It's a common problem for dieters: late night munchies. You know you shouldn't give in to them, you know they sabotage your diet, but what can you do about them? Understanding what causes late night food cravings is the first step to controlling them.
The simplest explanation of why we feel hungry is that our blood sugar levels drop. The foods we eat to satisfy our hunger affect the rise and fall of our blood sugar levels, thus, our appetite. Simple carbohydrates, such as white flour and sugar (found in most "munchie" satisfying snacks) are converted to sugar the quickest, causing our blood sugar levels to spike. Our bodies then rapidly produce insulin to process the sugar, and the increased insulin causes our blood sugar to drop, and we are hungry again. See how that works?
Logically then, one of the best ways to control late night hunger pangs is to keep your blood sugar levels stable all day. There are a few ways to do this.
EAT COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES
Complex Carbohydrates are converted to sugar more slowly, so our blood sugar levels don't spike. Sustained levels of sugar mean that our bodies produce moderate levels of insulin instead of frantic doses, thus our blood sugar doesn't drop rapidly, and we feel fuller longer. Foods such as brown rice, whole grains products, green leafy vegetables, legumes, and fruits are complex carbohydrates. A diet rich in these foods will help to control hunger pangs and food cravings.
EAT AT REGULAR INTERVALS ALL DAY
Don't believe the old adage to avoid between meal snacks. Eating healthy foods every
2 - 3 hours keeps your energy levels up, your sugar levels stable, and helps you to not give in to late night binging. Start with a good breakfast. Eating healthy in the morning sets the tone for good eating habits all day. Have a mid morning snack, lunch, another snack, a moderate dinner, and a light snack about two hours before bed.
EAT THE RIGHT SNACKS
You already know you want to avoid simple carbohydrates like processed snack foods, but what are some good choices for between meal and after dinner snacks? Low fat string cheese, cottage cheese and fruit, a handful of nuts, celery sticks with peanut butter or low fat cream cheese, are all good choices. An old Weight Watchers trick is to make a pot of vegetable soup and have a cup whenever hunger pangs hit. It's healthy, low calorie, and filling.
In addition to keeping your blood sugar levels stable, there are a few other things you can do to help control late night food cravings.
Exercise releases endorphins into our bodies, which elevates our mood and reduces tension. Tension and stress can stimulate food cravings. Go for a short walk after dinner, or if you have a pool, take a quick dip, or just hit the floor and do some sit-ups. Thirty minutes a day of exercise is recommended, but even a little bit is better then nothing.
THINK BEFORE YOU EAT
What if you are already doing all of these things, and still get hit with a late night craving for chocolate cake, pizza, or potato chips? Before giving in, think about whether your craving is physical or psychological. Many times our food cravings are triggered by emotions such as boredom, depression, stress, or just the need for comfort. Try doing something different then what you were doing when the craving hit. Go talk to your spouse or roommate, go into another room and read or write, or get on the internet anything to satisfy the real emotional need you may have.
Don't confuse hunger with thirst. Drink a couple glasses of water before you reach for a snack, or have a cup of herbal tea. That might fill you up enough that you can go to bed without having to eat something.
MAKE HEALTHY CHOICES
Tried everything, but your stomach is still growling? Then have a snack, but make sure it's a healthy one. It helps to have pre-made snacks handy so that you aren't rummaging around the fridge, getting distracted by the leftover pasta or dessert. Put your snack choices on one shelf in the fridge or cupboard so they are easy to grab quickly then get out of the kitchen! If you get hit with munchies in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep without satisfying them, then put a high fiber snack on your nightstand. An apple, some trail mix, or a half a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread are some easy options.
MIND OVER MATTER
If you still can't get that juicy cheeseburger out of your head, try a little reverse psychology. Say out loud, "I don't like cheeseburgers." You must say this out loud and you must say it often, or as often as you get the craving. This is a little trick known as cognitive dissonance. Dissonance is a lack of agreement or harmony. If we are cognitive or aware of a disagreement between what we know (we like cheeseburgers) and what we are saying (I don't like cheeseburgers) it makes us uncomfortable and we will want to change one or the other. If you proclaim that you don't like a troublesome food, it won't be long before you actually don't want to eat it. Try it the next time you get a craving for a food you shouldn't eat!
Whether you are dieting or just trying to maintain a healthy weight, it's important to not let late night food cravings get the best of you. Understanding what causes them and following these tips to control them will help you reach your weight goals and stay healthy.