Do you ever get the urge to demolish a pint of ice cream right around bedtime? Or find yourself snacking uncontrollably as you watch one last show on Netflix for the night?
Even if you’ve eaten well all day, these night-cravings can sneak up on you and seriously sabotage your healthy routine.
It’s not a lack of good intentions or poor willpower that’s causing you to cave to those cravings.
Simply put, it’s not you, it’s your hormones.
There are four key appetite hormones that may be triggering that desire to binge after the sun goes down. Insulin and leptin often wreak havoc on your appetite because sugar and flour interfere with their proper function. Ghrelin and Peptide YY mess up your hunger signals when you’re sleep-deprived.¹
So how do you balance these hormones and stop the vicious binge-cycle that creeps up on you night after night?
Here are a few suggestions that can help curb your nighttime appetite, no willpower required.
- Get a good night’s sleep - I know, we say it all the time, but that’s because sleep is so important. Pretty much your whole world hinges on the quality and quantity of sleep you get. For example, even a single night of poor sleep can increase the “hunger hormone” ghrelin, and decrease your “satiety hormone” leptin. So basically, you’re over-hungry and your body can’t tell when you’re full.
If you’re struggling to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night, try reducing your exposure to light, especially blue light, a couple hours before your intended bedtime.² This will help your body produce the melatonin it needs to drift off into restful sleep. You can use that screen-free time to unwind with a bath, a good book, or journaling to set your sleep routine up for success.
- Eat enough for your body - Keeping your body consistently and consciously fueled throughout the day is one of the best ways you can keep cravings at bay. Don’t skip meals or make decisions about what to eat when you’re already starving. Yes, it can be hard to even realize you’re hungry when you’re constantly on the go, so don’t leave it to chance. Have a plan for when and what you are going to eat, especially after workouts.³
To keep cravings at bay, focus on whole foods that give you a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, and high-quality fats like those found in nuts, seeds, and avocados (which are essential in lighting up that “full” signal in the brain).⁴ Avoid sugar, flour, and processed foods as these can interrupt the proper function of your hunger and satiety hormones.
- Shake off your stress - Feeling stressed increases your cortisol levels, which in turn disrupts your insulin levels, setting off cravings that feel completely out of control.⁵ One study found that chronic stress leads us to seek out the sort of processed, sugary foods that light up our brains’ reward pathways.⁶ Simply put, stress seriously messes with the way you want to eat, and can make those cravings really hard to resist.
Try adding mindful activities into your daily routine that will help you destress. Start your morning with a few minutes of meditation, engage in mindful breathwork, or even just take a slow walk and focus on the world around you.
The good news is you have a lot more control over your cravings than you might have previously thought. Your hormones are connected to the way you structure your life. How you sleep, what you eat, how you move your body and quiet your mind all make a huge difference in how you feel.