Many women wish they could stop craving food at night.
As a mom, it’s especially easy to fall into the habit of snacking on your favorite foods after dinner, once your little ones are asleep and you finally have a moment to yourself.
Some try ignoring these cravings. But when not dealt with, cravings can intensify as the day progresses. Which often means that a small craving beginning in the afternoon can easily morph into an all-you-can-eat marathon come nighttime.
As a registered dietitian, I’ve amassed an arsenal of tips to help people minimize their cravings.
In this article, I’d like to share 20 ways stop craving food when you’re not actually hungry, especially at night.
1. Identify the Underlying Cause
The first step to reducing cravings is identifying their cause.
Cravings can be caused by a range of factors, whether that’s not eating enough during the day, using food as a coping mechanism to deal with emotions or simply by habit.
Most cravings are either mental or physical in nature. Mental cravings are often caused by emotions such as boredom, loneliness, anger, worry and even happiness.
On the other hand, physical cravings are caused by factors such as too little — or poor quality — sleep, an unbalanced diet or, in some cases, a hormonal imbalance.
Identifying what triggers your cravings is instrumental in helping you pick the right strategy to deal with them.
A great way to do this is to keep a cravings journal. Each time you feel a craving arise, write down the time, place, and accompanying circumstances or feelings you are experiencing at that moment.
Over time, you’ll likely spot a pattern which will help you identify your triggers.
In sum Cravings are often either physical or mental. Identifying the underlying cause to yours, for instance by using a cravings journal, can help you pick the right strategy to deal with them.
2. Eat Enough During the Day
Eating too little calories during the day can definitely increase your food cravings at night.
Studies show that eating insufficient calories throughout the day can cause you to feel overly hungry come nighttime, increasing the likelihood you reach for high-fat or high-sugar junk foods rather than more nutritious ones (1).
One way to ensure you eat enough during the day is to tune into your hunger and satiety signals. These are your body’s way to communicate true physical hunger needs.
If you find it tricky to distinguish true physical hunger from mental hunger, feel free to download the printable worksheet below.
You should strive to always respond to your body’s signals of physical hunger with food. To do this, make sure you eat the amount of food needed for your hunger cue to disappear — yet without eating so much as to feel overly full.
In sum Eating too little during the day can intensify your food cravings at night. To prevent this from happening, let yourself guided by your hunger and satiety cues to determine when and how much to eat.
3. Eat More Protein
Protein is a nutrient that can reduce hunger and help you feel fuller for longer.
To illustrate this point, one study adjusted participants’ diets to provide either 14% or 25% of their calories from protein. Those in the higher protein group experienced greater fullness throughout the day, and cut their cravings by 62% (5).
According to research, you may get most appetite-reducing benefits by including around 25-30 grams of protein per meal (2).
Here’s a list of 21 protein-rich plant foods.
In sumEating enough protein can reduce cravings and help you feel fuller for longer. Try including 25-30 grams of protein to each meal.
4. Increase Your Fiber Intake
Just like protein, certain type of fibers may help reduce hunger and cravings (6).
There are two types of fiber; soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber has the ability to soak up water in your gut, increasing feelings of fullness. Because of this, it seems to be the type of fiber that provides the strongest hunger-reducing effect (8).
Soluble fiber also feeds the friendly bacteria living in your gut, which in turn produce short-chain fatty acids that help reduce inflammation and symptoms of gut disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (9, 10, 11).
On the other hand, insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stools and helps speed up how quickly food passes through your gut, reducing the likelihood of constipation (12).
So both types are worth including into your diet. Plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds are some of the foods richest in fiber. So aim to add some to each meal and snack.
In sum Some types of fiber can increase feelings of fullness, reducing hunger and the likelihood of cravings. Try adding fiber-rich foods to every meal.
5. Seek New Coping Mechanisms
We all need to eat to live — that’s a fact.
But food is often more than just fuel. It can also bring us joy or comfort. It’s no wonder we celebrate birthdays with cake, drink more on holiday or turn to a bag of chips after a stressful day.
Despite knowing this, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of relying on food to help us cope with emotions — particularly negative ones such as stress, boredom, loneliness or procrastination.
If you find yourself struggling with this, start by identifying the need that your craving is filling for you.
For instance, has craving chewy cookies while watching your favorite Netflix series become your way to deal with a stressful day? Or has food become what you resort to when feeling lonely or bored?
If so, your cravings are likely to subside when you replace them with non-food related activities serving the same purpose.
For instance, yoga or meditation to combat stress, diving into a new book to combat boredom or a video call with a loved one to cure loneliness.
In sum Food sometimes acts as a coping mechanism to help reduce negative emotions. If you notice this is the case for you, try replacing foods with non-food related activities serving the same purpose.
6. Seek Professional Support
Nighttime eating is sometimes caused by eating disorders such as night eating syndrome and binge eating disorder.
Nighttime eating syndrome causes people to eat large amounts of food after their evening meal. They also often wake up to eat in the during the night to eat — often consuming more than a quarter of their calories at night (13).
On the other hand, binge eaters eat very large amounts of foods in one sitting and generally feel out of control while doing so (14).
In sum Food cravings, especially at night, may be caused by night eating syndrome or binge eating disorder. Professional support can help reduce binge eating and help you stop eating in the middle of the night.
7. Reduce Your Convenience
Convenience is a busy mom’s best friend. But when it comes to food, the easier it is to see or access a food, the more likely you are to crave it or overindulge in it.
To demonstrate this effect, researchers placed bowls of Hershey Kisses in three
different spots; on a secretary’s desk, in her desk drawer or 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from her desk.
They repeated this test with many different secretaries. Overall, secretaries ate an average of 9 pieces per day when the Hershey Kisses were placed on their desk, 6 pieces if in the desk and 4 if they had to walk to get them (17).
So keeping less nutritious snacks hidden away can help reduce your cravings for them.
You can also inconvenience yourself by opting to keep a certain food — for instance cookies — out of the house all-together and simply bake some you crave them.
This will likely reduce the amount of cookies you eat at night, and has the added bonus of providing you with more nutrient-dense cookies when you do decide to bake a batch.
You can also make this tip work for you by conveniently keeping nutritious foods on hand so you’re more tempted to pick them over less nutritious options.
For instance, by keeping a bowl full of fresh fruit on your kitchen counter, or pre-cut vegetables on your refrigerator shelf rather than hidden away in the refrigerator drawer.
In sum The less convenient it is to see or grab a food, the less likely you are to crave it. So it’s best to keep foods you’d rather avoid mindlessly snacking on tucked away or out of the house all-together.
8. Avoid Going to the Supermarket Hungry
Doing your groceries when hungry is a bad idea.
That’s because supermarkets are stocked with a variety of foods, including the less nutritious ones that you may rather avoid craving.
Plus, most supermarkets have the tendency to place the unhealthiest foods at eye level, prompting your subconscious to pick them up.
Placing yourself in a situation which requires you to make food choices when hungry increases the likelihood you’ll bring a bag of chips or pint of dairy-free ice cream home.
And knowing that these foods are conveniently waiting in your pantry or freezer ups the chance you’ll give into your cravings come nighttime.
In sum Eating before doing your groceries can help reduce the likelihood you’ll impulsively buy the less nutritious foods you tend to crave.
9. Develop New Associations
Sometimes, cravings may occur simply because you’ve taught your body to mindlessly crave certain foods in certain situations. This is known as food associations.
For instance, craving popcorn as soon as you enter a movie theater, a glass of wine while reading a good book or a chocolate bar while listening to your favorite podcast.
Ot reduce this type of food cravings, it’s best to build new associations — ideally ones not related to food.
For example, you could try replacing the bag of popcorn with a mug of tea at the movies and the wine with a warm bath. Or you could try keeping your hands busy by knitting rather than eating while listening to your podcast.
Repeating these new associations will help strengthen them, over time, reducing your previous food cravings.
In sum Sometimes, cravings for a certain food may be associated to a specific situation. Building new associations that aren’t related to food is a great way to reduce this type of cravings.
10. Get Enough Sleep
Getting plenty of sleep is instrumental in decreasing your cravings.
That’s because your appetite is in large part affected by hormones, whose levels fluctuate through your body during the day.
Too little shut eye can disrupt their normal fluctuations, increasing your appetite and intensifying your cravings. This may explain why sleep-deprived people are up to 55% more likely to become obese than those who get enough sleep (18, 19, 20).
As a busy mom, getting enough, high-quality sleep can be a true challenge. Going to bed an hour earlier and having a short nap in the afternoon while your little one sleeps may be two beneficial strategies — but find what works best for you!
In sum Getting enough sleep can help reduce cravings and keep your appetite in check. It may also help prevent unwanted weight gain. So try investing some time in finding sleep-promoting strategies that work for you.
11. Take a Breather
When you feel a craving coming on, try to mentally distance yourself from it.
Often times, taking a mental breather can shift your focus elsewhere and nip your craving in the bud.
A few ways ideas you may want to try include taking a quick walk around the block, having a chat with a friend or colleague or jotting down a few items on your to do list.
In sum When you feel a craving come on, distancing yourself from it by focusing on something else — while chewing gum — can sometimes prevent it from escalating.
12. Plan Your Treats
Sometimes, despite taking a breather, you may find that your cravings remain at the forefront of your mind.
And the harder you try to avoid thinking about them, the likelier they are to occupy your mind. Psychologists describe this phenomenon as the “ironic process theory” (23).
This theory states that your deliberate attempts to suppress your thoughts only make them more likely to surface.
To illustrate this principle, try thinking about anything except a pink elephant for the next 30 seconds. Then see how long it takes before a pink elephant comes to mind.
So instead of fighting to suppress your cravings, try planning for them instead.
For instance, pick one food you typically crave and plan the exact moment in the week when you will enjoy it. Then, every time a craving surfaces, you’ll be able to redirect your mind to your planned moment.
This has the potential to decrease the urge you feel for that particular food in the moment, by reminding you of the concrete opportunity to enjoy it at a later point.
In sum Planning your treats can make it easier to redirect your thoughts when a craving arises. This helps keep cravings from occupying the forefront of your mind, effectively reducing their strength in the moment.
13. Drink More Fluids
Maintaining a good hydration is another way to reduce cravings.
Often times, we mistake thirst for hunger or cravings. So when you feel a sudden urge to eat a specific food, try drinking a large glass of water first.
There’s a good chance that your craving will fade away within a few minutes simply because your body was actually thirsty rather than hungry.
Drinking water before meals or snacks can also create a feeling of fullness.
So at the very least, even if drinking water doesn’t make your craving completely disappear, there’s a good chance it will help you eat less of the food you crave than you would have otherwise (24, 25, 26).
In sum Drinking water may help reduce cravings because thirst is often mistaken for hunger. Drinking water before eating a food you crave may also help minimize the overall amount of food you consume.
14. Eat Rather Than Drink Your Calories
Although a good hydration may help reduce cravings, eating your calories rather than drinking them is generally a more favorable strategy.
That’s because liquids don’t tend to trigger the same satiety mechanisms as foods do. Therefore, your body may have a harder time compensating for the calories you drink by naturally causing you to eat less (27).
So whenever possible, opt to chew your foods rather than drink them.
For instance, eat a raw fruit rather than drink its juice or top blended frozen fruit and milk with nuts, seeds and oats to eat as a smoothie bowl rather than rather than completely blending these same ingredients to make a smoothie.
Similarly, eating a soup containing ingredients that require chewing for dinner rather than a completely blended version may help you stop snacking after dinner.
In sum Eating your calories rather than drinking them can help you feel less hungry and cause you to eat less, including at night.
15. Try Meal Planning
Some people find that planning their meals ahead of time can help reduce cravings.
That’s because knowing exactly what you are going to eat can help reduce both uncertainty or decision fatigue.
Knowing exactly what foods to buy at the grocery store, and which meal or snack you can look forward to can also make it easier to reduce temptations for less nutritious foods — especially if you’ve planned for satisfying meals or snacks.
In sum Meal planning is a strategy that may help some people reduce temptations for less nutritious foods.
16. Reduce Stress
Stress is often linked to cravings.
Research shows that women under stress experience more cravings and are prone to eating more than when they aren’t stressed (31).
So if you’re feeling stressed, it may be worth experimenting with ways to reduce that feeling, whether that’s meditation, yoga, talking a walk or having a chat with a loved one.
In sum Keeping stress to a minimum may help reduce the likelihood you’ll find yourself on the couch, craving a certain food come nighttime.
17. Eat Mindfully
Being mindful of your body’s hunger and satiety signals throughout the day can make it easier to only eat when you’re actually hungry, and stop when you no longer are.
Doing this successfully can prevent you from becoming overly hungry, thereby reducing the likelihood you’ll succumb to cravings come nighttime.
Moreover, eating mindfully — for instance by minimizing external distractions such as the T.V. or computer during your meals and snacks — allows your brain to register that you’ve actually eaten.
It can also help keep you from craving food when you’re not actually hungry.
Studies show that mindful eating is effective at cutting binge eating episodes in half. It also appears to reduce the severity of each individual binge (35).
To eat more mindfully, try actively choosing to enjoy all your meals and snacks exclusively at the dinner table, without doing anything else at the same time.
This will naturally keep you from multitasking or being distracted by your favorite Netflix series!
In sum Being mindful of your body’s hunger cues and minimizing external distractions while you eat can help reduce cravings or help you deal with them more appropriately.
18. Limit Variety
When it comes to your nighttime snacks, it may pay off to limit your options.
According to research, having a wider variety of foods to choose from can lead you to eat up to 23% more (36).
This phenomenon, which experts call “sensory-specific satiety,” refers to the idea that your senses get numbed after being repeatedly exposed to the same stimulus, such as the same flavors, many times.
The wider the variety of flavors you indulge in during a nighttime craving, the more delayed this natural numbing appears to be and the higher the chances you’ll eat a larger quantity.
Interestingly, simply thinking there’s more variety may produce similar effects.
For instance, in one study, researchers gave participants bowls with 10 colors M&Ms and others bowls with 7 colors M&Ms. Those given the 10 colors to choose from ate 43 more candies, despite them all tasting the same (37).
To ensure sensory-specific satiety works for you, limit your choices to one or two options — for instance, chips, salted nuts, olives or popcorn rather than all four.
In sum Limiting your options when it comes to nighttime snacking can help limit the magnitude of your craving, ultimately helping you eat less. So try sticking to one to two flavors at a time.
19. Slow Down
Slowing down when eating is an integral part of eating mindfully, and a great strategy to reduce food cravings.
Slow eaters tend to eat less, fell fuller and rate their meals as more pleasant than those with the tendency to eat more quickly (38).
The reason slowing down works is because it allows more time for your body to release the hormones that promote feelings of fullness.
So taking at least 20-30 minutes to eat your meal or snack can help your brain realize you’ve had enough before you reach for that second serving (39).
If you have a natural tendency to eat very quickly, you may find that eating with your non-dominant hand, putting your fork down between each bite or replacing the fork with chopsticks forces you to slow down.
In sum Eating more slowly gives your body the time to experience feelings of fullness, which can help you eat less, enjoy your meals more and likely reduce food cravings.
20. Replace Cravings With Healthier Alternatives
Sometimes, you might be craving the properties a particular food offers rather than the actual food itself.
For instance, the crunch of chips, the chewiness of cookies or ice-cream’s melting properties. In such cases, replacing the food you’re craving with healthier alternatives offering the same properties can help reduce that craving.
For example, swapping those chips with a seaweed snack, roasted chickpeas or homemade popcorn are some ways to get your fix, yet in a more nutrient-rich way.
In sum Replacing your food cravings with more nutritious alternatives offering the same properties may help successfully reduce your initial food craving.
To help inspire you, I’ve created a list of healthier alternatives to the most common cravings. Feel free to download your free copy below.
To Sum It Up
Most mamas have dealt with food cravings at one point or another.
The tips above are meant to equip you to deal with yours better. That said, if despite it all, you still crave that less nutritious food option, I suggest simply giving into it fully, by mindfully enjoying every bite without an ounce of guilt.
Which tips do you think are most likely to work for you? Let chat about them in the comments below.