7 Tips to Help Prevent Getting Hungry at Night

Nothing can sabotage good eating habits like a late-night box of pizza or bowl of ice cream. When hunger strikes, it can be hard to resist indulging in a midnight snack. However, studies show that those who eat late at night consume an average of 400 more calories overall than those who don’t. It's not just the number of calories — the type of snack one usually grabs for is not always the most nutrient-dense, which will throw off your daytime healthy habits.

Why do we commonly get so hungry after dinner?

“Many people are so busy during the day that they skip breakfast or lunch,” says Celebrity Nutritionist Samantha F. Grant. “By the time night rolls around, they are starving.” Serotonin levels also drop at night, which causes us to reach for food in hopes of upping our happy brain chemical. Many people have also formed habits over the years that lead to late-night eating, such as snacking while watching TV or enjoying dessert after dinner.

Overeating at night can have negative effects on your body, including indigestion and heartburn. “Foods can also trigger hormone responses that can meddle with sleep behaviors and circadian rhythm,” says Lauren Cornell, RD.

If you’re getting caught up in those late night burger runs or feel a need to indulge in a large meal before bed, here are some tips from a few nutritionists to help your stomach from growling into the late hours of the night.

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Stay hydrated

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“Drink at least 64 ounces of water throughout the day,” says Narina Minassian, RD. “Staying hydrated will help reduce cravings and hunger pangs.” Try reaching for a cup of herbal or decaffeinated tea, which will not only help keep you hydrated, but can help take the place of a late night snack.

Eat a high-protein breakfast

Start your morning with a non-soy protein shake or some eggs and vegetables to help keep you nourished throughout the day. “Protein in the morning helps raise our leptin levels, which will in turn help us shed excess body fat and feel fuller longer,” says Grant. Eating earlier in the day keeps your body from feeling deprived later in the evening.

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Take your time eating dinner

“Instead of sitting in front of the TV or computer, eat your meal at a table,” says Grant. “Enjoy and savor your food.” The more time you spend eating your dinner, the more time your brain will have to recognize that it’s full, Minassian says.

Eat a snack every 2-3 hours

Eating a light, healthful snack will keep you satiated throughout the day and into the night. Snacking will keep your energy up and stabilize blood sugar, which will help curb your cravings for sugary or fattening foods. Minassian recommends eating snacks like Greek yogurt and berries, or vegetables and hummus, which provide a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

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Question if you are actually emotionally hungry

When the day quiets down, emotions can arise, and sometimes people turn to food out of boredom or unhappiness. “Rather than dealing with the issues that are at the root of these emotions, many people tend to distract themselves instead by eating, especially junk food,” says Minassian. Take the time to figure out whether you are physically hungry or if you are just experiencing an emotion that is causing you to want to eat.

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Create a new after-dinner routine

If the temptation for you to eat late at night is frequent, try creating new habits to replace your need for food. “One helpful strategy is to resolve to stay out of the kitchen after dinner,” says Minassian. “Clear the plates, wash the dishes, and then turn off the kitchen lights. If your kitchen has a door, close the door and attach a “Kitchen Closed” sign.”

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Get more sleep

Getting more sleep can help you feel more energized throughout the day, and the earlier you go to bed, the less chances are that you will be hungry before bedtime. Our hunger and satiety hormones depend on circadian rhythm to keep them balanced and functioning properly. “When our sleep is thrown off, so are our hunger and satiety hormones,” says Cornell. “This causes us to feel hungry at times when we are actually not.”

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