The Witching Hour: When Cravings Strike

Learn to ward off binge eating around the clock

By Dulce Zamora
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

You've been busy all day going about your business, not giving food a second thought, and then the clock strikes 3 p.m. BOOM! You're hit by the urge to eat something right now, and the more fatty, sugary, or salty the better. Next thing you know, you're surrounded by empty candy wrappers and filled with guilt about blowing your diet.

What happened? It was your diet witching hour, that dreaded moment when the best-laid of weight-loss plans are known to fail. And the afternoon slump isn't the only time it can happen. Your own personal diet downfall might be the morning rush, during office hours, after dinner, or deep into the night.

But no matter what time of day your food cravings tend to kick in, you don't have to let temptation win. Experts say that knowing when you're most likely to overeat and preparing for those times can help tame the beast.

Begin With Breakfast

Many people overlook the earliest meal of the day because they're rushed, don't feel like eating first thing in the morning, or think skipping breakfast will help them lose weight. Yet the scientific evidence is clear: Passing on breakfast means giving up your first line of defense against binge eating.

"People who skip breakfast at home are more likely to stop for fast food, say an Egg McMuffin on the way to work...or to crave donuts, cookies, croissants, and whatever happens to be waiting for them at the office," says Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

She notes that various studies have shown that successful dieters (those who maintain their weight loss) tend to eat breakfast, while those who regain pounds tend to skip it.

If your resolve tends to break down at breakfast time, try these tactics:

  • Make sure you meet one-third of your daily calorie needs in the morning, says Tallmadge. She notes that people need calories most during daytime hours, when they are most likely to expend energy.
  • Have a balanced meal, such as milk, cereal, and fruit, before you leave the house. If that's not possible, keep a stash of healthy foods at the office.
  • If you don't like traditional breakfast foods, it's OK to have something else. Try leftovers from dinner the night before.

Daytime Defense