Why Can’t I Stop Midnight Snacking?

“Don’t eat after 7pm.”

If you have read any diet blog, you have probably heard that phrase over and over. And over.

In my last post, I discussed the benefits of intermittent fasting. And yet, as well as this diet method has worked for me for weight loss and/or maintenance, I’ll admit: I struggle not eating late at night.

Now, I could go on about my night anxiety, late night study habits, and Netflix binging that lead me to staying up late and feeling the need to snack.

But I want to tie this in with a post I wrote about our conditioning (that is, our learned automatic responses).

Research suggests the the hunger hormone ghrelin (I call it the stomach gremlin) is linked to our eating patterns. That means if you regularly eat breakfast at 6am, lunch at noon, and dinner at 6pm, your ghrelin levels will peak and will feel hunger right before those times. Yet, if you regularly eat breakfast at, say, 11:30am, lunch around 2:30pm, and dinner at 10pm, your hunger response will initiate at those times.

This is good news, because it means we can partially control when we feel hunger throughout the day. This isn’t to say we can eliminate the feeling of hunger, but we may be able to influence when we feel it by building regular eating routines. 

If I’ve spent years midnight snacking due to my anxiety at nighttime, my late night study habits, or my Netflix bing watching habits, I’ve conditioned my hunger hormone to release late at night in anticipation of the food I usually consume then.

I say this is good news, because if I’ve conditioned myself to be hungry at midnight, can’t I condition myself to be hungry at 7pm? If I am empowered to know that hunger is partially a conditioned response and I can work on extinguishing the part of the conditioned response that has become unhealthy (eating at midnight), then I can take control over that factor I feel I have no control over.

I believe designing an eating schedule that fits with your goals, lifestyle, and daily routine, and sticking to that schedule regularly, can help regulate that pesky thing called hunger that can feel so out of control.

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