How can I stop eating junk food late at night?

Lyn Turton
Nutrition & Dietetics

It's important to ask yourself why you are eating late at night.  Did you miss meals during the day so are really hungry later? Are you eating for emotional reasons such as boredom?

If you can identify the reason for eating late at night you may find the answer for how to stop.

There are ways to try and break the habit.  Make access to junk food harder - don't have it in the house; alter your route home so you don't pass fast food outlets.  Changing your evening routine may also help, such as, going to bed earlier or cleaning your teeth when you've finished your evening meal or finding a different activity to occupy you during the evening.

Michaela Ballmann
Nutrition & Dietetics

Late night eating usually doesn't involve fruit and salad. That's because night-time eating tends to be both an emotional and physiological response to the previous events of the day.

People who eat late at night often have not had healthy eating habits during the day. They often skip breakfast (or just have coffee), have an unbalanced lunch (often too low in calories and fiber), and are starving by the time they get home. By that time, the body is craving quick sources of glucose, which is readily available in "junk foods". Also, the brain's serotonin levels have dropped and you naturally desire carbohydrates, which are a natural source of serotonin. In addition, your brain is now more susceptible to "temptations" from high-fat, high-sugar, nutrient-poor foods. In addition, eating a lot of these types of foods late at night causes you to have a poor appetite in the morning, leading you to skip breakfast, and the cycle repeats. It's a recipe for disaster!

I would recommend making changes now to your meal pattern throughout the day. Start the day with a balanced breakfast including lean protein, a whole grain, low-fat milk (or milk substitute), and a piece of fresh fruit. That should tide you over until lunch, where you should follow the same guidelines. You may need an afternoon snack to fuel exercise or keep your blood sugar levels stable until dinner. Have a satisfying dinner, eaten at a table, and make sure to give yourself about 30 minutes to eat to ensure that you are feeling the "full" signals your stomach is sending you. If you do this, your late-night sugar binges and cravings will likely stop.

Another issue may be that you are labeling foods "good" and "bad", and you feel guilty for eating certain foods, and end up binging on them in secret while you alone at night. I would recommend reading the book "Intuitive Eating" by Evelyn Tribole and Evelyn Resch, which masterfully addresses this issue.

Juliet Zuercher
Nutrition & Dietetics

One of the most common reasons for overeating at night is neglecting proper nutrition during the day. By going all day without eating, only eating "healthy"/low calorie foods or eating very little, it makes sense that primal hunger cues kick in later in the day when it’s time to sit and finally think about food. High fat, high calorie foods are very appealing at this time because the body is signaling that it's time to eat. Food that is readily broken down and converted to energy (calories, blood sugar) is most appealing because it meets the body's immediate need. This usually includes calorie dense and/or high carbohydrate foods. Instead of limiting calories or only eating "good" food during the day that is not satisfying, eat with balance, variety and moderation throughout the day. Schedule time for meals and snacks. Eat tasty and nutritious foods that are satisfying. That way, at least biological hunger is not the driving force for eating large amounts late at night.

The second most common reason for overeating at night is emotional eating. This is a common phenomenon today in which food is used to meet emotional needs instead of dealing with these uncomfortable emotions in a psychologically healthy way. Many people fall into this trap because in the short term, food can make one "feel better". The problem is that this is only a temporary fix. The ultimate side effect is impaired physical and emotional health. Talking to a nutrition therapist, especially one who specializes in emotional eating/eating disorders, can help to identify if the problem is awareness (eat more or different foods during the day) or emotional (using food inappropriately to deal with underlying issues). Knowing what drives eating behavior can determine the best plan of action to address the problem. A nutrition therapist is skilled in facilitating those with eating issues in this type of treatment intervention. 

As a Personal Trainer who personally struggled with eating disorders as a teen, my mission is to help others who are currently struggling. It is sad to say, but there are millions of women and men ages 8-80 years old who currently battle eating disorder issues. If you feel that your child, parent, or grandparent is dealing with an eating disorder, then there is professional help for them. I can be a role model for anyone struggling with eating issues. I love to teach others the proper balance of exercise, nutrition, and self confidence. Watch my personal testimony video linked here and on my sharecare page. Send me any concerns or questions regarding these topics by email lindzkfitness@yahoo.com Let me help you find your happy, healthy and fit self again!
By deciding and then taking the action steps to make it happen.  Can you eliminate the junk food from your environment? Are you eating the junk food because you are hungry...physically, or emotionally?  Do you drink enough water throughout the day? Are you balancing your meals throughout the day?  What works for me is to eat 5 to 6 small meals consisting of a lean protein and complex carb every 3 hours or so and to drink plenty of water.  Once you decide and begin to eat clean consistently for a couple weeks, your body will not want the junk food.  You really just have to do it to believe it and you will love the way you feel when you begin to care for your body by feeding it nutritious foods and exercise.
Your craving these late night snacks because you are not eating properly.  A lot of people crave food at night because one reason is they starve themselves throughtout the day.  Another reason is they load themselves up are carbs and sugars is that when they come down again their body craves more.  If you just balance out your eating habit the right way you will not crave those junk foods late at night.  Simply if you eat 5-6 small meals a day and balance out your carbohydrates, proteins and fats the right way you wont crave junk food. 

Really, you are asking that?  C’mon people it is time to lose your (it)!  You know, that thing, whatever it may be, that is stopping you from making real decisions about losing weight.  The best way to stop yourself from stuffing your face when the refrigerator is calling out your name is to literally stop and have a little present moment awareness about what you are about to do.  A great way to do this is to drown your craving with 16 ounces of water which will help you feel full and back it up with 10 pushups. And then back that up by kicking your own butt for having the thought that food is worth more than living a long, happy, healthy life!  This is a great way to wake up that brain and remind yourself that the cake calling your name IS NOT WORTH the extra weight.  Research shows (and we all know) that being just 10 pounds overweight increases your risk of heart disease, some cancers, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.  Now you tell me… is it really worth eating junk food late at night when you know you may be actually shortening your life?

 

Late night junk food eating is usually one of three things: you haven't eaten enough throughout the day, you've eaten too many carbohydrates (which turn into sugar) and sugars, and/or it's a coping mechanism. All of these are a bit of a lifestyle change although the latter is the most challenging to sort through. 

It's important to keep your body fueled throughout the day. This means eating several small meals every 3-4 hours. If you don't eat enough throughout the day your body goes in and out of starvation mode and the fight or flight response kicks in. With lack of food your blood sugar drops (your body goes into fat storage mode and hangs onto fat around your abdomen). When you grab something to eat (most people grab a carbohydrate or sugar) your blood sugar spikes and responds as if it's in 'fight mode' again hanging onto fat but this time in other areas of your body. 

Most people are in on a roller-coaster with blood sugar all day everyday. To help balance the roller-coaster it's important to eat many small meals, cut back on sugar and when eating carbohydrates ensure it's with a balance of protein. Your body needs carbohydrates but a diet consisting of small meals consisting of more protein, vegetables and fruits will help keep you better balanced throughout the day. If you eat more meals and better meals throughout the day the less likely you will crave sweets at night.  

Since stress provides a similar roller-coaster response (low blood sugar, stress response, high blood sugar) it's important to find other ways of dealing with your night stress or to not have night stress at all. Food comforts people and helps you to feel good (usually just temporarily) and for many people food in familiar and easily accessible. Finding an alternative solution can be challenging but for most more simple than eliminating the night stress altogether. Some examples of alternatives: meditation, music, imagery, or progressive relaxation.  
HealthCorps
Administration
When certain unhealthy snacks are available to you, it is very difficult not to eat them. Keeping healthier foods in your house – from dried fruits and low-fat unsweetened yogurt to hummus, guacamole and whole grain chips or crackers - will allow you to always make the better decision for snacks. 

Continue Learning about Snacking and Weight Loss

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.