Been there — and gave in! Late-night cravings for a brownie or cookie come knocking in the middle of nowhere and we often find ourselves succumbing to them. The next morning, we tell ourselves, never again! But the damage is done.
Midnight eating interferes with the circadian rhythm, throwing your body’s biological clock out of sync. This clock keeps a track of the hormone release, regulates sleep and appetite, and manages the metabolism. So, interfering with this rhythm can significantly affect your health.
The guilt of surrendering to these sudden midnight hunger pangs often leaves us uneasy. We ask ourselves, ‘What’s this craving about?’ ‘Is it stress or my lifestyle?’ ‘Is there anything I can do about it?’
Yes, you can. Here’s how you can train your brain to kick out the cravings:
Factors Causing Midnight Cravings
Lack of Nutrition
Eating a nutritious diet is critical for the proper functioning of your body. If you aren’t consuming a nutritious diet rich in essential fibers, proteins and healthy fats, you’ll end up feeling hungry. As a result, you wake up hungry at night.
Irregular Eating Pattern
Meals need to be synced with your body’s natural circadian rhythm. Doing so improves metabolism and reduces the risk of serious health issues. Eating meals at irregular intervals can trigger hunger pangs at night and also leads to issues like obesity and cardiovascular disorders.
Hormonal fluctuations often cause midnight cravings, causing people to yearn for sugar or other junk food items. Such cravings are common in people with stress, anxiety and depression. In women, such cravings can be part of one’s menstrual cycle.
Night Eating Syndrome (NES)
As the name suggests, individuals with NES find it tough to control their urge for eating at night. These particular individuals suffer from insomnia, which can lead to binging at night.
How to Manage Your Midnight Cravings
1. Determine the Root Cause of the Hunger Pangs
Are you really hungry or is it in your head? At times, we don’t eat only to satisfy our hunger. Boredom, loneliness, strong emotions and even habit can gnaw at you, causing you to go searching for food when you may not actually be hungry.
The mood-food connection can be quite difficult and emotional eating can directly affect your wellbeing. Many individuals eat to cope with their stressful episodes in life.
If you feel your midnight cravings are stemming from the mood-food connection, address the triggers and distract your mind. Make a list of chores you could do instead of just rummaging through the refrigerator for a snack.
For instance, call a friend, develop a hobby, organize your room, make a cup of green tea, or simply brush your teeth. When the craving knocks, pick up a task from this list.
However, at times, midnight cravings are legitimate. Hop to the next point to understand how you can overcome this issue.
2. Consume a Wholesome Meal
More often than not, we ignore our diet or do not eat the amount of food our body requires. This can leave your body wanting more. Also, if you’ve been exercising or training hard at the gym and not eating enough, your muscles may crave the necessary fuel that’s needed to speed up recovery. Here’s what you can do!
- Load Up on Proteins: A healthy dose of protein throughout the day can boost metabolism and give you a sense of fullness, preventing you from snacking at night. Make sure you include enough protein-rich food items in your diet — plus, protein also helps you achieve satiety after.
- Treat Yourself to a Dessert: A study published in Cell Metabolism, a Nature Research journal, found a strong link between a certain gene variant and sugar consumption. The study shares that individuals with these genes gravitate toward consuming sugar-rich food. If you tend to have a sweet tooth, finish your meal with low-calorie desserts like a low-carb brownie, fresh-fruit yogurt, or brown rice pudding to curb any further cravings for sweet treats.
- Stock Your Fridge with Healthy Nighttime Snacks: If midnight binging is a regular affair for you, manage it proactively by planning healthy late-night snacks. Stock your refrigerator with high-fiber food items like carrot, celery, and cucumber sticks, cut fruits, or quinoa salad. A medium-sized bowl of popcorn too can help you feel full while reducing your calorie intake.
- Retire with a Cup of Tea: Midnight cravings are often interconnected with one’s lifestyle. So, if you live a busy and hectic lifestyle, it’s wise to calm yourself down before going to bed. Tea is proven to have a calming effect on the mind and fills the stomach in no time. Go for green tea or pick from a variety of herbal brews that can aid in snoozing while reducing the hunger pangs. Herbs like ginkgo, ginger, and fennel are proven to have appetite-suppressing effects.
3. Exercise Regularly: Exercising daily for 30-40 minutes can help keep unnecessary food cravings at bay. Staying active not only burns calories but also encourages you to be mindful of your food choices. Start an exercise routine and stick to it. If you plan to squeeze in some time in your busy workday and exercise from home, it’s wise to dedicate a fitness corner or room for the cause.
Invest in home gym equipment and protective fitness accessories and even invest in the room to get the best out of your workouts. Try installing safety rubber surfacing that absorbs shocks during high-intensity workouts. Creating a gym-like environment at home will not only protect you from the common workout injuries but also inspire you to stick to your workout routine.
While late-night cravings can be tough to combat, know you’re not the only one heading to the fridge past bedtime. These tips can help get you on the right track to kick those cravings and spend your nights sleeping — instead of snacking.
Belani is a passionate writer and contributor to several publications such as lifestyle, home improvement, business and technology. He loves sharing actionable articles with readers of diverse domains.