“Why does my body do this every night?? I’m a curious person, so I needed to figure this out.”
The other night I was sitting on the couch and it hit me: an intense urge to eat something sweet before going to bed.
I’m no stranger to this feeling. Every single night, despite my best intentions, I have a strong craving for a dessert after dinner. Sometimes I’m also hit by the desperate need for something salty.
On this particular night, I turned to my boyfriend and said, “I want to eat something so badly but I’m not at all hungry. WHY?! What is happening? Why does my body do this every night??”
I’m a curious person, so I needed to figure this out. And figure out if there’s actually a good way to stop. Because eating when you’re hungry is one thing, but eating sugary, greasy foods when you’re not hungry is just plain not good for you.
Why are so many of us plagued by late night snacking?
When I did a little digging, I sort of found what I expected to be true: our bodies’ circadian rhythms are thought to trigger cravings for high-calorie, high-energy foods later in the day. It’s an evolution thing; this “programming” may have been helpful for people long ago, helping them eat the more calorie-dense options when not much food was available.
I kind of like this reason – it’s not my fault I want chocolate and popcorn at night! The universe is just trying to make sure I don’t starve, and gosh darn it who am I to argue??
Other causes have emerged through research as well. Apparently hormones have a lot to do with our snacking. And no, I don’t just mean PMS. I’m talking about insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and peptide YY, all hormones that help control our level of hunger. When you eat high-carbohydrate, sugary foods, you can actually throw these levels off balance, leading to quick feelings of hunger even right after a meal. Not eating regularly throughout the day, such as when skipping meals or fasting, can also mess with these levels and cause your cravings.
Of course, there are more reasons behind late night snacking than evolution and science. Some other reasons include:
- Feeling tired
- Mindless snacking
- Feelings of deprivation
- Not eating enough during the day
All of these things can make you cave when the cravings hit.
But the fact of the matter is this: most of us eat all the calories we need during the day. Our bodies probably don’t need the calories and nutrients (if any) in our late night snacks.
And most of us are reaching for unhealthy options simply to satisfy a craving. Keep in mind that obesity, type II diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease are on the rise, striking people younger and younger. So nowadays, late night snacking really is problematic.
So what should you do about it?
Figure out your trigger, if you have one
The first thing to do is start paying attention to what’s going on when you’re in the late night snacking mood. How are you feeling? What are you thinking about? What are you doing?
For example, when I sit on the couch after dinner, at the end of a looooong day, it’s my habit to get something to munch on. I like mindlessly snacking while watching a show. It’s both a habit and a stress reliever at the end of the day.
But everyone’s different. Sometimes it’s helpful to write your nighttime experiences in a journal. Then you can try to find a trend. But do whatever will work for you to figure out the real reason behind your behavior.
Try little hacks
As I said, everyone’s different. While this may not work for you, some people find that doing little things to hinder their snacking is all they need. You can always try one of these “hacks”:
- Brush your teeth after dinner
- Don’t keep unhealthy, temptation foods in your home
- Eat a dinner with protein and fiber, which will keep you fuller for longer
- Eat balanced meals all day long so you’re not starving at the end of the day
- Instead of snacking, find another form of self-care: watching a show you like, calling up a family member, reading a book, etc.
- Go to bed earlier – can’t eat if you’re asleep! Plus getting enough sleep helps to reduce cravings/overeating
Sometimes breaking the cycle is all you need. Your new habit will be to simply not snack late at night, and you may no longer think about it!
Find healthy snack alternatives
If you’re like me, you may actually need a nighttime snack. I have a quick metabolism and will actually lay awake hungry if I don’t have a snack after dinner. So for me, I know I need to eat something light but healthy that will tie me over.
Cue my healthy dessert alternatives! I love having one of these to fill me up after dinner. Since they’re made of healthy ingredients, they’re actually nourishing for the body. If you’re a mindless snacker like me, you can also go for something like trail mix or popcorn (without the butter and salt). Just be sure to portion them out first!
Fruit is an excellent choice as well. A bowl of berries or grapes is like having a bowl of natural candy to snack on. Bonus: they’re low-calorie and high in fiber.
Eating a healthy late night snack is easy only if you prepare ahead. Make sure you have the ingredients ahead of time, and limit the other tempting foods you keep in your home. Otherwise you’ll very likely go for those instead. Allow yourself only one snack per night, and prepare the portion before you start eating so you don’t overindulge.
I hope this answered some of your questions about late night snacking and what to do about it! Personally, my goal is to plan ahead more for my light and healthy pre-bed snacks so I’m ready to tackle those cravings as soon as they hit!
Guilty here. Now I need to be mindful why I always feel the need to have something even late at night. Your tips are good and yes I will find healthy alternatives or train my mind to stop.
Yes! If you’re hungry, eat something nutritious. If you’re not hungry, you could try drinking some water or herbal tea instead to have something to sip on. I love having tea every night!
I have noticed & becoming more cognizant of it, sometimes when I am eating of snacking I kind of do what you called “mindlessly” eating. I will look down & realize it is gone & I didn’t even really taste it or enjoy it & now grieve for it because of that…I am now tr=yin to stay cognizant of what I am eating when I am eating & so I dont “overeat” because I am not paying attention.
It’s so easy to mindlessly eat! Staying in the moment and focusing all your attention on meals and snacks while you’re eating is a great way to combat that. And a great way to simply enjoy your food more!