Most food cravings can be curbed with a healthy, filling snack. Other times we just want to eat for the hell of it. In these cases, focus on falling asleep, distracting yourself, or training yourself to resist the situations that cause this desire. In many cases, both factors are present and you can take steps to combat them on two fronts.
change your diet
Eat healthy protein at dinner. Oftentimes, food cravings are due to a “burst” of energy due to not having a substantial meal or one high in simple carbohydrates (as discussed below). Protein gives you long-term energy and can keep you feeling full for a long time. While hunger isn’t always the cause of all cravings, a full stomach can make them easier to resist. Include healthy proteins in your nightly meal, such as:
corral birds or lean fish
dried fruit or seeds
peas, lentils or beans
Include fiber in your diet. Dietary fiber takes a long time to digest and has few calories per unit volume. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can keep you full longer without compromising your healthy diet. High-fiber, low-sugar cereals are also a good choice.
Incorporate two vegetable dishes into your dinner instead of just one.
Opt for a sugary dessert with fresh fruit. Have a parfait with regular yogurt and raspberries, strawberries and cream, or pineapple slices instead of less nutritious alternatives.
Fiber bars are often helpful. Although these usually contain a lot of sugar, they add fiber to the diet and are a good option for a “dessert” that really has benefits.
Some people benefit from fiber supplements. Give them a try, they’re not just for your grandma!
Reduce sugars and simple carbohydrates. Foods high in sugar cause your blood levels to spike up and then drop back down. This drop can leave you feeling tired and hungry, causing cravings or making them harder to resist. Simple carbohydrates found in white rice, bread and pasta, and most pizza crusts break down quickly into sugars after eating and have a similar effect.
Replace them with complex carbohydrates found in whole-grain bread, pasta or rice, and green vegetables.
Remember that sugary foods and drinks are also simple carbohydrates. Having a sugary soda with dinner can trigger more cravings later at night.
Consider eating small meals throughout the day. If you feel hungry between meals, it will be difficult for you to stick to a healthy diet. Instead of three meals, have six. Reduce the size of your lunch and dinner. Also, add healthy snacks between meals and after dinner for balance. Some people eat up to six small meals a day, so it’s hard for hunger to take over and cause poor choices.
Likewise, focus on reducing your portion sizes if you find that you can’t completely avoid cravings for something. For example, if you usually eat two tablespoons of peanut butter, eat one when you have a craving. Help yourself to a half cup of chocolate ice cream if you normally eat a whole bowl.
Reducing portion sizes can alleviate cravings and do less damage to your overall diet.
Eat a healthy snack before you go to sleep. One tip for avoiding late-night cravings is to eat a small, healthy snack shortly before bed. This will help keep you full throughout the night, allowing you to sleep longer and have fewer mishaps.
Try to schedule your snacks well. Eat about 2 hours after dinner and at least 1 hour before bed.
Eat something that keeps you full for a while and includes healthy protein and some carbohydrates. Eat little, about 200 calories or less.
If you prefer, use this strategy as a starting point. Then you can completely eliminate the sandwich.
Treat food cravings like an addiction
Recognize the nature of food addiction. Similar to tobacco or gaming addiction, a person may have an unhealthy relationship when it comes to food. Your food cravings may not be as severe as a cigarette addiction, but some of the same tactics that many people find helpful in overcoming addictions can help break this pattern.
Food cravings can occur because your mind or body is used to a pattern that has become unhealthy. If you’re used to eating a cookie every day after work, your body learns to anticipate that mass.
Eating tends to occur when you’re not really hungry, but rather when you’re bored, frustrated, or tired. Food becomes a comforter and pain reliever rather than a hunger reliever. If you eat French fries when you feel lonely, it means that you use this food as a dildo.
Consider the mental components to your late-night cravings. However, food cravings often occur because a person is in a negative state of mind. How do you feel when you have a late night craving? (The section on journaling is very helpful in narrowing this down.) For example:
Consider the physical components of your food cravings. It is possible to have cravings for physical reasons only and those needs need to be addressed.
Are you eating a healthy diet?
Do you stay up too late? (will be discussed in depth later)
Is your exercise schedule wrong? While exercising is a good idea, if you exercise too close to bedtime on an empty stomach, you may experience food cravings.
Distract yourself from cravings. Cravings tend to occur when a person is at a very low energy point in the day and usually when they are inactive. However, cravings are often surprisingly easy to avoid if you refocus on something more positive. When a craving strikes, stop what you’re doing and redirect yourself to something else. Try the following:
get up and take a 10-minute walk
call or text a friend
perform a quick chore: hang laundry, wash dishes, clean bathroom counters
just doing something different (just recognizing that you need to do something different to deflect momentum can be helpful)
Take other steps to avoid late-night cravings
Go to sleep earlier . The earlier you go to bed, the less time you’ll have to feel hungry after dinner. Also, if you stay up until you’re exhausted, it might be hard to make wise decisions. If you’re having trouble adjusting to an earlier schedule, try these tips:
Buy a red bulb, because the light of this color increases the production of sleep hormones.
Avoid caffeine, cigarettes, or blue light from computer or television screens at night.
Take melatonin pills every night to help you get used to sleeping earlier.
Keep a craving journal. When you feel one, write down what you want to eat and why. If you’re not sure what’s causing your craving, write down if you smelled or saw any particular food, what your mood is, and if you feel stressed or tired. After experiencing a few cravings, you might start to notice a pattern. This will help you recognize tempting situations and stay alert to avoid and deal with them.
Train yourself with triggers. If you know what triggers your cravings, be prepared to deal with them ahead of time. Tell yourself what you’re going to do to keep from giving in and imagine walking past the food without eating it or going to bed without stopping in the kitchen. Imagining this process beforehand can cause your willpower to build up for when it comes time to actually refuse food.
Ban your worst culprits. If it is easy for you to get junk food, it will be easy for you to devour it. The best solution is simply not to keep food in the house. For example, you might crave ice cream at 10 pm, but not really crave it enough to make the effort to drive to the store.
Make your cravings harder to get. You may not be able to completely eliminate them from your home, and an outright ban may not be the best approach for you. The next best thing is to make food something that means you have to push yourself and think about your late night snack and snack.
Food should only be stored in the kitchen, not in the bedrooms, on the coffee table, or next to the computer. The combination of sedentary behavior and mindless eating promotes unhealthy behaviors.
Prepare your favorite foods from scratch. It’s easy to dig into a bag of cookies, but baking some takes more effort. You’ll probably want them less if you bake them. Also, the results are tastier and more satisfying than commercial snacks.
Store snacks in a hard-to-reach area. For example, store ice cream in a freezer in the garage under pounds of frozen beans and other vegetables. Do not keep them in the kitchen in a place that is difficult to access.
react to cravings
Try some liquids. When you have a craving, drink some fluids. When you have cravings, have a large glass of water, decaf tea, low-fat milk, or a milk substitute instead of snacking. These relatively low-calorie liquids (don’t add too much sugar to tea or milk) will fill your stomach but won’t make you fat.
Drinking a glass of water will also keep you from going to the pantry and give your mouth an oral solution instead of eating potato chips.
Some people confuse dehydration or thirst with hunger; in which cases, water is especially effective.
Hot drinks also help your stomach feel fuller. For example, a cup of herbal tea can curb small cravings. This is particularly good for people who eat when they feel nervous or stressed, as it relaxes the stomach.
Avoid sugary drinks. A cup of mint tea is an excellent choice for a late night drink to avoid a snack that is loaded with sugar. A spoonful in your tea is one thing, but South American-style sweet tea is too sugary to be considered an alternative to a sugary snack.
Keep a glass of water near your bed so you don’t have to go to the kitchen at night.
Have healthy snacks on hand. If you feel cravings due to real hunger, have a small plate of a healthy food option in your room. A piece of whole wheat bread, a small apple, four or five unsalted dried fruits, a few dwarf tomatoes, or a small square of dark chocolate are examples of small snacks you can eat instead of going to the kitchen.
If your cravings are more psychological than physical (admittedly, it can be hard to figure out what they are), try reducing the size of your snack each night over the course of a week or two until you no longer need it.
Chew sugarless gum. Chewing something gives you an oral solution, a burst of flavor, and very few calories. Keep a pack of sugar-free gum nearby and chew until your cravings pass.
Minty flavors tend to indicate a feeling of fullness to the body due to their association with toothpaste.
Sugar-free gum also helps clean teeth, a nice added benefit.
Use a flavored toothpaste or mouthwash. When you’re kept awake by a late-night craving, get out of bed and brush your teeth with a strong-flavored toothpaste or use mouthwash. The taste might help you deal with the craving, and the feeling of “clean teeth” will put you off a bit of the urge to eat right afterward.
Think of something gross. If you are sensitive to unpleasant images or thoughts, get pretty grossed out for the purpose of not eating. This isn’t the most pleasant way to deal with a craving, but it works for some people.
Find an activity that distracts you. If the craving continues for more than 10 minutes and shows no signs of going away, distract yourself. Any activity that keeps you busy will do, from doing chores around the house to walking the dog to reading a book. Avoid those that take you to the kitchen or near places where you can buy food.