It happens every time. You’ve stuck to your food plan all day, despite all the temptations. You passed up the free donuts in the office, and the second helping at dinner. It seems as soon as the house quiets down, you’re hit with late-night cravings for something you shouldn’t eat. And you know you won’t be able to get to sleep until you cave.
Why Do We Get Late-Night Cravings?
A 2013 study from the Oregon Health and Science University showed that our internal circadian rhythms are responsible for causing our late-night cravings for sweet, salty, and starchy food. Our ancestors’ bodies evolved to store fat at night in case of food scarcity the next day. As a result, we still feel the urge to eat late at night in order to store more calories for survival. Our bodies are much better at storing fat while we’re at rest.
And it certainly doesn’t help that we’ve extended our day cycle with artificial light sources. The director for the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology at the university, Steven Shea, Phd. said:
“If you stay up later, during a time when you’re hungrier for high-calorie foods, you’re more likely to eat during that time. You then store energy and get less sleep, both of which contribute to weight gain.”
So, how are we supposed to fight millions of years of evolution? Thankfully, science is also as good at finding ways for us to bypass our primitive programming as it is at explaining it.
Here are a few techniques that can help you beat those late-night cravings while you’re trying to drop excess fat:
1. Eat More Vegetables
Dr. Scott Isaacs, an endocrinologist and weight loss specialist says that late-night cravings for foods could indicate a nutritional deficiency. He suggests keeping the cravings at bay by ensuring you eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables earlier in the day. They’re filled with fiber and water, which can help you feel full. But, more importantly, they’re filled with the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that your body needs to feel nourished.
2. Eat More Protein
Just like those necessary vitamins and minerals, you may be lacking adequate protein in your diet. A 2013 study by the University of Missouri Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology found that a high protein breakfast prevented cravings later in the day. Additionally, the University has replicated these benefits of increased protein with a range of participants, from teens to seniors.
And protein isn’t just for breakfast. A 2011 study found that a higher protein consumption spread throughout the day increased satiety and helped overweight and obese dieters control their appetites.
So, while some late-night cravings are due to boredom or tiredness, having adequate nutrition can help you resist the temptations.
3. Find Alternative Treatments for Late-Night Cravings
You might hear your stomach rumbling from hunger every night around the same time, if you usually cave in to those late-night cravings. You can stop them with peppermint essential oil. Scientists, noting that peppermint oil effectively treated Irritable Bowel Syndrome, decided to try it with healthy subjects. Their 2013 study showed that peppermint oil is an effective appetite suppressant, with no negative side effects.
Our modern lifestyle is so out of whack with our natural inclinations, especially our body clocks. Humans evolved to survive food scarcity, not an endless smorgasbord of delicious options. Our abundant food supply and late hours can result in a lot of snacking.
In addition, we’ve developed many modern rituals around eating and relaxing, like eating in front of the television. Although family gatherings in the evening is one thing human beings have been doing since caveman days, we rarely stayed up long past sundown. That’s a lot of extra hours to fill, but there’s no reason our health has to suffer when we have the science to curb those late-night cravings.
Kayla Soders is a Digital Marketing Strategist with a passion for food, fun and fitness. When she isn’t getting fit or eating, she can be found managing popular health sites (such as defendyourhealthcare.us), laughing at memes, or rolling her eyes at minor annoyances. She’s passionate (and a little crazy) when it comes to anything (or anyone) she cares about, with a “Work Hard, Slay Hard” mentality.