Weight Control: Ward Off Cravings, Binge Eating (cont.)

To keep your feelings from triggering an afternoon food binge:

  • Try to determine whether you're really hungry or are just trying to feed an emotion.
  • If you are hungry, dig in to your stash of healthy foods (try fruit, nuts, and yogurt). As Tallmadge notes, the late afternoon is a natural time to snack and refresh yourself. Plus, eating something nutritious now might help you eat a lighter dinner later on.
  • When snacking, choose whole instead of processed foods whenever possible. For example, fruit is better than granola bars because it can keep you feeling full longer with a lot less calories.
  • Snooze for 10-15 minutes.
  • Take a walk.
  • Wash your face and brush your teeth.
  • Every once in a while, indulge in a moderate serving of a favorite food. "Deprivation is not always good," says Patrick. "Sometimes it's psychologically better to give in to a craving."

Avoiding Evening Excess

Many people find their worst food cravings emerge in the evening. It's when we tend to be least physically active and most likely to be tired and/or bored and in need of a reward after a hard day.

It's also when we usually watch television, which can be a factor in binge eating, says Tallmadge. When distracted by a show, people often are not fully aware of what or how much they're putting in their mouths.

To guard against evening excess:

  • Make sure your fridge is stocked with healthy foods for dinners and snacks.
  • Try cooking large batches of healthy foods when you have time, then freeze portions for those nights when you're tired or pressed for time. "If, on your way home from work, you know that you have a veggie lasagna ready to be heated, you'll less likely make a stop at the greasy spoon," says Tallmadge.
  • Turn off the TV. Tape your favorite show if you want, then watch it at a time when you feel strong enough to resist food cravings
  • Keep your evenings busy: Play sports, pursue hobbies, take classes.
  • Soak in a bubble bath.
  • Call a loved one.

Quelling Late-Night Munchies

For some people, the munchie monster tends to come out at night. Again, experts say, boredom, anxiety, weariness, and habit are the likely culprits. And late-night eaters in particular seem to have a penchant for packing on the pounds.

Yet the weight gain doesn't necessarily happen because of the actual time we're eating, but the type of foods people eat at night -- things such as ice cream, potato chips, and chocolate, says WebMD Weight Loss Clinic Dietitian Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD.

To tame the midnight munchies:

  • Have balanced meals throughout the day. People who limit their intake of certain nutrients, such as carbohydrates, tend to crave those foods all the time.
  • Make sure your dinner menu includes high-fiber foods. Whole grains, veggies, and fruits tend to cut down on cravings.
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night wanting a snack, try to go back to sleep. Eating at this time is not only dreadful for your diet, it also reinforces a bad sleep pattern.
  • If you're really hungry, eat something light. You may not think a piece of fruit will satisfy you, but it probably will, Tallmadge says.

Originally published Sept. 25, 2003.
Medically updated September 2006.

SOURCES: Katherine Tallmadge, MARD, American Dietetic Association spokeswoman. Ruth Patrick, PhD, LDN, food science communicator, Institute of Food Technologists. Fergus Clydesdale, PhD, distinguished professor and head of food science department, University of Massachusetts. Lisa Dorfman, MSRD, LMHC, American Dietetic Association spokeswoman. WebMD Weight Loss Clinic article: "Are You a Midnight Muncher?" by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, published Sept. 12, 2003.

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