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  • Writer's pictureMark Edwards

Conquer Your Cravings: 7 Effective Tips to Curb Snacking Late at Night

Updated: Jul 7

Nighttime snacking

Late-night snacking. Nighttime eating. Late night hunger. Watching TV while mindlessly chewing our way through a bag of Doritos. We've all done it. Who hasn't? But this behavior can be a stumbling block on the path to a healthy lifestyle and weight loss. With habits like this, it's no small wonder that many people struggle to lose weight.

If you find yourself raiding the fridge after hours, I'm going to give you some solid strategies to understand and conquer these cravings. Let's align your nighttime habits with your weight management objectives by tackling the issue of snacking late at night.

Key Takeaways

  • Snacking at night, particularly when habitual, could be symptomatic of Night Eating Syndrome (NES) or other conditions and may lead to negative health outcomes such as obesity.

  • Understanding the difference between emotional eating and physical hunger is essential; implementing strategies like brushing your teeth after dinner and banning junk food can help curb unhealthy night snacking habits.

  • Enhancing sleep quality, establishing a consistent meal and snack routine, and practicing mindfulness are effective methods for managing late-night cravings and improving overall eating habits.

nighttime snacking

Understanding Nighttime Snacking

Unveiling the mysteries of nighttime eating begins by recognizing that an occasional dessert or a late-night nibble doesn’t necessarily equate to an unhealthy habit. However, when these instances become a regular event, it may signal something more, such as Nighttime Eating Syndrome (NES), characterized by persistent nighttime eating patterns.

Surprisingly, this nocturnal noshing is more widespread than many realize. According to researchers, nearly 70 percent of Americans admit to snacking within 2 hours of eating dinner and Americans get roughly 22% of their daily calories from snacks. Think about it. The simple act of cutting out snacks would mean you've reduced your daily calories by 1/4.

This behavior obviously results in excess calorie intake, which can lead to obesity, low-quality sleep, and detrimental health outcomes.

The Science of Nighttime Cravings

Our body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, plays a significant role in regulating hormones that influence our hunger and appetite, particularly at night. The ebb and flow of hunger hormones like ghrelin and leptin, both influenced by this circadian cycle, can amplify our longing for energy-dense, carb-rich foods as evening descends.

Emotional Eating vs. Physical Hunger

Understanding the difference between emotional eating and being physically hungry is vital. Stress, with its nasty habit of sending us to the snack stash, often triggers emotional eating to soothe those negative feelings. This can erode self-control, creating a vicious cycle of cravings and nighttime eating to satisfy those perceived cravings.

Learning to mitigate stress is a big part of nutrition coaching and weight loss, but it's one of the most overlooked factors when it comes to weight management.

Physical hunger, on the other hand, can be easier to identify. One effective technique to know whether you're actually hungry is to wait 10 minutes when you feel like snacking at night. If the feeling passes, that's a sign that you don't need that nighttime snack. It's not foolproof, but it's a start.

Another useful technique that I recommend to my clients is this: whenever you feel like snacking between meals, you have to drink an 8-ounce glass of water, and then wait 5 minutes. Most of the time, this tactic obliterates those cravings.

Identifying Your Night Snacking Triggers

What ignites your late-night snacking spree? For many people, it’s the habit of mindless eating while mesmerized by the TV screen, or perhaps simple boredom calls you to the cookie tin. For those with a keen sense of self-awareness, eating out of boredom can become a distinct psychological pattern leading to the consumption of less healthy foods.

Control over these impulses can be regained by pre-portioning snacks, turning off distractions, and focusing on the simple act of eating.

As a significant initial move, understanding what makes you snack can reveal the connection between your daytime activities, emotional requirements, and midnight raids on the fridge. Once you're able to identify your snack triggers, write them down.

Awareness is crucial to habit change.

Strategies to Halt Unhealthy Night Snacking

Table of healthy snacks

With a few straightforward and potent strategies, you can say sayonara to unhealthy night snacking. Here are some tips to help you:

  1. Brush your teeth post-dinner to reduce the temptation to snack. Who wants to eat again after brushing their teeth?

  2. Banish junk food from your home to eliminate the option of late-night munchies. If it's not there, you can't eat it. A short-term stop-gap is to keep the snack food out of sight, on an upper shelf, or in the back of the cupboard.

  3. Boost your protein intake during the day, especially in the morning, to feel satiated longer and reduce the nighttime snacking urge.

  4. Replace the activity associated with snacking, such as watching television, with a non-food-related activity like taking a walk, reading a book, or practicing a hobby.

By implementing these strategies, you'll have a better chance of curbing your nighttime snacking habits.

Having identified unhealthy patterns through keeping a food diary, devise measures such as preparing healthy afternoon snacks to counter them.

Swap Out the Junk Food

Health and Unhealthy snacks

Transform your snacking habits by swapping out unhealthy snack options for nutritious alternatives. Here are a couple ideas:

  • Craving crunchy foods? Try baked kale chips instead of potato chips.

  • Satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit like oranges or apples instead of cookies or ice cream. Oranges are one of my favorites.

  • Thinking dried fruit? I don't recommend it. Dried fruit is very high in sugar content, low in water content, and very easy to over-eat.

Next time you’re grocery shopping, skip the junk food aisle entirely. Stocking up on healthy snacks like nuts and fresh fruit makes reaching for a better option easier and more convenient.

I always advise my clients to stick to the outer aisles of the supermarket and avoid the inner aisles as much as possible. The inner aisles are where all unhealthy snacks tend to be.

Establish a Satisfying Evening Meal Plan

Establishing a gratifying evening meal plan is key to controlling late-night cravings. A regular meal pattern, including eating breakfast soon after waking, can control appetite and stave off excessive hunger later in the day. As I've mentioned, protein-rich food early in the day can lead to a significant reduction in cravings and the desire to eat at night.

For dinner, eat low-carb foods that still let you enjoy your favorite flavors without overindulging in calories or carbohydrates. Here are some ideas:

  • Grilled chicken or fish with roasted vegetables

  • Zucchini noodles with marinara sauce and meatballs

  • Cauliflower rice stir-fry with tofu or shrimp

  • Steak salad with avocado and a light vinaigrette

  • Spaghetti squash with pesto and grilled shrimp

Even a baked potato isn't a bad idea. The real problem with baked potatoes is all of the toppings we dump onto them: sour cream, butter, bacon. Yes, I know, it sounds great, but those extra toppings increase the calorie burden by 300-400%.

If you're good at following macros, then the baked potato with LIMITED toppings could be an option. But beware.

A mix of proteins, fiber, and healthy fats in your evening meals will not only enhance satiety but also support sustained energy levels, helping to curb the temptation for a late-night snack. It’s essential to eat foods that provide these nutrients for optimal health and successful weight management.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not "anti-carb." But we have to recognize that carbs like pasta and bread are much easier to overeat than roasted vegetables or salad.

Redefine Your Nightly Routine

Your nightly routine could be the secret ingredient to ending night snacking. Swapping the habit of eating ice cream during your favorite TV show for a different activity, such as reading or yoga, can significantly alter your routine. Establish a consistent meal and snack routine, akin to an office schedule, to prevent all-day grazing and maintain structured eating habits.

Consistency is key; while it may take time to establish a new routine, don't give up. Giving up is the killer of all dreams. Dedication to the process will eventually lead to healthier habits that can replace those pesky nighttime cravings.

Sleep's Role in Late Night Snacking

Sleeping man

Sleep actively shapes our dietary choices, particularly those related to late-night snacking, rather than being a passive state. Sleep deprivation can lead to a misalignment with circadian rhythms, which in turn can suppress leptin (the fullness hormone) and increase ghrelin (the hunger hormone), ramping up your appetite and thus contributing to weight gain.

This has a downstream effect the next day. You'll find that hunger signals are much more intense on a day following a night of poor sleep.

If that poor sleep pattern is repeated again and again, the effect on our eating behavior snowballs, increasing our food intake. Interestingly, poor sleep also increases cravings not only for more food, but for certain foods, especially calorie-dense high sugar foods.

Enhancing Sleep Quality

Enhancing the quality of sleep serves as an effective method to lessen the nighttime urge to eat. A consistent bedtime routine can significantly enhance sleep quality. What should you do? Try reducing electronic device usage before bed and relaxing in a quiet environment. One of my favorites is listening to a guided relaxation on my noise-canceling headphones. After doing that, I feel so relaxed that sleeping deeply is a given.

Another favorite of mine is an app called "Sleep Cycle." It monitors breathing and body movement while sleeping to calculate the optimal moment to wake you up (which happens to be when you're in the lightest phase of sleep). You'll get optimal sleep and won't feel as groggy when you wake up.

Keeping a sleep log or using sleep trackers can also provide insights into sleep patterns and adjustments that may be needed.

It’s also essential to go to bed at a consistent time every day, as late-night cravings might be a sign of tiredness rather than actual hunger. Better rest leads to fewer calories consumed, highlighting the profound impact of sleep on our eating habits.

Understanding Sleep and Metabolism

Unpacking the connection between sleep and metabolism, it becomes clear that inadequate sleep can lead to hormonal imbalances, increasing hunger and decreasing satiety. Sleep is necessary for maintaining normal insulin levels, which regulate blood sugar; sleep disruptions can trigger cravings for sugary foods, as I already mentioned.

Moreover, the circadian rhythm that helps maintain glucose homeostasis can be thrown off by late-night eating, leading to metabolic disorders and further snacking urges. Consuming more calories earlier in the day, rather than in the evening, can decrease the risk of being overweight or obese, highlighting the importance of a balanced breakfast.

By eating most of your calories earlier in the day, you won't feel like eating at night so much. If you don't feel like eating at night, you're less likely to sleep poorly, and you'll be able to manage your body weight more easily.

Mindful Eating to Combat Nighttime Cravings

Mindful eating, a concept rooted in overall mindfulness, encourages a full sensory experience of food, promoting greater appreciation and enjoyment of meals. By focusing on the present moment, including thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, mindful eating helps alter our eating habits by slowing things down. Most of us race through meals, barely chewing our food, and eating begins to look more like shoveling snow.

Eat mindfully. Chew more slowly. Don't put more food in your mouth until you've swallowed the food that's already in your gob. Learn to enjoy the flavors instead of rushing to swallow as fast as you can.

The Basics of Mindful Eating

To master mindful eating basics, try the following:

  • Be entirely present during meals

  • Immerse oneself in all facets of food, including its origin, look, flavor, aroma, and texture

  • Pay close attention to food choices

  • Understand physical hunger and satiety cues

  • Respond to these cues without judgment

  • Chew more slowly

  • Put utensils down between bites

  • No food goes into your mouth until you've finished the food you're chewing

By doing so, individuals can become more attuned to their body’s needs, reduce mindless consumption, and ultimately minimize nighttime eating.

Techniques to Stay Present While Eating

To stay present while eating, follow these tips:

  • Remove distractions such as working, scrolling through your phone, or watching TV. Distractions reduce awareness of the eating process.

  • Engage all your senses in the eating experience. Taste every bite, chew thoroughly, and swallow before taking another bite.

  • Serve modest portions.

  • Eat slowly to better recognize when you’re full and stop eating at 80%.

  • Implement a pause midway through your meal to check in with your hunger levels.

These practices can help prevent overeating and increase meal satisfaction.

Practicing gratitude before eating, by reflecting on the food’s journey to your plate, can help you become more mindful and present.

Be thankful to the person who cooked the meal, if it wasn't you. Slowing down shows respect for your significant others.

This is one of the most important practices that can help stop late-night snacking.

Journaling Your Way to Better Eating Habits

Maintaining a food diary serves as an effective instrument to elevate consciousness of your eating patterns. By recording your daily and nightly food and drink intake, you can identify patterns leading to nighttime snacking, such as skipping meals or not eating enough during the day.

A food journal is a fundamental requirement of my coaching program. It provides an invaluable reference that helps individuals understand why they eat when they’re not hungry and how their choices are connected to their well-being.

And besides that, a food journal is vital for tracking macros, ensuring that my clients are not only eating nutritious meals, but also paying attention to optimal amounts of protein, fats, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates.

Yes, you CAN have that baked potato with a little butter and sour cream. But those toppings get counted in your fat intake. Stay within the guardrails.

Start a Food Diary

Initiating a food diary involves these steps:

  • Logging exactly what you eat and drink.

  • Recording the times you consume food.

  • Noting portion sizes.

  • Tracking habits that need improvement, like excessive sugary drink intake.

Your food journal is a way to ensure that you eat balanced meals and maintain your focus on eating healthy.

In your diary, note your activities and feelings at the time of eating to identify emotional eating patterns.

"Feelings" could be anything from noticing when you experience hunger pangs to feelings of tiredness or alertness. We're looking for patterns of behavior that could have either positive or negative effects on hunger levels.

You could note things that "trigger" certain eating patterns like bingeing. I hate to use that word "trigger" since it's become so overused for everything these days, but you get the idea.

Analyze Your Eating Patterns

Analyzing your eating patterns through your food diary can lead to healthier choices and better weight management. Use recurrence measures to identify habitual food consumption patterns, including the frequency and types of food and meals.

Recognizing patterns such as specific snacking times enables you to create new, healthy habits to address these unhealthy patterns.

Preparing for Success: Healthy Snack Planning

couple cooking together

Meal and snack planning is crucial in avoiding mindless, unplanned snacking and eating, which is linked with higher calorie intake and obesity. Pre-planned snacks like frozen grapes or portion-controlled trail mix can help manage those late-night cravings.

Our goal, though, isn't to try to replace every snack you like with a healthier alternative, but rather to choose some healthier options as a way to gradually reduce and eventually eliminate most late-night snacks so that eating at night becomes an irregular, special activity, not a habit.

We're gradually working toward eliminating late-night snacking.

For many people, the best solution is to stop altogether, but the cold-turkey approach often doesn't work well.

Smart Grocery Shopping for Nighttime Snacks

Smart grocery shopping for nighttime snacks begins with adding fruits and vegetables to your cart for nutritional balance and flavor variety. Choose high-fiber and protein-rich snacks like nuts or whole-grain crackers, which can provide a feeling of fullness and help curb late-night cravings.

That's not to say that crackers are a great choice, but we take small steps toward goals. Whole-wheat crackers are a positive step toward better food choices.

Most of these foods will be found at the outer edge of the supermarket. Plan this so you have what you need on hand in your fridge or cupboard.

If hunger strikes after dinner, go for a small snack with protein and fiber, such as Greek yogurt or veggies with hummus, to satisfy hunger without impairing sleep quality.

But be aware: if you're feeling peckish an hour or two after dinner, wait 10-15 minutes. Are you actually hungry? Or are you just bored and repeating a crappy habit?

There's a big difference between real hunger and snacking out of boredom.

It also might be a good time to analyze what the dinner lacked that left you feeling that way.

And remember: stop eating at least 3 hours before bed. Longer is better.

Portion Control: The Big Kahuna

Portion control is a must. Follow your macros. If you don't have a clue what your macros should look like, get an analysis done.

By pre-portioning your snacks, you’re more likely to stick to appropriate serving sizes and maintain your daily calorie goals and macro targets. This discipline in portioning decreases the likelihood of succumbing to mindless snacking and helps keep those pesky late-night cravings in check.

Make portion-controlled snacks visible and within easy reach to ensure you make healthy choices when hunger strikes after dark.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Is snacking at night an eating disorder?

Answer: Everyone has experienced nighttime snacking. But there is moderation, and there is lack of moderation. That's the difference. If you feel that you have an eating disorder, always consult a mental health professional.

Question: I like snacking at night. Is it absolutely necessary to stop eating at night to avoid weight gain?

Answer: "Liking" something isn't a valid reason to continue doing it if it's harming your health. Nighttime eating contributes to excess calorie intake, and as such, it will make weight loss that much harder. If you're concerned about weight gain, then you need to reduce and eventually stop nighttime eating as much as possible.

Question: I don't really know much about nutritious foods that are suitable for snacking. What should I do?

Answer: There are plenty of online resources to help with that, but a wise choice is to consult with a nutrition coach or other health professional who is dedicated to helping people make better food choices.


Remember that late-night snacking isn’t an insurmountable obstacle.

Understanding the reasons behind nighttime cravings, distinguishing between emotional and physical hunger, identifying triggers, and implementing strategies like swapping junk food for healthy alternatives, establishing a satisfying evening meal plan, and redefining your nightly routine are all powerful steps.

Enhance your sleep quality, get enough sleep, practice mindful eating, journal your eating habits, plan healthy snacks, and seek help, guidance, and accountability from a nutrition coach.

Armed with these tools, you can navigate the nocturnal landscape with confidence and control and largely put an end to nighttime eating, taking control of your health, weight, and quality of life.

Disclaimer: All information provided on this website is for informational purposes only. No information provided is to be construed as medical advice. If you have medical issues, always consult your doctor..



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