How to Fight Late Night Cravings and Win!

By Alexis Finniss | In Fitness, Food and Diet, Strong Mom | on September 14, 2014

Late night cravings – GRRRR?!?!

Why is it we can be so good throughout the day and then BAM those nighttime cravings hit? All of a sudden those chips and cookies that you were able to avoid all day are calling to you in a way that seems impossible to ignore! What causes those cravings?

Historically, it helped survival. Not knowing when you would eat again, and waking up not “needing” to eat right away helped primitive man not waste precious food, get things done, and get ready to go hunt again. Eating right before you fell asleep helped your body store food/fat. Unfortunately, this is not the goal in today’s society. Since most of us do not have to worry whether or not we will have food for our next meal, survival is no longer a pressing issue.

How then do we break the cycle?

First we have to figure out why we are having these cravings. Research has shown three main reasons people eat late at night, only one of which is actual hunger. The other two reasons deal with the powers of suggestion and emotional eating.

The Power of Suggestion

At the end of a long day most of us want to sit down, relax and probably veg out in front of the TV. This is when we are most susceptible to the powers of suggestion. Advertising companies know that at the end of a long day your will power is at an all time low. This is when you get inundated with commercials showing you the deliciousness of your biggest weakness: chocolate, chips, burgers, and french fries. Ever notice there aren’t very many salad commercials during prime time?

How do we fight back? The easiest thing to do is turn off the TV. Maybe even read a book. As a realist who enjoys a few minutes of mind numbing entertainment, my answer is DVR. Fast forward

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through those temptations! If you are unable to totally switch off the TV or you just HAVE to watch your show live, try occupying your mind (and hands) with other things, like knitting, stretching, or a few crunches or squats during commercial breaks. In addition to your will power running low, your energy levels are also running low. Don’t cave into high calorie temptations for a quick pick me up. Maybe use this time to go to bed a little earlier and catch up on those elusive ZZZZZs!

Emotional Eating

What if your cravings are driven by your emotions? This is most often the case with late night cravings. Surprisingly, not all emotional eating is the result of “bad” or negative emotions. People oftentimes “reward” themselves for a day of good eating with a sweet treat. Other times, people are looking for comfort or a pick me up and are hoping they can get it from food. Nighttime cravings can also be the culprit of pain old boredom. There’s nothing else to do so I might as well munch, munch, munch.

The game plan for battling emotional eating starts with recognizing it. Emotional cravings usually last less than 10 minutes. If you get a late night craving, set a timer for ten minutes and go do something else and see if it passes. If you notice you are just wanting to eat, but not necessarily hungry, try doing something nice for yourself. Try painting your nails. The time it takes to paint them and allow them to dry will divert your attention from your craving and you will have great looking nails as a bonus! You could also try taking a bath, reading a book or even cleaning up around the house. As a busy mom, it feels like I could (and maybe do) clean up all the time?!?! Aromatherapy is another way to fight cravings. Scents like lavender and peppermint divert attention from those food cravings. Just remember not to light a food scented candle or aromatherapy could backfire on you!


What if I really am just hungry? This could definitely be the case, especially if you have been dieting or restricting calories throughout the day. If hunger is really your issue, you will need to go back and look at what you have been eating all day. Planning ahead with eating, as with most things in life, is your best chance for success. Make sure you are getting enough good foods in your regular diet. When you plan your meals and snacks, include a healthy after dinner snack. Foods that are high in protein and fiber help you feel full longer. You can also try eating dinner a little later so there isn’t as much time between when you eat and when you go to bed. Alternatively, you could try going to sleep a little earlier – I mean really, who couldn’t use a little more sleep? With either of these scenarios, make sure you are leaving at least 1.5-2 hours for your food to digest before you go to bed.

Cravings can also mean something is missing in your diet. Unfortunately, cravings are notoriously unreliable. As much as I wish my chocolate cravings were my body telling me that I need more chocolate, it is more likely that what my body needs is magnesium. Here is a great chart from Better Raw by Tanya that demonstrates cravings and corresponding nutrient deficiencies and foods to satisfy those deficiencies. Making sure you have a well balanced diet, not lacking in any major nutrients, will help abate these types of cravings.

Armed with this knowledge, use this time while we are logging to keep track of what days you are getting the most cravings. Go back and review what you ate that day. Was this the day life got crazy and you were caught in the drive-through? Maybe next time you can have healthy alternatives stashed in the car. Try to eat a variety of things throughout the day so your diet is not lacking in any one area. Check here for some healthier snack alternatives. Remember, failing to plan is the same as planning to fail.

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