Probably all of us occasionally crave a midnight snack, but if you're constantly headed to the refrigerator before bed, you may have some habits that are causing you to experience more hunger pangs than normal. Aside from not eating a balanced dinner, there could be a variety of sneaky reasons you're hungry at night, and they can start from the second you wake up in the morning and last until bedtime.
Although eating at night isn't necessarily bad for you, when it comes to midnight snacking, most of us aren't reaching for a salad or some kale chips, and we definitely aren't holding back on how much we're eating. One study from Northwestern University found that people who stay up late end up consuming more unhealthy food after 8 p.m., including more junk food and soda. "It’s what we are eating at night — the pop tarts, the ice cream, and the baked goods that [contain] fat and sugar that can turn into a diet disaster," says Maggie Michalczyk, RDN over email.
Regardless of what you're eating, no one wants to have to tack on a fourth meal every single night. If you're unsure why you're always craving so much food in the evening, consider these six reasons why you're so hungry at night and how to solve them.
1. Everything You Eat Is Low-Fat
"If you’re choosing mostly low-fat or fat-free foods throughout the day, you’re missing the key macronutrient that will keep you from being hungry all night long: fat," says Michalczyk. "Healthy sources of fat, like avocados, extra-virgin olive oil, walnuts, and salmon should be incorporated into meals throughout the day to add staying power your meals and stop late night eating."
2. You're Actually Thirsty
"Oftentimes, what’s hiding behind your hunger is the need to drink something," says Michalczyk. The same part of the brain — the hypothalamus — controls our signals for both hunger and thirst, so it can be easy to mistake the two, according to ZocDoc. "If you constantly find yourself looking for something to eat after dinner, try an after dinner tea instead," she says.
3. You Skipped Breakfast
"You’ve heard it before, and I’m going to say it again, breakfast is the most important meal of the day," says Michalczyk. "Front-loading your daily food intake with a substantial breakfast of protein, fat, and healthy carbs will actually quiet that late night hankering for sweets, and is common practice in many European countries where breakfast and lunch are the largest meals of the day."
4. Your Food Is Staring At You
Studies from Cornell University show that keeping food on the countertops makes you more likely to eat it, so it's important you create an environment where any food is kept in a cabinet or pantry. "Close the box, tie up the bag, and put the snacks away," says Michalczyk.
5. You Haven't Slept
"Our sleeping and eating body cycles are in cahoots with each other," says Michalczyk. "When you’re sleep deprived, ghrelin, which signals hunger, is actually higher, especially at night, and leptin, which signals satiety, is decreased." Going to bed earlier can not only help prevent night eating the next day, but it can keep you from getting hungry later in the evening.
6. You Didn't Eat After Your Workout
"If you waited too long after you worked out to eat or didn’t replenish with enough calories, chances are, that hungry feeling will linger all night long," says Michalczyk. "Aim for a combination of protein and carbs, especially after high intensity workouts to re-feed your muscles properly."
If you do get hungry at night and definitely need a snack, try sticking to these foods, which won't keep you up or disrupt your sleep.
Images: Pixabay (6); Pixabay