Eating at night is a bad habit because it doesn’t give enough time before going to sleep for food to digest properly. This bad habit can make you snack too much on junk food and can also be the cause of why you sleep poorly. If you are looking for tips to stop eating at night, consider the following steps.
Identify the cause
Know the difference between emotional and physical hunger. Sometimes we eat at night because we are really hungry, especially if we cut back on our calorie intake during the day. But other times, we eat at night out of emotional hunger. Identifying whether your hunger is physical or emotional is an important step in dealing with the problem.
Do you get hungry suddenly or gradually? Emotional hunger usually manifests as a sudden craving. Physical hunger appears gradually.
What kinds of foods do you crave? If emotional hunger is your thing, you’re more likely to crave sweet or salty snacks than something substantial.
Do you eat enough calories during the day? If you’re on a calorie-restricted diet or if you skip meals, you’re more likely to get physically hungry at night. However, if you’ve eaten a full plate before, chances are yours is emotional.
Keep track of your daily routine. To understand where and why you overeat at night, keep track of your routine throughout the day and night. This way you can identify possible factors that encourage you to eat at night.
Are you restricting your caloric intake or skipping meals? If so, you may end up thinking about food throughout the day. Doing so will prompt you to snack late at night without thinking. Skipping breakfast is especially detrimental to eating at night.
Do you do any kind of planning for dinner? Many times, people rush to prepare an unhealthy dinner that leaves them hungry soon after. Some also snack during dinner preparation, meaning they eat less of the substantial meal and fill up on empty calories. For this reason later they have cravings.
How is your post-dinner routine? Many times, people put on their pajamas and end up on the couch with the laptop or watching TV before bed. While there’s nothing wrong with taking a break and relaxing after a long day, many times you eat mindlessly during those times. Many tend to snack while watching television or on the Internet and do not pay attention to what they eat.
Understand how to control the hormones responsible for hunger. There are four main hormones that are often to blame for late night eating. The abundance or deficiency of insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and peptide YY, or cortisol, can prompt eating at night. Learn what behaviors can affect your hormone levels and how you can help your body regulate the hormones that cause hunger.
Insulin helps the body process sugar. Insulin tends to rise sharply in response to empty calories from processed sugars and refined flours. The spike is temporary and the subsequent drop will leave you hungry afterwards. Avoid sugary foods and white flour breads and pastas, especially at dinner time, as doing so can help maintain your insulin levels and keep unwanted hunger at bay.
Leptin is a hormone that is basically responsible for informing the brain that the body is full. However, a higher intake of processed foods, with flours and sugars, interferes with the satiating capacity of leptin. Again: By avoiding processed and sugary calories throughout the day, leptin can protect you from overeating.
Ghrelin is the hunger hormone and helps regulate appetite. It tells us when to eat and, like the previous hormones, it can become unbalanced by practicing erratic eating habits and consuming low-quality food. Eat regular and enough calories every day. To do this, eat whole wheats, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
Peptide YY is a hormone found in the gut that, like leptin, helps let the body know it’s had enough food. When the intestines do not receive quality calories, peptide YY tells us that we need more food even if we have consumed the correct amount of calories. Eat substantial foods instead of empty carbohydrates and sweets.
Cortisol is the stress hormone. While less linked to hunger than the hormones we mentioned earlier, the rise in cortisol triggers the rise in insulin and blood sugar, which makes you hungry. In other words, stress can lead to overeating. Find ways to reduce stress in general, such as exercise and meditation. This will keep cortisol and hunger at bay.
Change your eating habits
Have breakfast. Eating breakfast is perhaps the most important step in combating late-night cravings. A healthy breakfast prepares the body for the rest of the day and can keep you full at night.
Shifting your caloric intake to the morning can help you feel full for the rest of the day. If you consume most of your daily calories at breakfast and lunch, you’ll have less room during and after dinner to indulge in those extra treats.
Opt for lean proteins, whole wheats, and fruit for breakfast. Ideally, you should consume 350 calories. However, if you exercise a lot or have a very physically demanding job, you can increase that amount.
Eggs are a favorite breakfast food for good reason. They are a great source of protein, which helps balance blood sugar throughout the day. However, make sure you prepare your eggs in a healthy way. Cook them with olive or cinnamon oil instead of butter or margarine, and don’t add too much salt.
If you don’t eat eggs, other healthy breakfast proteins include granola, nuts, low-fat cheeses, and low-fat milk.
Get the junk food out of your cupboard. If you have your favorite snacks on hand, you will keep thinking about them. Even if you are not hungry, you will crave the taste. Taking out junk food is taking out temptation.
Identify which foods you prefer to snack on during the night. Many times, especially if our hunger is emotional, we opt for sweet or salty. It’s best to switch out that bag of Oreos or not microwave popcorn if you find yourself eating late at night.
If you really feel like you deserve a late-night snack, you can tweak your junk food supply instead of eradicating it entirely. Buy 100-calorie bags of chips or cookie packages. You can also mix healthy foods with some not-so-healthy ones for a low-calorie late-night treat. Eat fruit with a chocolate spread like Nutella, or sprinkle some brown sugar on a bowl of oatmeal.
If you want to have junk food like chips or dips for social gatherings, you can have certain foods in your pantry, but restrict your access to it. Put junk food on the shelves that are hardest to get to. Freeze candy and cookies so they need to be thawed before eating. When you want to succumb to a craving, you’ll have more time to consider what you’re going to do and think twice about eating that unhealthy snack.
Choose foods with a low glycemic index. The glycemic index is a ranking of carbohydrates that measures how much each food raises blood sugar levels in the body. Foods with a low glycemic index keep us full for longer, which reduces the chances of eating at night.
A sudden spike in blood sugar, often caused by eating processed foods and refined sugars, triggers a burst of insulin, which lowers blood sugar levels to normal. These constant ups and downs make one end up hungry faster. If you eat high glycemic foods throughout the day, you will be hungry for longer, which can make you eat at night.
In essence, on a low-glycemic index diet, much of your daily carbohydrates come from whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and healthy proteins. Products with added sugars or made with refined flour are not recommended.
Foods with a low glycemic index have 55 points or less on the GI scale. Foods with a low glycemic index include barley, beans, bran, carrots, celery, lentils, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, low-fat yogurt, and various fruits and vegetables.
Foods with a high glycemic index have 70 points and above. These are, for example, sugary cereals, white bread and rice, potatoes, pretzels, and most sweets.
Eat and drink during the day. Depriving yourself of calories during the day makes you want to eat at night. Making sure you’re well-fed in the hours leading up to the night can make you stop eating late.
Do not consume very caloric drinks. Many times, we fill up on sodas, juices, and sugary sports drinks. Added sugar throws blood sugar levels out of balance, leading to late-night eating. If you’re thirsty, drink water or low- or no-calorie beverages like coffee and teas.
Eat healthy snacks. If you get hungry between meals, don’t just ignore those cravings. If they come on gradually, it’s most likely physical hunger and your body needs more fuel. Try eating a handful of nuts or a small bowl of fruit or vegetables. Filling the body with healthy snacks curbs the desire to eat at night.
Have balanced meals. Balanced meals consist of plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole wheats and grains, lean proteins like fish and chicken, and heart-friendly fats like those found in canola or olive oil.
Prepare healthy snacks for the night. If you have a habit of overeating at night, chances are you won’t quit overnight. To ease the transition to a healthier habit, move from unhealthy snacks to healthier options.
Chop fruits and vegetables and put them in plastic containers in the refrigerator. That way, it will be easier to take them when the desire to eat after dinner arises.
You can buy pre-chopped fruits and vegetables at the supermarket. This can be a good option if you tend to be disorganized and forgetful, because you might forget to prepare your late-night snacks yourself.
If you like to eat potato chips, you might be tempted to switch to supposedly healthier potato chips like baked chips or those made from ingredients like sweet potatoes and quinoa. Don’t trust those options. Often times, the nutritional profile of such “healthy” options is similar to regular potato chips. In essence, they are still empty carbohydrates. For late-night snacks, it’s best to cut out the chips altogether.
modify your routine
Find a new hobby. The habit of eating at night is usually involuntary, it is usually the result of boredom while doing other activities such as watching television. If you keep yourself busy with other hobbies, you’ll be less likely to end up overeating.
Choose activities that occupy your hands. Learn to knit or sew. Try starting a puzzle with 1,000 pieces. Learn only to play the thread game, or cribs. Buy a sketchpad and learn to draw. The ideal is to do anything that keeps your hands busy with something other than eating.
Use your mind too. The habit of eating at night can sometimes be the result of emotional stress, so if you keep your mental energies focused on something else, you will be less likely to overeat at night. Buy a crossword puzzle or sudoku book. There are many trivia games on the Internet, where you can compete with other players. If you live with your partner or roommate, they might get used to the nightly ritual of playing cards or a board game.
Have fun during the day. A lot of times, people wind down at the end of the day with a snack, and that’s usually the best part of their day. If the same thing happens to you, try incorporating pleasant activities during the day. In this way, you will give less attention to the nightly snacks as your primary emotional catharsis.
Try to leave room for small pleasures. What things do you enjoy? What are your interests? If you drive or take public transportation to work, try listening to podcasts on topics that interest you. If you enjoy reading, read a book while you wait for the bus or train. Take time during your lunch hour to take a relaxing walk. Make a quick stop at a store after work a few nights a week, even if it’s just to window shop.
Sign up for a club. Meeting new people and participating in the community can increase your overall level of happiness. This means that you will stop thinking so much about the evening meal as a way to relax. Some websites like Meetup help you find meetups based on your interests, or you can visit a local community center to see what classes and clubs they offer.
Embrace a non-food late-night treat into your daily routine. You like to walk? Walk half an hour hours before going to bed. Are you a gamer? Find a video game you enjoy and play it 1 hour before you go to sleep.
Brush your teeth after dinner. Brushing your teeth is great for curbing the urge to eat at night for a variety of reasons.
Many enjoy the feeling of a clean mouth and don’t want to make it dirty by eating more. If you brush your teeth shortly after dinner and not before bed, you may be less likely to eat at night.
Toothpaste and mouthwash change the taste of food. Regular snacks like sweet and salty options stop looking appetizing after you wash your mouth with menthol products.
Buy breath strips or mint gum at the grocery store. If you get cravings after the cool feeling wears off in your mouth, you can reactivate that feeling with a breath strip or gum.
Sleep enough. Many times, an erratic sleeping schedule can fuel an erratic eating schedule. Changing your bedtime can help curb late-night cravings.
A poor sleep schedule can easily cause you to skip meals, especially breakfast. For example, suppose you have to be at work at 9 am every day, but you stay up until 2 am every night. This way you will be less likely to get up early to make breakfast, and as we have already said, not eating breakfast practically guarantees eating at night.
Staying up too late also causes boredom. There are fewer people and fewer establishments open. That’s why many end up eating, because they don’t have much to do.
Get used to a solid bedtime schedule. That is, go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day, and try to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Your body and mind will get used to the routine and you’ll start to feel sleepy around the same time every night.
Look for support. If eating at night has always become a habit for you, do not think that it will be an easy habit to break. It will be challenging at first, so reaching out to friends and family for support can help you deal with the problem.
If you live with other people, you can ask your roommates, your partner or your family members not to leave junk food in places where you will be tempted to eat it. You can also ask them to join you in your fight to stop eating at night.
If you live alone, try to find friends who you can text or talk to on the phone. Social interaction can combat boredom and stress, key factors that trigger late-night cravings.
There are online communities that offer support, guidance, and advice. Find forums to discuss your struggles with late night eating and seek guidance from those in a similar situation.