Night cravings: those sneaky walks to the freezer for midnight ice cream, and blaming it on sleepwalking in the morning.
Those sudden urges for comfort food just hours after eating dinner (you tell yourself you're just stocking up on energy for your early morning meeting) often don't let up until you give in.
Health coaches like myself like to do "craving hacks"—discovering the "why" beneath the craving so you can stop it. Physically, your body may be trying to tell you that it's lacking nutrients that you intentionally or unintentionally deprived it of during the day. Emotionally, night cravings occur to help us deal with feelings we don't want to feel, like loneliness or sadness or anxiety.
Take this five-step checklist to hack your cravings and cure them for good:
1. Check in with yourself about what you ate today.
There's no point in trying to avoid a craving if your body is actually starving. If you're craving ice cream (not just out of habit) you might need more protein or fat. If you're craving toast with butter, maybe you didn't eat enough whole grains or healthy fats during the day. If you didn't eat lunch at all, well, the craving is self-explanatory. The simplest and fastest way to cure night cravings is to eat "magic plate" meals every four hours. Magic plate means including a lean protein, healthy fats, green veggies, and a healthy carbohydrate such as sweet potatoes, whole grains or squashes.
2. Do a quick "how-do-I-feel?" scan.
Eating consistent healthy meals might cure physical cravings, but may not touch on emotional stresses, especially at night. It's late, you've got TV for company and are dreading work the next day. Chocolate ice cream is calling your name.
Pause. Check in with yourself. Ask yourself how you're feeling. Lonely? Sad? Angry? It may be that your craving is just a distraction. The best grilled cheese sandwich or chocolate chip cookie might ease emotional discomfort for a moment, but the guilt afterward will make you feel worse than you felt before you ate. Then you risk the cycling continuing with another snack. "Self-love" may sound trite or silly, but give it a chance. You deserve more than a crappy box of Oreos to feel happy.
3. Do something nourishing instead.
Eating late at night weighs heavily on your digestive system, leading to a restless sleep. It also disrupts your body's ability to detoxify, leaving you tired and listless the next morning. Give yourself a facial or take a bubble bath to wind down for the evening and relax your mind. Do some light reading, listen to music, try therapeutic coloring—nourishing your mind is just as important as nourishing your appetite. You may find that your craving was simply restlessness or boredom.
4. Upgrade your night craving food.
If you've done steps 1, 2, and 3 and you're still craving something, upgrade your choice of snack. If you're eating, you should be eating the healthiest, highest-quality version of the food you're craving. If it's pizza, try an alternative gluten-free crust with organic veggies, meats, and cheese. If you're dying for a fruit pie with whipped cream, try an organic baked apple with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a dollop of Greek yogurt instead. If your sweet tooth begs for candy, try a couple of dates or dried apricots. If you're craving ice cream, eat the non-GMO, organic version that's made with coconut milk instead of dairy. Your body will naturally respond to the healthier alternative by feeling more satisfied, and your mind can be at ease as well.
5. Eat your night craving food mindfully.
If it's 3 a.m. and you can't sleep because your craving has taken over your life, then we recommend thinking about a different way to approach your object of attraction—that last chocolate brownie, for instance.
Instead of grabbing it out the fridge, shoving it in your mouth and swallowing it whole with little recollection of how it tasted or what it even was, approach your brownie mindfully. This means paying attention to the appearance and smell of the brownie. Respect your treat by placing it on your favorite plate and sitting down to eat it. Chew slowly, savoring every bite. Pay attention to how the flavor shifts and becomes more complex the more you chew. Breathe between bites. This kind of mindful eating will satisfy your craving more than the brownie itself.