You have eaten healthy all day long and you are proud of it. Then, the sun goes down. Right as you lay down and begin to wind down for the night, your stomach starts to growl. But how? You've already eaten dinner. Well, you are hungry nonetheless... so you open the refrigerator and grab the tempting food staring you in the face. And the process repeats... It's a common occurrence.
Realizing it's a problem is the first step to solving it. You are scared that those late night calories may add up and potentially hurt your healthy eating efforts. It's only natural to ask yourself: why you are hungry for more food and how you make it stop.
Many sources will claim that eating after 7pm will ruin your diet, but studies say otherwise. Scientists at Oregon Health & Science University did a study on food timing and weight gain and found that there was no correlation between the two . What makes you gain weight is the extra calories you are consuming, just like how you lose weight based off of the calories you are restricting. Each of our bodies need a different amount of calories per day, depending on factors like gender and activity level.
If you are consistently consuming more calories than you are burning, then you will put on weight over time. So lets think this one through... if you consume your allotted calories between your healthy meals throughout the day and you decide to eat a late night snack, you will go over your calories for the day. This process can happen at any time of the day. Imagine if you're striving to hit 2000 calories a day, but you start it off by eating a 1000 calorie breakfast of French toast, bacon and hash browns and then continue to eat the rest of your meals regularly, pushing you over your desired calorie intake. Calories in & calories out, that's what matters the most when it comes to weight gain/weight loss. But we completely understand that night-time cravings are a thing (from personal experience). Thankfully, there are several ways to combat the pesky problem to keep your diet on point and hunger at bay.
How to curb the cravings:
Change your eating habits
Paying attention to your eating habits the rest of the day may solve the problem on it's own. Set up a general eating schedule for yourself-- that includes at least 3 meals, evenly spread apart. You can even do 4-5 smaller meals a day if you feel you need to eat more often. Routines help us stay on track and support our hormonal clock-- that ultimately controls our appetite. Then, you need to think about what you are actually eating. To start off, avoid sugar and processed foods as much as possible, because they contain "empty" calories. Drinking a soda doesn't make your stomach stop growling... and neither does eating a snack cake. Eating breakfast is incredibly important because it sets your eating habits for the rest of the day. If you eat a balanced breakfast that includes protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, you will be less hungry throughout the rest of the day. Like breakfast, each meal should include those three macronutrients. Creating a diet based off of those grounds will keep you full throughout the day and into the night, which will make you less likely to open the fridge before bed time.
Manage your stress levels
We get it... Life can be really stressful at times. But you need to find ways to relieve the stress, so it doesn't become detrimental to your body. Stress eating is a form of emotional eating, which often leads to cravings that can't be avoided. Food is a source of comfort for some, a way to release the stress, when it shouldn't be. You need to take control of your eating habits mentally, only eating when you're actually hungry, instead of eating to take the edge off of a bad day. In order to stop stress eating, you need to fix the source of the problem: the stress itself.
Photo by ROMWOD
Although some stress is out of our control, there are ways to relieve it as much as possible. Meditation, breathing exercises and yoga may help some keep their stress levels under control. These practices focus on keeping a calm mind and distract you from the stressful situations you are dealing with. Another natural stress reliever is exercise. A little iron therapy is great for the mind and body, it's a win-win. All of these options have the potential to improve your overall health and sense of well-being. Incorporating them into your routine can reset your imbalanced hormones, balance your brain chemistry and stop cravings.
Get quality rest
Lack of sleep actually disrupts the hormone levels associated with hunger--which is why you may feel more hungry than usual after pulling an all-nighter. The longer you are awake, the more time you will have to eat, which may create a desire for food in the late hours of the night. Adults are recommended to sleep anywhere from 7-9 hours a night in order to function normally throughout the day, without any of the negative side effects from sleep deprivation. Columbia University researchers found that those who were sleep-deprived ate up to 300 calories more per day than the well-rested individuals . The study focused on two groups over a span of six nights. One group slept 9 hours a night and the other slept 4 hours a night. The group that slept 4 hours a night craved high-fat foods such as ice cream and fast food. Getting quality rest is beneficial for both your diet and fitness efforts. Check out our article on The Importance Of Sleep In Fitness, which explains how crucial rest is and how you may be able to boost your sleep quality.
If you have to eat a late night snack once in a while,
it's not the end of the world.
Following these tips will help diminish the late night cravings for the most part, but you may still have a couple of instances where you end up giving in. It's okay, don't stress about it. If your body is hungry, feed it. But like we discussed before, empty calories will do nothing for your hunger or your health. Try to avoid fatty, spicy, sugary or caffeinated foods. Focus your attention on complex carbs and protein, similar to your meals throughout the day. Complex carbohydrates are an ideal option because they release serotonin, the chemical responsible for mood balance, which will help calm you down. Adding a source of protein will keep you full and happy, which will make the late night eating stop, instead of turning into a binge session. A few healthy ideas include:
- High fiber cereal and milk
- Cottage cheese and berries or vegetables
- String cheese
- Whole grain toast and nut butter
- Banana and mixed nuts