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Curb the Midnight Snack Craving

Fitday Editor

We’ve all been there -- one minute, sitting on the couch, the next, raiding the pantry. You can’t explain it, but all of a sudden all you can think about is chips and cookies. You are experiencing a craving, an intense desire (read: not a need) to eat a particular food. Cravings happen more often at night because, for many of us, it’s the first time we get to relax after a long and stressful day. We may be tired or emotional, which often makes it harder to resist temptation -- especially when it seems like food is everywhere on primetime TV.

Cravings 101

There are several reasons why we experience cravings:

Behaviors

We learn at an early age that food is often a reward for good behavior or a way to help us cope with a bad day. This becomes ingrained in us and is a hard habit to break.

Hormones

There are two hormones that control appetite: ghrelin tells your body you should eat, while leptin signals fullness. These two hormones usually work together as a system of checks and balances, but they can be thrown out of whack by a lack of sleep or too much stress. In addition, sleep disruptions and stress can alter estrogen, cortisol and serotonin levels. These hormone imbalances may be the reason you spend the night with your head in the refrigerator.

Sensory Activation

Believe it or not, the sight, smell, taste or even the thought of your favorite food can send you into an eating frenzy.

Munchies Mashers

Wondering if there is anything you can do to curb those midnight munchies? There are some easy changes you can make to keep you from a nighttime eating binge.

Eat Breakfast and Beyond

By starting the day with a good breakfast that includes some whole grains and protein and eating at least every 5 hours, you are more likely to keep your blood sugar levels consistent. This is will keep you from starving and overeating.

Push Dinner Back an Hour

If you eat a little later, you will be fuller and leave less time for bedtime eating.

Add Fiber

Soluble fiber helps to keep your blood sugars stable and insoluble fiber helps to keep you full. Add a large tossed salad of dark greens and vegetables to your dinner (and even lunch).

Distract Yourself

When the need to eat starts to consume you, take a walk, brush your teeth or curl up with a book.

Slow Down

Put your fork down between bites so your brain can tell your stomach you have had enough. In addition, the more you savor and enjoy the food, the more satisfied you will feel.

Plan Ahead

Plan for a portion-controlled nighttime snack. Giving yourself “permission” to have something at night often discourages binges. Also, the power of suggestion works with cravings. You may actually crave what you plan.

Don’t Deprive Yourself

As soon as you start labeling food as bad and/or restricting a certain food, you are setting yourself up for a midnight pantry raid. In addition, if you restrict calories throughout the day, you most likely are starving at night. When we are hungry, we tend to make less healthy choices and overeat.

By learning new behaviors and keeping your body nourished, you can beat the midnight munchies and sleep easy.

Joanne Perez, MS, RDN, LD is a Savannah-based dietitian who, after 20 years of food service and clinical dietetics, made the switch to nutrition communications and all things tech. She doesn't believe in diets and thinks that life is too short to be anything but happy and healthy at any weight. Read her blog, Real Bite Nutrition, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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