night eating

It’s dark outside and the house is quiet but your stomach is rumbling. Your hunger has trumped your fatigue, and you stand barefoot in pajamas in front of your refrigerator, perusing its offerings and trying to decide what to eat. Do you: A) Choose some fresh vegetables to chop and whip up a green salad, complete with whole grains like quinoa, as well as some lean protein? Or B) Indulge in some leftover pizza, a mouthful of cheese puffs or a bowl of chocolate ice cream?

If you are like most humans, your nightly munchies consist of poor nutritional choices and various junk foods that slip in once the hours get late. Why do late night snacks seem to be particularly tempting? And why does junk food taste so damn good after midnight? Although science can answer these questions, most of the reasons are psychological.

You have used up your willpower for the day. Willpower is a finite substance. You don’t ever want to go on a big diet the same day you launch a tight new budget, or else you won’t have enough willpower to go around. By the time midnight rolls around after a normal day, you have been using that willpower all day long, saying “no” to doughnuts at work, chocolate in the afternoon and dessert after dinner. You have been eating healthy all day long and exercising your willpower well, but late at night that strength can run out and you may find yourself reaching for the Doritos.

You are eating undercover. The darkness of night makes you feel psychologically that your actions are undercover. Nighttime provides a cloak for deviant actions, and it is for this reason that crimes of all types increase after the sun has set. Eating an entire chocolate cake may not be a crime, but you are much more likely to indulge in “bad” eating behaviors when it’s dark outside, and subconsciously you feel like your actions can be swept under the rug along with the crumbs.

You have no plan. Healthy eating requires advance planning; nutritious meals full of fresh fruits and vegetables don’t just happen. Healthy eaters often plan their breakfast, lunch, dinner and even snacks – but midnight munchies happen off the clock, when you are likely to be nibbling without a plan. To combat this mindless munching, be sure to stock a few late night snacks that are healthy, satisfying and easy to make when you are running without a plan.

You are lonely. Whether you are single and living alone or have been married for twenty years, the evening hours have the potential to be excruciatingly lonely. All the pleasant distractions of the day fade away, and only a long and empty night stretches before you. Why not assuage some of those negative feelings with a milkshake or plate of nachos? While treats such as these are a necessary part of any sane person’s diet plan, if you indulge in emotional eating on a regular basis, it will add up.

You’ve been drinking. Without a doubt, alcohol consumption is the number one factor in late night binges at home or even worse – a 2AM fast food run. Alcohol dehydrates you, and thirst is often mistaken for hunger, especially when you are three cocktails in. As your body begins to process the alcohol, it needs fuel to do so, and in your fatigued, fuzzy state it is highly likely that poor eating choices will be made. While eating greasy foods late at night on a belly full of alcohol can help your hangover in the morning by slowing down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, if you continuously eat fatty foods after drinking late at night, you are setting yourself up for weight gain and health problems.

image: C.G.P. Grey