1. It’s probably not the one food/snack that’s the issue, usually it’s the big picture that needs addressing.
2. Late night snacking and cravings can also happen due to bad sleep, stress, emotions, and other factors.
3. Even when dieting you don’t have to feel ravenous, this article teaches you 10 strategies that should help you kick the cravings.
If you’re notorious for late night snacking and if you’re sick of it ‘ruining’ your results, then this one’s for you.
Because why is it that even when you try your best to stick to a healthy diet during the day, that by the end of the day those damn cravings for sweets, chocolate, etc. show up again?
Now by no means will you get a”stop the late night snacking!” in this article.
But you will learn exactly WHY you’re struggling with cravings, and what to do differently so that you can get rid of them.
Because let’s be honest. Nothing is more frustrating than cravings for sweets holding you back while you’re trying to eat healthy, lose body fat, or at least not gain body fat.
What causes late night snacking?
Before you get into this section, put on your detective hat. I want you to really try to consider every point that might be (one of) the reason(s) you end up with cravings.
Be critical of yourself here, because change begins with awareness. Once you find out the possible root cause, you’ll know exactly what you need to change to finally kick those cravings.
First we’ll look at some common mistakes and causes and then we’ll talk about the changes you can make in the next section.
Your current diet is likely the culprit
While we often tend to blame the foods we crave, I’m going to challenge that by saying that it’s usually NOT the chocolate, sugar, etc. that’s the problem. On the contrary, it’s very likely that everything else needs addressing.
How often, how much, and what DO you eat?
Here are some common mistakes:
- Food quality.
The majority of your food choices are not minimally processed, whole foods that keep you full and provide you with lots of nutrients (both macro and micro). Instead most foods are highly processed foods that are often quite literally designed to be as palatable as possible.
- Trying to cut out certain foods/snacks.
Restriction often exacerbates the feeling of wanting to go for the chocolate, sweets, etc. This is why we never focus on restriction with our online coaching clients, but instead focus on ADDING MORE minimally processed foods.
- Low protein and/or fiber intake.
These two really go hand in hand with overall food quality in most cases. Both protein and fiber are very filling, and a lack of either of them can lead to some serious hunger and cravings.
- Low fat meals.
While fats are much higher in calories (9kcal/g) compared to protein and carbs (4kcal/g), it’s still very important to include your healthy fats for hormone balance, health, and more. Fats slow down digestion, and can so help avoid a big spike and crash in blood sugar after a meal.
Low carb meals.
Carbohydrate is often demonized, but is actually your body’s preferred fuel source. Carbs also include some of the most filling foods there are, like fruits and vegetables.
- Food quantity
Whether you’re trying to lose weight or maintain, eating way too little throughout the day often backfires and can lead to late night snacking and overshooting your calories. This especially goes if you’re skipping breakfast or any other meals.
Too many small feedings
Constantly snacking and often eating very small meals might sound like a great idea to some. But those frequent small feedings barely satisfy you, and will have you looking forward to your next one before you know it.
You’ve probably heard the common myth that “Eating many small meals throughout the day speeds up your metabolism and helps you burn fat”. Turns out increasing meal frequency does not do either, and can even lead to more hunger (1).
Bad sleep can lead to more cravings
Not getting enough (quality) sleep and/or having a sleep schedule that is all over the place can cause cravings because of increases in Ghrelin (a hunger hormone) and decreases in Leptin (a satiety hormone).
Combine that with low energy and motivation to cook food or just making healthier choices in general, and you’ll find yourself searching the pantry for a late night snack in no-time.
Stress, cravings, and emotional eating
This one is very personal, because in some people high stress levels can actually lead to undereating. However for many, stress can lead to more cravings and weight gain (3).
Whether you tend to under or over eat when stress is high, stress management will always be an essential part of your health and fitness journey.
While stress management does not mean you need to try and remove stress altogether, it is probably a good idea to address your overall stress load. More on how to down below.
You may also end up eating because you’re feeling bored, frustrated, angry, or sad. If that’s the case, you can likely also benefit from the same stress managing practices.
However if there’s more to it than just the ‘usual’ life stressors and/or struggles with certain emotions, then I highly recommend talking to a professional as these issues would be outside of the scope of this article.
Alcohol and THC often lead to some serious late night snacking. While these can be ways to destress, which would be a valid reason to decide not restrict yourself from these substances, context is key.
When you quit smoking cigarettes, it’s common to experience cravings. I’ve personally gone through this and will be the first to admit that I was a hangry little mess. However the health benefits of quitting smoking outweigh the downsides of cravings.
It’ll come down to willpower, accountability, and using some of the strategies we’ll discuss soon.
A current client is about to hit the 2 month mark WHILE dieting. If you want, feel free to download the same habit tracker that we used to hold him accountable throughout his journey.
Because of changes in hormones, females often experience cravings during pregnancy, as well as certain moments of the menstrual cycle.
If you’d like to learn more about how to adjust nutrition and training based on the menstrual cycle (and if you even need to), feel free to check out our menstrual cycle deep dive.
Late night snacking and cravings for sweets - the solution
Finally, the application section of this article! Learning about a topic is great, but won’t change anything yet. You’re still going to need to apply what you’ve learned.
That’s why our program is action-based. It means that I’ll provide you with the information, guidance, and accountability, but that you need to be the one who’s taking action.
You’re in charge of your habits, and here’s how you can change them to stay fuller longer, keep your blood sugar levels stable, and ultimately kick the cravings and late night snacking.
- Improve your overall food quality by making minimally processed food choices about 80% of the time.
- Don’t try to restrict your favorite snacks but instead, aim to INCLUDE them in moderation, about 20% of the time.
- Bonus tip: If you’re like me and you can’t stop eating chips, chocolate, etc. once you open the packaging, portion out your snack and put it in a little bowl.
- Eat balanced meals that are made up of a protein source, a starchy carb, some healthy fats, and a choice of fruit and/or veggies.
- Spend more time eating at maintenance, aka the amount of calories your body needs for proper function.
- Use our macro calculator and learn about TDEE to find out if you’re eating enough. Also if you do decide to go into a deficit for weight loss, try not to cut your calories too low.
- Eat meals that are big enough to actually fill you up. Although personal, around 4-5 meals spread evenly throughout the day seems to be the sweet spot for most people.
- Play with meal frequency and try to find out what works best for you without going too long without a meal.
- Improve both your sleep quality and quantity. I know, easier said than done.. If you want to dive deeper into improving your sleep habits, make sure to check out our Definitive Sleep Guide.
- If your stress load is high, try to include more stress-relieving activities like walking, meditation, journaling.
- For more suggestions feel free to check out these 20 proven stress managing methods.
- If emotional eating is an issue, try to explore your emotions. When does this happen? How do you feel? Consider getting help from a professional.
- Minimize the consumption of alcohol, but feel free to include it in moderation.
- Play around more with nutrient timing, and consider increasing your fiber/protein intake more when hunger/cravings are an issue.
You can include late night snacking WITHOUT ruining your progress
By now you probably have a good idea of which of the factors we discussed is the one that applies the most to you. I’m saying one because you’ll have a much better chance of succeeding when you ‘chase one rabbit at a time’.
Which of the 10 changes are you going to implement?
Let me know here if you’d like some extra accountability.
Don’t allow late night snacking to get in the way of your goals, instead learn how to include it in your overall healthy diet.
Because it’s probably not the one food/snack that’s the issue, usually it’s the big picture that needs addressing.
I hope you found this article useful!
- Ohkawara, Kazunori et al. “Effects of increased meal frequency on fat oxidation and perceived hunger.” Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) vol. 21,2 (2013): 336-43. doi:10.1002/oby.20032
- Kracht, Chelsea L et al. “Associations of Sleep with Food Cravings, Diet, and Obesity in Adolescence.” Nutrients vol. 11,12 2899. 30 Nov. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11122899
- Chao, Ariana et al. “Food cravings mediate the relationship between chronic stress and body mass index.” Journal of health psychology vol. 20,6 (2015): 721-9. doi:10.1177/1359105315573448