One of the biggest areas of weakness for people who are trying to lose weight is the constant grazing and snacking at night. It’s a hard one to fight, but it might not be a willpower issue. New research suggests that it’s all in your head.
According to a recent study conducted at Brigham Young University, some parts of our brain need a food fix at night that they don’t demand during the day. During the study, scientists found that pictures of low and high calorie foods have a different effect on our brains. They showed images of various foods to study participants in the morning and at night, then studied the MRIs of these subjects.
What the researchers found was that high calorie images produced a spike in activity in certain areas of the brain during the day, but not at night.
Their conclusion: even if our hunger or fullness is the same at night, we’re less quick to feel satisfied, so we continue searching for more food.
There’s a physiological reason for grazing at night, as well. Our bodies are actually designed to consume more during the night than we do during the day. This may go back to the “caveman” days, when there was little time to eat before sundown.
No matter what the reasons, nighttime grazing and midnight cravings are an issue that you have to conquer if you want to stay on track. Here are some things that can help:
1. Stay Busy
One of the reasons we nibble so much at night is that we’ve slowed down considerably from the workday pace. We eat less during the day because we’re too busy doing other things to notice how hungry we are or that we could really go for a chocolate. We also just can’t take the time to actually act on any urges.
Instead of watching TV or reading a book, do something active or that at least requires your hands. Play a game with the kids, do some knitting, build a model or work on that remodeling project. If being close to the fridge is a problem, get outside.
2. Eat Enough During the Day
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That busyness that keeps us from acting on cravings during the day can also keep us from eating enough. Then we’re starving by the time we get home. Be sure you have some protein and fat-rich snacks with you during the day, such as IdealShakes or IdealBars, so that your body isn’t clamoring for food when you get home. Be sure you take or get a healthy lunch, no matter how busy you are, and steer clear of sugary snacks and drinks that will have you in a sugar slump right about the time you get home.
3. Snack Smart
If you’re craving something sweet, don’t try to fool your brain with celery. If you’re craving salty/crunchy foods, don’t think you can trick your body into accepting yogurt. What happens when you do this is that you eat the first thing, but also seven other things until you finally feel satisfied.
If you need sweet, have a square of dark chocolate, some homemade sorbet made of whole fruit, or a creamy IdealShake weight loss shake. If you want salty/crunchy, make some kale chips, have some spicy hummus with fresh veggies, or nibble on nuts and seeds. Trying to satisfy your cravings with something too far off base just won’t work. Just make sure you have plenty of snacks in all categories (here’s our top 10 healthy snack list) and you’ll have a better chance at filling your nighttime cravings.
4. Close the Kitchen
This may sound simplistic, but closing the kitchen works for many people. For some, the possibility of food is enough to have them wandering in and out of the kitchen. But if you set a certain time that you’re done with food and the kitchen is closed, you can often reset your mental snacking clock and stop those urges.
Whether you decide on 9PM or 6PM, have a filling meal or snack just before, make sure the leftovers and snacks are put away out of sight, and turn off the kitchen light. You’d be surprised how well this works.
Nighttime cravings get to all of us. But if you face them with some on-hand solutions, you’ll have a much easier time staying on your diet and out of the fridge.