food

The science behind your late night snack addiction.

Image via iStock.

When I was younger, I used to dream of going away to boarding school so I could have midnight feasts just like they did in the Enid Blyton books I devoured.

It’s something that’s always puzzled me. Why, after being perfectly satisfied throughout the day, do I suddenly feel so hungry when I should be about to head to bed, or fast asleep? And is there a way to break the habit?

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According to nutritionist and dietician Melanie McGrice, it has a lot to do with our eating habits throughout the day.

“It’s common for people to skip meals during the day, then eat in the evenings when they have more time and aren’t so rushed,” she says. (Post continues after gallery.)

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“Although this may start as convenience, the body soon adapts physiologically to start releasing ghrelin (the hunger hormone) to cause people to feel physically hungry at this time.”

A habit is then formed – which can be hard to break.

McGrice says that in some circumstances it can be a more serious condition, known as Night Eating Syndrome.

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“I’m actually working with a client at the moment who is experiencing this phenomena, where you wake up during the night with hunger pains. It’s quite a common syndrome, especially in people with mental health issues and eating disorders,” she explains.

“In those severe cases, it is often treated using cognitive behaviour therapy and mood-altering medications, as it’s a result of hormonal changes which subsequently impact appetite hormones.”

For me, the late night cravings are usually for something sweet.

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"There's no research to show whether people are more likely to crave something savoury or sweet, but anecdotally I find people are more likely to crave sweet things although many of my clients crave carbohydrates," says McGrice.

To avoid snacking late at night, McGrice suggests a simple solution.

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"Try brushing your teeth after dinner as a sign to yourself that it's time to stop eating," she says.

"Also, try having a drink of water rather than eating. If water is not enough, try a glass of milk which has a low glycemic index and will provide some slow release nutrition during the night."

To resist temptation of late night trips to the fridge, McGrice also recommends putting strategies in place to minimise the chance of you waking up during the night. (Post continues after gallery.)

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"Things like making sure that your bedroom is the correct temperature, going to the toilet before bed and putting a glass of water next to your bed so you don't have to get up if you wake up thirsty," she says.

And if you really must eat?

"Yoghurt and some fresh fruit make a great sweet evening snack as they're low GI, nutritious and satisfies people's sweet cravings," she says.


Are you also a midnight snacker? What do you do about it? 

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