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How To Beat Those Late-Night Cravings? Plan Ahead

If you’re a snacker, chances are you’ve found yourself at the fridge or pantry late in the evening, looking for something to munch on that won’t derail the goals you work hard on in daylight hours.

Dietitians will tell you there are at least two problems with late-night eating: quantity and quality. You are likely to consume more calories than you mean to. And studies show you’re less likely to choose nutrient-dense, healthy foods as a late-night snack. Over time that can impair blood-sugar control and lead to weight gain. And if you’re eating close to bedtime, heartburn could be another problem.

Find Your Rhythm

Chrononutrition is an emerging field that looks at the science of timing food intake in relation to the body’s 24-hour cycle, our circadian rhythm. Circadian systems may play a role in regulating metabolism — some studies show those rhythms peak in the morning, making that an optimal time to eat. Planning your intake in line with these patterns — or mostly between sunrise and sunset — may improve control of the hunger hormone ghrelin, as well as glycemic and insulin systems. Eating late at night, outside of those rhythms, could disrupt glucose levels and lead to insulin resistance.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps keep blood sugar at normal levels; insulin resistance is a metabolic state that affects the body’s ability to use insulin effectively. It can result in excess body fat and inflammation, when your cells lose the ability to absorb glucose. If you’re eating a high-carb diet with a lot of sugar — remember what we said about late-night choices — your body has a harder time pushing out that insulin to help regulate, so blood sugar levels remain elevated.

If you do snack at night, try to be intentional about it. Plan ahead so you have nutrient-dense and fiber-filled foods on hand — say, a quarter cup of nuts, or a stick of low-fat string cheese, hummus with veggie sticks or Greek yogurt with fruit.

How Late Is Late?

Late looks different for different folks — those working a night shift might have a harder time controlling late-night eating than those who can get to bed earlier.

If you are going to eat late, remember to give your body time for digestion before you lie down — two to three hours is good. Heartburn occurs when you get horizontal too quickly after eating. Your body will continue to digest food during sleep, but the acid that aids digestion may back up into the esophagus and cause that burning sensation. That in turn will disrupt your sleep — those who don’t get enough sleep can have increased levels of ghrelin, which among other things stimulates appetite, creating a vicious circle. Ghrelin has also been shown to rise when we experience stress, which can cause cravings or a desire for extra snacking.

One way to cope with all of this is through mindfulness: Are you eating late at night out of habit? Because you’re stressed? Or because you are hungry? If the answer is “B,” try other stress-reducing tricks first, like breathing exercises, listening to relaxing music, yoga or meditation.

Eat More Earlier

One reason late-night snacking can be hard to resist is if you’re not getting enough to eat during the day.

Establishing a consistent eating pattern can counteract that — start with breakfast. Make sure it’s high in protein, which keeps you full and satisfied longer and aids in weight management. Throughout the day, try to balance a combo of protein and fiber, which also helps keep you full.

Bottom line: The better you plan ahead for what you’ll eat during the day, the more you’ll notice less snacking and excess calorie intake at the end of the night.

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