to eat when their teeth feel clean.
Think of something gross
I know this is really random but it’s pretty legit. Most of the time your cravings aren’t physical hunger, but emotional hunger. Because your body isn’t actually in need of food, it’s easy to push those thoughts out of your head. For inspiration, read this article.
Substitute your snack
Have a stick of mint gum – the act of chewing sends blood rushing to your hypothalamus which causes your brain to release serotonin (the happy chemical). More often than not, when you think you’re hungry, especially at night, you’re just thirsty.
Have a glass of water and then reevaluate your hunger. Keeping water next to your bed or couch makes this super easy. If water isn’t doing it for ya, drink herbal tea (with no sugar, obvi), or one of these infused waters. If you have chamomile or sleepytime tea you’ll fall asleep more easily, too.
Okay, that probably seems to contradict everything you’ve read thus far, but let’s face it, snacking happens. Especially if you’re used to having something to eat late at night, it will be really challenging to stop all at once. If you know you’re going to be hungry, plan for it. Get rid of the tempting unhealthy food and replace it with raw veggies, healthy yogurt, and popcorn. When you don’t have bad foods, you can’t eat them, it’s really that easy. Here’s 16 healthy snacks that have nothing to do with kale or broccoli.
Finally, a treat is okay
If you’ve had a shitty day and you want loaded nachos, eat them. If you just took the hardest final of your life, eat the damn chocolate chip cookies and enjoy them. Life goes on. Like anything else, late night snack in moderation and you won’t hate yourself for it #treatyoself.
I’m just gonna leave this article here for your viewing pleasure when it’s one of those days.