Why You Crave Late Night Snacks and How To Beat It
If you crave sweet, starchy, or salty foods late at night, scientists have discovered where to place the blame. But take heart: there are steps you can take to beat those late night snack attacks.
Your clock makes you do it
It’s so easy to do: you had a long day at work, you’re tired and want to relax, and that bag of potato chips or pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream is so inviting. Before you know it, you’ve consumed the entire bag or pint.
Scientists at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School have discovered that those late night cravings for junk food can be blamed on your internal clock. At one time, those intense natural desires probably helped our ancestors store up energy in case of food shortages, but in today’s world it often means consuming too many calories, resulting in overweight or obesity.
More specifically, Steven Shea, PhD, director for the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology at OHSU pointed out that “People who eat a lot in the evening, especially high-calorie foods and beverages, are more likely to be overweight or obese.”
There are several reasons why the pounds are more likely to accumulate if you give into those late night cravings. One reason is that you’re much less likely to use up many calories late at night.
Another reason is that the body treats those late night calories differently than those you eat earlier in the day. For example, the body’s tolerance for sugar is impaired in the latter part of the day.
The investigators uncovered these findings when they conducted a laboratory study that involved 12 healthy non-obese adults who were observed and monitored throughout the entire 13-day study. They discovered that the subjects were least hungry and least likely to want high-calorie foods at 8 AM and most hungry and most desirous of high-calorie foods at 8 PM.
How to fight late night cravings
Here are some suggestions on how to fight off those late night cravings.
- Meditate. A 15 to 20 minute meditation session around the time those cravings kick in can not only help fight off the urges, but also help put you into a good state of mind for sleep.
- Plan diversions. If you find yourself craving cookies and potato chips while you watch TV, keep your hands busy doing something else. Sew, do a crossword puzzle, fold the laundry, knit, or do a jig saw puzzle.
- Plan healthy snacks. High-fiber foods can fill you up and thus take fight the craving. Try air-popped pop corn sprayed with spray-on oil (no calories) and then sprinkled with garlic powder, salt, black pepper, or cayenne. Another low-calorie snack that can fill you up is fresh raw vegetables (e.g., carrots, celery, bell pepper, jicama) dipped in no-fat plain yogurt mixed with a low-calorie dip mix.
- Eat a high-fiber dinner. If you feel satisfied after eating your dinner, you will be less likely to develop a strong craving for junk food later. Also be sure to drink water throughout the day.
- Don’t buy it. Simply don’t have junk food in the house, and you won’t be tempted. This may be a challenge if you have kids at home who want junk food, but avoiding late night snacks is a good habit for people of any age to cultivate. Why not start now?
- Reach out. If breaking the late night snacking habit is really difficult, reach out to others: get on the Internet and talk with others in chat rooms, join support groups for overeaters or people who are dieting, or email a friend (or call if it’s not too late). A little social support, including virtual support, can be helpful.
Your internal clock may be prompting you to raid the refrigerator after dinner. However, even though you may crave late night snacks, you can beat the desire and the resulting extra pounds by making a few changes in your routine.
Scheer FA et al. The internal circadian clock increases hunger and appetite in the evening independent of food intake and other behaviors. Obesity 2013 Mar; 21(3): 421-23