Does the fridge whisper seductively in the quiet of the night, calling you to eat?
Is the allure of late-night chocolate or candy irresistible?
Do you reach for your fav bag of potato chips or delicious tub of ice cream late at night, even though you're not really that hungry?
If so, you're not alone… the vast majority of us have experienced an occasional vampiric desire to eat after dark.
But while the occasional night-time munchie is simply part of being human, for others, it crosses a line. Sometimes this practice can indicate a syndrome called night (or nocturnal) eating syndrome (NES).
In NES, there’s a drive to consume food after dinner or in the wee, small hours. Defined by repetitive episodes of hunger and food consumption after the evening meal or when waking from sleep, there is often an accompanying drop in morning appetite. Sleep problems are also common in NES.
According to the article, Night Eating Syndrome, NES presents with at least three of these symptoms:
— a strong impulse to eat after dinner and on waking during the night
— lack of morning appetite (breakfast is often skipped)
— trouble getting to or falling asleep
— depressed mood, including mood that worsens in the evening-time
— the belief that sleep won’t be achieved without eating
This more extreme form of late-night munchies is estimated only to affect 1.5% of the US population, so there may be other reasons. Certain medications, hormonal imbalances, emotional eating, and insomnia can all lead to hunger and eating at weird hours.
Whatever the cause, if you find your urge to eat is uncontrollable, it’s a good idea to check in with a trusted health professional.
That said, let’s dive into 6 steps that might help.
Identify the cause and triggers of your night-time munchies
Is there a specific reason you eat at night?
Can you pinpoint a cause or trigger?
Identifying the causes and triggers can help you understand why the munchies drive you at night. This can make it easier to address the problem and find effective, personalized solutions.
For example, suppose stress or anxiety causes you to self-soothe with cake at night. In that case, stress-reducing techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, journaling, or reading a book may be effective. Reduce the stress, and reduce the culinary desire.
On the other hand, if poor slumber is the cause, you can focus on improving your sleep habits. Our article 6 Ways to Improve Your Quality of Sleep will help you do this.
Or, if you tend to eat when you're bored or scrolling through social media, you can find other ways to occupy your time and mind. Ways that draw your interest and distract yourself and your belly.
Create a healthy routine
A holiday, a busy nightlife, late bedtimes, or working like crazy all day and forgetting to eat when the sun is up may push us out of whack.
Creating a healthy routine can rewrite our habits and rewire our brains and the drive to consume.
Establish — and stick to — a regular eating routine. Your desires may become manageable as your body becomes accustomed to the schedule. You’ll consume your calories at sensible times and be less likely to miss meals, which may reduce cravings and the urge to eat at night.
A consistent routine can lower overwhelm and stress. This may calm psychological stress and anxiousness, soothing one potential trigger for night-time cravings.
A healthy routine allows you to make better choices and plan ahead for your meals and snacks. You may find nightly temptation less overpowering when you consume sufficient energy and nutrients during the day.
You might also benefit from better quality sleep. When you slumber throughout the night, you miss the nighttime consumption window.
Enjoy a healthy after-dinner snack
There’s a chance you’re eating late simply because you’re hungry. So, next time the urge to eat roars in your mind, stop for a moment. Ask yourself…
Have you eaten enough during the day?
Are you peckish?
A small snack — under 150-200 calories — may satisfy your hunger and drive to eat. Some delish examples include:
Greek yogurt with berries and nuts: Greek yogurt is high in protein and can help keep you feeling full. Berries and nuts add a touch of sweetness and crunch.
Avocado toast: Avocados are a great source of healthy fat, which helps content a ravenous belly. High-quality carbohydrates (like bread with low glycemic load and high fiber content) are linked to a reduced insomnia risk and improved slumber.
Toast with a slice of avocado and a sprinkle of salt and pepper can be a simple and satisfying after-dinner snack.
Hard-boiled eggs: Eggs are a great source of filling protein. Hard-boiled eggs are easy to prepare in advance and are the ideal convenience snack.
- Hummus and veggies: Hummus is a scrumptious fiber- and protein-rich dip made from chickpeas. Eating hummus with vegetables like carrots, cucumber, or bell peppers might hit the spot.
Remember, portion size matters. The aim is to satiate your needs and stop not to add unnecessary calories to your diet.
Eat a high-protein, high-fiber dinner
The macronutrients in your evening meal can impact how full you feel (or don’t feel). Protein and fiber promote feelings of fullness. A high-protein, high-fiber dinner may curb your appetite and reduce the urge to snack at night.
One study published in the journal, Obesity investigated the effects of following a high protein (25% of total calories) versus a normal protein (14% of total calories) diet. Participants who consumed more protein experienced a reduced late-night desire to eat, and their thoughts were less preoccupied with food.
Another study explored the impact of increased fiber consumption on elements like appetite, hunger, and food consumption. The authors concluded that when participants drank a high-fiber drink (compared to a low-fiber drink), they reported feeling fuller two and three hours after consumption.
The evidence suggests that enjoying a delicious, high-protein, high-fiber dinner may rein in the desire to eat too much, too late.
Have you ever watched a movie with a bucket of popcorn on your lap, only to realize at the end that the bucket is all but empty? Then you know the power of mindless eating!
It’s also why we can eat excessively and suddenly become aware of the pain. We shovel too much into our mouths when we devour without attention.
So, if you’re going to eat after dinner or when you wake up at night, make sure you do so mindfully.
Eating mindfully means paying attention to your body's hunger, fullness cues, and the flavors, textures, and smells of your food.
Here are a few tips to get started:
Take a moment to sit down and focus on your delectable before eating
Chew your food slowly, savoring the flavors and textures
Put your fork, spoon, or packet down between bites
- Listen to your body, and stop eating when you feel full
Avoid distractions such as the TV or mobile phone while eating
Reflect on what you're eating, and consider how it nourishes your body
- Practice gratitude for the food you have and the people who helped bring it to your plate
For more advice, check out our article, How Mindfulness and Meditation Can Supercharge Your Health and Life?
Sometimes, our worst decisions are made in the heat of the moment. Cravings strike, and before we have time to think, we’ve eaten the entire chocolate bar. So, removing temptation may help.
Avoid keeping junk food in your house. This is especially effective for late-night munchies because you must consciously decide to leave your home at night or order an Uber to get what you desire.
Combine this with readily available healthy snacks, and you’ll be more likely to succeed. If you suffer from sugar cravings, fruit is a good option. With a hint of sweetness, plus fiber and other nutrients, an apple or banana may be enough to satiate and soothe.
The late-night munchie takeaway
Saying goodbye to late-night munchies can be difficult, but it isn’t impossible. With the right approaches, you can wrest back control.
Identify the cause and triggers of your snacking. Create a routine to encourage healthy habits. Eat a delicious, high-protein, high-fiber dinner. If you can’t go without, choose a nutrient-packed after-dinner snack. Remove temptation by eliminating unhealthy foods from your home. If you need professional support, seek it.
Many people say goodbye to late-night munchies for good with careful planning and a little effort!