Late-Night Cravings: A Powerful Way to Cope

Do you ever blow your diet at night after being good all day? Try this!

Posted Nov 03, 2019

In parts one and two of this series on late-night food cravings, we talked about four ways to cope with seemingly irresistible nighttime urges.

They were (for a more detailed explanation please see part one and part two of this series):  

  • Define a Specific "Sundown" Time: As silly as this may sound, if you want to stop overeating at night, you'll need to know when night starts. Otherwise, there's no way to measure and/or improve. Just like the characters in a vampire movie know to be more alert and act very differently after dark vs. when the sun is up, you too will need to know when your personal "sundown" is. This doesn't have to correspond to physical daylight and dark in the real world, it just has to be a specific and measurable time.
  • Create a Personalized Nighttime Anti-Craving Ritual: These varied greatly among clients and readers who'd stopped overeating at night as they adjusted them to personal preference. That said, successful rituals followed a clear pattern with three elements: (1) physical demarcation such as moving to another part of the house, (2) physical cleansing such as using mouthwash, moisturizer, or even taking a shower and changing one's clothes and (3) transitioning to alternative activities, which may include “allowed” foods or drinks such as tea, warm almond milk with stevia, etc.  
  • Personalized Mantras: Create a custom mantra such as "dinner and done" or "kitchen's closed!" to emphasize when you want the day's eating to be done. Repeat it whenever the craving hits. Accompanying this with a physical gesture such as clapping your hands three times as if you were dusting them off can enhance effectiveness. 
  • Adjustments to Meal Timing, Size, and Nutrition: Try to enhance your satisfaction with food during the day. Have a hearty breakfast, medium-sized lunch, and a reasonably light but ultra-nutritious dinner. Move your dinner to later in the evening and your breakfast to earlier in the morning in order to create a shorter overnight fasting window. Never skip breakfast. Eat lunch a little later than normal. If not medically contraindicated, add more leafy green vegetables during the day. Consider including protein with dinner to keep you more satiated. Check your vitamin D levels with your doctor. (It helps regulate evening blood sugar). If you use any of the point counting programs, try to finish your points with your dinner. Don't "save them up" for late-night treats. Plan out your evening meals in the morning before leaving for work.

Today I'd like to talk about a very powerful fifth way to cope with strong nighttime food cravings—increasing daytime food satisfaction! See, it turns out people who struggle with nighttime overeating tend to be less satisfied with what they're eating during the day. This is true above and beyond the nutritional and caloric value of their daytime eating, although both of these also have a significant impact. It's almost like there's a little voice in our heads which says "Hey, not fair! We didn't get enough yummy stuff today, so we deserve a treat before bed!" 

To counter this, you can study the principles of healthy flavor enhancements and learn how to make your daytime food taste better (and feel more satiating) without compromising your health and fitness goals. Here's a little summary excerpted from my book on the topic:

  • Proper Use of Herbs: Hardier herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, and marjoram are better added to your meal earlier in the cooking process so they can release maximum flavor while simultaneously developing a less abrasive texture. More delicate herbs like chives, cilantro, parsley, and basil are better added last minute.
  • Include Higher Quality Condiments: Consider some high-quality condiment choices like wasabi, bean puree, flavored mustard, salsa, horseradish, etc. Use them when you marinate and cook for extra flavor, or after your meal is prepared to add some extra hot kick to your dish.
  • Lemon Juice and Red Wine Vinegar: If you want to add some extra flavor to your dish without adding salt, butter, and/or oil you can consider acidic edibles like lemon juice, red wine vinegar, orange juice, limes, etc. If you’re going to use citrus, make sure it’s fresh. Citrus loses its vibrancy—especially in juice form—when it sits around too long. This can actually detract from the flavor of your dish making it taste duller and flatter. But fresh citrus is amazing!
  • Use Spices and Grind Them Fresh When You Can: If you can occasionally afford the time to grind your own spices, you’ll find them to be more flavorful, especially if you toast them in a dry skillet first. But even if you can’t, some ginger, turmeric, habanero (and other) peppers, coriander, paprika, nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, cloves, etc., added to your taste (carefully at first), can make all the difference in your dish. It’s important to throw out your old spices, and then to clean and consolidate them in your cabinet so you’re both very conscious of your spice inventory and eager to utilize them whenever you can.
  • Do Not Remove the Seeds from Tomatoes: Don’t remove the seeds from your tomatoes before you cook them and/or put them in a salad. The seed is where most of the flavor lives!
  • Garlic: If you like it, make liberal use and learn how to maximize its flavor. Garlic becomes hotter and more pungent the more finely you chop it up. Grating it on a grater or crushing it in a press creates much finer particles than hand-chopping, further strengthening the flavor. Combining garlic with a little sea salt and crushing it with a mortar and pestle produces the most intense garlic flavor – usually too intense for all but the most avid garlic lovers, or to really enhance the flavor of a salad dressing. If you want the sweetness and aroma of garlic without the heat you can throw it in the microwave for 30 seconds before you use it. This deactivates the enzymes that trigger the “hot” garlic flavor. According to Chef Kenji Lopez-Alt, combining raw garlic with heated garlic in a dish produces the most interesting complexity of flavors of all. “A single dish with slow-cooked whole cloves along with some sauteed sliced garlic and just a bit of raw grated garlic at the end fires on all of its garlicky cylinders,” he says (Lopez-Alt, 2017). Also, for the most health benefits from Allicin (the immune-boosting and cancer-fighting factor in garlic) always use fresh garlic, not bottled. Garlic in water loses half its allicin in six days, whereas garlic stored in oil loses that much in just three hours! Also, to maximize the formation of allicin compounds, cut the garlic and wait 10 to 15 minutes before cooking. This allows the compounds to form before heat inactivates the enzymes.  Finally, to get rid of garlic breath, floss your teeth and/or chew on some parsley.
  • Roasting Vegetables: You can add a tremendous amount of flavor to your dishes without adding many calories if you add some roasted vegetables. It’s not at all necessary to coat your vegetables with oil when you roast them in the oven. It takes a little longer to achieve the color and texture you’re accustomed to, but it can and will happen. Root vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and carrots are some of the best vegetables to roast.
  • Dehydrating Vegetables: If you’re not a fan of roasting you can also dehydrate your vegetables. Chop up a bunch of celery and put it in the blender. Then spread it out with a spatula on the parchment paper to go in your dehydrator. Dehydrate it for about 24 hours at 115 degrees, then peel it off the paper and put it back in the blender (better yet, a coffee grinder) and you’ll have made “celery salt.” Celery salt has no sodium chloride and reportedly doesn’t affect your blood pressure (ask your doctor before relying on this please), yet you shouldn’t miss your regular table salt. This is just one of the many things you can do with a dehydrator. Making “sun-dried” tomatoes is another. Adding just a few to your salad can make all the difference in taste and satiation. But pretty much any vegetable you can eat, you can dehydrate to concentrate the flavor!
  • Dehydrating Fruits: Used carefully, dehydrated fruits can add a tremendous amount of flavor to your dishes. Even just a few raisins, dehydrated blueberries, strawberries, etc. can turn a boring salad into a more enjoyable meal. And there are all sorts of reasonably healthy desserts you can make with dehydrated bananas, dates, etc. But because they are very caloric, use with caution. Not everyone can eat dehydrated fruit – know yourself first.

This concludes my series on managing intense nighttime food cravings.  For more practical tips and tricks to overcome overeating at all times of day, including a detailed video introduction, see here.

References

Blackburn, K. B. (2018, February). What happens when you overeat? Retrieved from https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/What-happens-when-you-overeat.h23Z1592202.html

Harb, A., Levandovski, R., Oliveira, C., Caumo, W., Allison, K. C., Stunkard, A., & Hidalgo, M. P. (2012). Night eating patterns and chronotypes: A correlation with binge eating behaviors. Psychiatry Research,200(2-3), 489-493. doi:10.1016/j.psychres. 2012.07.004

Hand, J. (n.d.). Binge Eating at Night? Here’s How To Stop [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/the-3-things-you-need-to-do-to-stop-overeating-at-night

Hyman, M. “8 Steps to Stop Your Nighttime Binges.”   [Blog post. Retrieved from https://drhyman.com/blog/2013/10/09/8-steps-stop-nighttime-binges/]

Blackburn, K. B. (2018, February). What happens when you overeat? Retrieved from https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/What-happens-when-you-overeat.h23Z1592202.html

Harb, A., Levandovski, R., Oliveira, C., Caumo, W., Allison, K. C., Stunkard, A., & Hidalgo, M. P. (2012). Night eating patterns and chronotypes: A correlation with binge eating behaviors. Psychiatry Research,200(2-3), 489-493. doi:10.1016/j.psychres. 2012.07.004

Hand, J. (n.d.). Binge Eating at Night? Here’s How To Stop [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/the-3-things-you-need-to-do-to-stop-overeating-at-night

Hyman, M. “8 Steps to Stop Your Nighttime Binges.”   [Blog post. Retrieved from https://drhyman.com/blog/2013/10/09/8-steps-stop-nighttime-binges/]

Vanner, C. (2018, March 20th). “The Best Ways to Make Your Food More Flavorful.”   Retrieved from https://www.forkly.com/food-hacks/20-ways-to-make-your-food-more-flavorful/

OHSU News. (2013, April 29). Study explains what triggers those late-night snack cravings. Retrieved from https://news.ohsu.edu/2013/04/29/study-explains-what-triggers-those-late-night-snack-cravings

Sass, C. (2017, January 31). The Surprising Reason You Snack at Night (and How to Stop It). Retrieved from https://www.health.com/obesity/the-surprising-reason-you-snack-at-night-and-how-to-stop-it

West, H. (2016, June 21). 10 Clever Ways to Stop Eating Late at Night. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-ways-to-stop-eating-late-at-night

Obrien, D. (Date not published). “4 Tips for Cooking with Garlic.”   Retrieved from http://www.eatingwell.com/article/275955/4-tips-for-how-to-cook-with-garlic/

OHSU News. (2013, April 29). Study explains what triggers those late-night snack cravings. Retrieved from https://news.ohsu.edu/2013/04/29/study-explains-what-triggers-those-late-night-snack-cravings

Sass, C. (2017, January 31). The Surprising Reason You Snack at Night (and How to Stop It). Retrieved from https://www.health.com/obesity/the-surprising-reason-you-snack-at-night-and-how-to-stop-it

Vanner, C. (2018, March 20th). “The Best Ways to Make Your Food More Flavorful.”   Retrieved from https://www.forkly.com/food-hacks/20-ways-to-make-your-food-more-flavorful/

West, H. (2016, June 21). 10 Clever Ways to Stop Eating Late at Night. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-ways-to-stop-eating-late-at-night