If you struggle with nighttime sugar cravings, this article will show you the easiest way to end these cravings for good.
The most difficult hours for most people trying to improve their eating habits are the hours after dinner. This is when explosive sugar cravings can take over and compel you into making food choices that you might regret. Is this nagging craving a sign of your lacking willpower? Or is there a valid reason why you have out of control evening cravings?
If nighttime sugar cravings are sabotaging your healthy eating, know there is hope. This isn’t all in your mind. There are biological reasons you’ve been seeking some sweets satisfaction at night. And there are easy steps you can take to help make your nighttime sugar binges history.
The science behind your sugar cravings
There’s science behind your nighttime cravings. What and when you crave is biological. And a first step to fighting nighttime sugar cravings is understanding this so that you can start to make choices that will help you get the most out of your biology.
First, it is important to point out that sugar is extremely addictive – which means the sugar you eat, the more of it you crave. Sugar dumps dopamine, a pleasure inducing neurotransmitter, into the body which can make sugar as addictive as hard drugs, research shows. And just like with drugs, the more you consume, the more you’ll crave.
Nest, your body is controlled by circadian rhythms that help you know things like when it’s time to sleep or time to eat. And there is research that actually shows that through your natural circadian rhythms, you are hardwired to crave sweet and starchy foods at night.
This may have been beneficial to our ancestors who needed to store energy reserves in case of times of famine. But these nighttime sugar cravings may not be so beneficial to you when you’re trying to lose weight.
Hormones and cravings
Additionally, your circadian rhythms are assisted by hormones that directly control when you’re hungry and when you’re full. Balancing these hormones is essential to ending nighttime sugar cravings. And don’t worry if this sounds confusing because we’ll go over how to do this in a minute.
Let’s first look at a hormone called insulin and how it affects hunger levels. You might have heard of insulin in its relationship to type 2 diabetes. When someone is diabetic, they are said to be insulin resistant. Insulin can have a direct impact on sugar cravings.
When you eat too much junk food, you’ll have an insulin spike, and then a crash. And when insulin crashes, you’re left feeling very hungry. Lowering insulin levels so they don’t crash can on its own make you crave and eat less.
There are other hormones in your body that control your appetite. Leptin in a hormone that signals your brain that you’ve eaten enough and ghrelin is a hormone tells your brain you’re hungry. And if these hormones malfunction, your brain can actually get signals that you’re hungry when you’re really full. And as a result, trigger nighttime sugar cravings.
If you’re under stress you might have too much cortisol in your body. Now stress on its own can make you want to eat too much. But cortisol also diminishes the hunger-reducing leptin in your body. Studies show that those who are under stress have stronger sugar cravings than someone not experiencing stress.
Eat to reduce sugar cravings
But while sugar cravings might be rooted in biology, you have the power to overcome this predisposition to nighttime sugar cravings. By making better choices throughout your day, you can help weaken the desire to eat sweets in the evening. You might have experienced nighttime overeating for years. But there are things your can do to break the cycle.
First, have a breakfast that includes a high quality protein. This might mean some hard boiled eggs, an omelet or a fruit smoothie made with a high quality protein powder. According to research, eating a high protein breakfast actually reduces craving for both sweet and savory.
Additionally, you may want to increase your protein intake at every meal as many people eat way too little protein. Think of lean chicken, turkey or fish, or for vegetarians think lentils or tofu. Adequate protein is needed to stabilize the hormones that cause cravings when imbalanced.
Make sure to include high quality carbohydrates during your day. It can be tempting to skip carbohydrate when trying to eat healthier or lose weight, but high protein/ low-carbohydrate diets can actually increase sugar cravings, studies show. Make sure to include some type of healthy carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, pumpkins, quinoa and brown rice in your diet daily.
Change habits that trigger sugar cravings
Make sure to eat regularly throughout the day. While it can be challenging to find the time to schedule regular meals, skipping meals is setting you up for nighttime sweets cravings. Your internal hormonal clock relies on you eating regularly to stay in balance. When your natural circadian rhythm is disrupted, your hunger might not decline at bedtime as it should, leading to increased nighttime sugar cravings.
It is very important to fight stress, research shows that the stress hormone cortisol will directly cause sugar cravings. While reducing stress can seem a daunting task, there are many options for stress reduction throughout the day. This may include breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, journaling, walking through nature and using stress reducing essential oils like bergamot, lavender and frankincense.
Make sure to get between 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Sleep deprivation is directly linked to poor food choices and junk food cravings. Plus, your circadian rhythm will dip and rise at the wrong times without proper sleep which will also increase your sugar cravings.
Make changes in your home to cut sugar temptation
Clean out your refrigerator and your food cupboard to make sure that you don’t have any sugary temptation waiting to lead you into a nighttime binge. Sometimes just seeing a food or knowing that it’s there can trigger cravings and the desire for immediate gratification, research shows. Keep sugary treats like cookies, cakes and ice cream as snacks you eat outside the home.
Choose healthier dessert options if you feel compelled to finish your meal with something sweet. Think of having an apple, a few frozen grapes, or maybe just some fruit flavored herbal tea. For a little extra help with sugar cravings at night, try adding some cinnamon to tea or to a small amount of apple sauce. Cinnamon can help balance blood sugar and reduce cravings.
Find nighttime activities that are engaging and distracting. Studies show that nighttime boredom and anxiety are huge problems contributing to cravings and emotional eating. Don’t put yourself in a situation where food is your only distraction or comfort or it will be difficult to reduce your reliance on evening sweets. Exercise, engage in a hobby, spend time with loved ones or read a good book. Just find some enjoyable evening activity that doesn’t involve food.
You can take back control over your sugar cravings
It is easy to feel like a victim to your eating habits. When something has become a pattern for so many years, it can seem overwhelming to imagine that you could possibly break free. But you are in control. And now you can probably identify some habits that have been helping you crave after-dinner sweets.
As we discussed, there are many things that can really lead to a diet transformation. But now you need to identify the things that are your personal issues. Maybe you need to eat more regularly, or switch from that morning bagel to something with a bit more protein. Or maybe you need to find some helpful habits for stress reduction. Whatever it is, the power is in your hands to make effective change.
Go ahead and make changes to those habits. Because that is really all they are: habits. And watch and see what happens when horrible sugar cravings no longer dominate your evenings.
What do you think is triggering your nighttime sugar cravings?