Nighttime cravings are no joke, and they hit an awful lot of us.
I remember I used to do laps around my kitchen throughout the 2 hours or so between when I put my kids to be and I finally went to bed.
I called it the ‘Kitchen Indy 500,’ and it was spent nibbling, snacking, seeking treats or wine or whatever it is I thought might hit the spot or ‘scratch that itch’ I was feeling.
Sometimes it was hunger—I felt genuinely hungry.
Other times it was something to do.
Other times, I was lonely and trying to fill a void/self-soothe.
This was particularly true when we lived in Germany when Gabe was deployed for months at a time.
From talking with lots of other women, plus taking in all the diet-related memes out there, it’s pretty apparent that nighttime eating is a challenge for many of us.
After a while—well, after finally getting sick and tired of my nighttime habits derailing my daytime efforts—I did some examination and figured out the source(s) of my snacking, which made changing this annoying pattern of behavior possible.
I figured out what my nighttime cravings were telling me.
Generally speaking, there are a few things that our nighttime cravings could be telling us.
If you’ve been struggling with late-night munchies or kitchen/pantry raids, check out these common causes and see if any, or multiple, might be true for you, too.
What your nighttime cravings might be telling you:
1. You’re exercising too much.
2. You’re not eating enough
3. You’re in superstress mode chronically (and really just need to get more sleep)
1. You’re exercising too much (or doing too much of the wrong thing).
You’re probably familiar with the ‘calories in, calories out’ concept of weight gain/loss (aka: energy balance).
We’ve all seen the calorie expenditure counter on the cardio machines, and many of us wear tracking devices (FitBits, Apple watches, etc.) that give us estimates on how many calories we burn exercising.
We think if we just burn more calories, we’ll lose more weight.
So if we feel stuck at a certain weight point, or really motivated to get into calorie-burning mode, we can get caught in the common trap of exercising more.
Then that doesn’t work as well as we thought it would or should, so we exercise even more.
Problem is, our bodies don’t work like a mathematical equation, and our weight doesn’t tip like the classic scales image would have you believe.
Instead, we start to get really good at handling that exercise load—especially if we’re doing steady-state cardio repeatedly for longer and longer periods of time. Our bodies get more efficient at doing the same work with less overall calorie burn.
What's more (and worse) these longer and longer exercise sessions can cause our bodies to have a chronically elevated level of cortisol because it’s stressed and isn’t getting enough recovery.
This is ESPECIALLY true for women over 40.
Chronically elevated cortisol adds to increased appetite due to the hormonal changes it triggers in the body—and it’s not broccoli we get hungry for, it’s those sweets and treats that hit the reward centers in our brain to restore a state of well-being and meet our bodies perceived need for more available calories.
So if you’ve been piling on the running or extra cardio or HIIT workouts but feel like you’re just getting nowhere—except tired and wired and hungry at night, consider reducing your workouts.
Try adding in recovery leisure walks to reduce your cortisol levels and take you out of a 'flight or fight' state of being, and substituting circuit training or interval work with weights instead of those extended bouts of cardio.
2. You’re not eating enough.
Ready to eat the paint off the walls when you get home?
Find yourself cramming whatever isn't nailed down into your mouth before you try and assemble dinner?
- Check and make sure you’ve eaten enough during the day. Often, our late afternoon/evening bouts of feeling ravenous come from over-restricting during the day or just plain forgetting to eat—in both cases, we’re not eating enough to sustain our energy and feel satisfied.
- Maybe having a nutritious snack planned/ready to grab can help. Something like cut veggies and a hummus dip or guacamole that you can munch on that won't throw you off course while you cook dinner. Proteins+veggies or fats+veggies can be nicely filling and calming.
- Or maybe eating a quality protein bar, or handful of nuts in the car on the drive home could help--I do this on those ‘imperfect’ afternoons. I just make sure it doesn’t impact my overall food intake by adjusting my dinner portions to accommodate what I already ate.
3. You’re in superstress mode all the time and…
That urge to eat something is a real thing when we’re tired and a little strung out. It’s def amplified when we’ve been exercising a bunch, or working long hours, and not eating enough.
The body reads it all as distress, then cortisol levels stay high, and hunger hormones get triggered, and we want to badly to ‘scratch that itch’ and give in to the resulting cravings.
So what’s a woman to do when she has these responsibilities (job, kids, family, household, community, etc), these cravings, then these restless nights over and over again??
Start by first STOPPING (hear me out!).
=>When the cravings/urges hit, stop yourself before acting on them.
If you’re craving something sugary, try having some protein—maybe Greek yogurt with berries instead.
=> Ask yourself if that food is what you really want and need, because… maybe you just need to chill and go to bed.
Maybe you need more time for yourself--even just a few minutes of peace in the evening.
Maybe you could benefit from taking a short walk.
If the winding down so you CAN go to bed is part of the issue, then try these strategies:
-Turn off the TV/screens at least 60 min before bedtime
-Try reading something for fun as downtime (supernatural fun fiction is my guilty pleasure)
- Start a relaxing activity or nightly ritual BEFORE the cravings hit:
-Take a bath
-Do some gentle yoga or stretching
-Drink some hot tea, quietly, while sitting down
MOST OF ALL: Give yourself permission to CHILL and turn off from the stuff that assaults our senses all day in modern life.
You deserve the peace and rest!
Chilling out before hitting the hay can be a huge help in improving the quality of our sleep, which in turn can help stop the Indy 500 around the kitchen at 9:30 at night!
Seriously, the next time you feel the urge to raid the kitchen and it’s later at night, ask yourself this: Maybe I should just go to bed?
Pretty sure your body will tell you YES, PLEASE and NOW.
If you’ve been struggling with nighttime cravings, check to make sure a) you’re not exercising too much, b) you’re eating enough during the day, and c) you’re not in superstress mode chronically…and that you’re getting enough sleep.
The problem isn’t likely in your willpower, it’s in how the rest of your day is being spent!
**If you’re ready to start eating and feeling better, but aren’t sure where to start, let’s talk.**
We can hop on a free, no obligations strategy call and get you some simple, actionable steps to improve your eating right away. Just shoot me an email at [email protected] and we’ll schedule a time to chat!
Always in your corner,