5 Tricks to Tame Late Night Cravings
We’ve all been there. You wake up with the vague feeling you did something embarrassing last night. You blink through that foggy feeling of dread. And then you remember all of it. The late-night cravings for something sweet hit and you gave in. That brownie, that cookie, a bowl of sugary cereal (or two) — the memory is enough to make you put the pillow over your face and wish you could do the night over again.
We tell ourselves, never again. We ask ourselves, why do we crave sweet food before bed? Sometimes, it’s because we’re too stressed or swamped to think about food until it’s too late. “The stress hormone cortisol that you’re throwing off through the day, plus the caffeine you’re probably ingesting, are natural appetite suppressants,” says Eric Mabie, CPT, a certified personal trainer in Palm Harbor, Florida. “Because of this, most people are undernourished during the day. When stress begins to subside in the evening, the appetite comes roaring back, and the body seeks the fastest and easiest resolution to feeling better, which is sugar or alcohol.”
But with a little thought and planning, you can retrain your brain to avoid those late-night cravings. Try these tips.
1. Eat adequately all day long
Don’t deprive yourself during the day — it tends to catch up with you. “A lot of people tend to crave sugar specifically in the evening due to restricting, dieting, and avoiding carbohydrates throughout the day,” says Melissa Giovanni, MS, RDN, LDN, CEDRD, a registered dietitian in Nashville. “When we restrict our carbohydrate intake, our body is going to crave carbs — glucose, a.k.a., sugar. Putting a stop to these late-night cravings means letting ourselves eat more throughout the day and not eating low or no carbohydrates. Having full, balanced, and satisfying meals and snacks throughout the day will help.” Eat a variety of healthy foods to keep yourself stimulated and satiated.
2. Remove the temptations
Clear your cupboards of processed foods, anything high in added sugar, and simple carbs like cookies or other desserts. Replace them with fiber-rich fresh fruit, plain Greek yogurt, and healthy fats like almond butter. You can even buy nut butter in individual 100-calorie packets if you have trouble saying “when” when spooning from the jar. You won’t dread the urge to raid the kitchen for sweets if nothing guilt-inducing lurks inside. And you’ll find you can still satisfying your late-night cravings.
3. Try healthy substitute snacks
Will eating at night automatically make you gain weight? Not necessarily. Experts used to advise that consuming calories too close to bedtime was a near-guaranteed way to pack on pounds. But more recent studies show that weight gain or loss depends more on the total amount of calories you consume in a day, regardless of time. While more research is needed, there have been studies that suggest a small snack prior to bed might be beneficial to overall health and weight management.
The big caveat here, of course: It shouldn’t be processed simple sugars. If you find yourself craving something sweet, go for a whole-food snack that’s a good source of healthy fats, fiber and slow-digesting carbs. Try a banana with a scoop of peanut butter or a handful of nuts.
4. Manage stress or emotions
Nighttime’s slower pace means there’s room for feelings of stress, depression, and loneliness to creep in. “A lot of times, nighttime is when people may be experiencing emotional hunger and emotional eating, which can feel like sugar or food cravings,” says Giovanni.
If you’re always craving sweets, ask yourself if you’re really hungry. “What contributes to your cravings? What are you actually feeling?” says Kristen Ciccolini, CNE, a certified holistic nutritionist in Boston. “Take a moment to check in with yourself and your current emotions, and see if there’s a way to soothe those emotions without food if you’re feeling anything but hunger.”
5. Get enough sleep
Late-night cravings for sugar can also hit because you’re just plain tired. Sugar is a simple source of energy, which is why a sleep-deprived brain may request (or beg) for it. According to a 2018 survey of 3,000 people at the University of Arizona, 60 percent of respondents said they often snacked late at night. Two-thirds of those people said lack of sleep caused them to crave junk food. A study at the Mayo Clinic found that sleep-deprived people ate an additional 549 calories a day than a well-rested control group. Researchers noted that a larger study is needed to confirm their findings.
So if you’re chronically getting the midnight munchies, assess whether you’re getting enough sleep. Experts say adults should have seven to nine hours nightly. And if you work the night shift, you can still lose weight — here’s how.