A five-step approach to avoid food cravings at night
Having cravings in the night and struggling with poor sleep go hand-in-hand. If you sleep badly, you end up needing food in the night. If you have cravings due to poor blood sugar regulation, then it prevents you from falling asleep, staying asleep, and having optimal quality of sleep.
There could be several reasons for night cravings and these could vary based upon our body constitution, age, present state of imbalance, season, location, gender, and much more.
In this article, I break down what are the possible roots of night time cravings, and how you can use a five step approach to ensure that they never happen.
What do night cravings indicate?
Night time cravings can indicate several things going on within our body. The truth is that our body physiology has a beautiful way to let us know when something is off even keel. If we listen to our body when it whispers to us, then we won’t need to hear our body scream. What are the top five reasons for night time cravings?
1. All cravings indicate that our blood sugar is off even keel. Even without us knowing it, our body is working to maintain balance of temperature, acidity and alkalinity, estrogen and progesterone, sodium and potassium, and blood sugar. Every symptom or condition that we have is the result of something going off balance. Triggers that tip the scales are many. If we don’t eat the right foods through the day, or if we don’t eat enough to fuel our body and our specific needs, our body will start to scream for food at night. Not eating enough happens to many of us who are out all day and eat poorly, hoping to eat great at dinner. However, our body needs the right amount of food balanced through the day. Restricting ourselves overtly can lead to night cravings.
2. Having poorly balanced meals is another huge reason for night cravings. Recently, a client’s food diary showed me that he had no protein at two of his three meals, and only had protein at dinner. He did not think anything was wrong, and quite genuinely felt that he had eaten protein at dinner. Our body does not like this approach. When we provide our body with protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we allow blood sugar to start ebbing and flowing gently, rather than spiking and crashing. This means that when we finish our dinner, our body simply will not ask for any more food afterwards. If we miss doing this, then we trigger that spike and crash, and it is very hard to gain control at night, as blood sugar builds on what we do all day long.
3. I remember a client who ate dinner before sunset and was so happy that she was doing so. However, she also mentioned that she needed a snack at night. When I started to dig deeper, I discovered two reasons. The first of course was that her dinner was low fat, with rice, dal, and potatoes almost every night. The second was that she stayed up watching television with her husband, and felt it was the only time of the day that they spent together. She also admitted to watching high adrenaline shows and that the time she slept varied every night. Spiking adrenaline and cortisol with stimulating content, in combination with screen time when the room is dark, is a sure way of having cravings. Research has also shown that the foods which generally we tend to gravitate towards with such content is more crunchy, sweet, or salty. Ayurveda can also make this connection. When vata is aggravated with the eyes moving quickly, we will crave foods that further imbalance vata, which are airy, crispy, crunchy, and salty.
4. Cravings are very much linked to emotions, just as alcohol is. Most of us can relate to how we eat emotionally. When we are in denial about strong emotions to ourselves, we may end up eating more than usual, eating the wrong foods, and not realising it. It is very common to have cravings when we feel we have been hurt by someone, when we do not speak our mind somewhere where we should have, or when we are going through some challenges in a close relationship. At times we may not do so during the day due to being preoccupied with work. When we get home to our safe space, rather than sitting with our feelings, we may snack late into the night.
Ayurveda links suppression of tears to several imbalances in our body. Whether it is through journaling with the non-dominant hand, or just letting ourselves face the emotions and allowing us to cry, we must tease apart the connection between emotions that we do not face and night cravings.
5. Not sleeping at the right time is a reason for all night cravings. 10 p.m. is pitta time of the night. Pitta time goes on till 2 a.m. Pitta is the energy that uses the power of transformation at night to rejuvenate our systems from deep within. We should be in deep sleep during pitta time. If we are not asleep before 10, pitta comes up for a second wind. Pitta is the energy that is fire. It makes us think too much, and it makes us hungry. It demands food. During that sensitive time, it will make us crave the foods that trigger pitta imbalance. These can include pungent, oily, and spicy snacks.
How to avoid night cravings?
Getting our body to remain in a state of balance is not that challenging. If we keep things simple, and focus on maintaining routine, it is the key to stability in body and mind.
Here are the five ways we can get ourselves past all night cravings.
1. Eat enough of the right foods during the day
Our body has such wonderful intuition over how much food it needs at every meal. We confuse the body when we overeat or when we eat foods that carry poor quality nourishment. If we sit down mindfully with our plate at lunch, eating nourishing whole food, including vegetables, spices, whole grain, protein, and great fats like ghee, our first burp indicates that we have eaten enough. We do not need to stress our body and mind with perfect ratios and perfect calorie counts. I know someone who measures every meal, and this robs us of our ability to eat intuitively. Ensuring that we have whole grain, protein, some leafy greens, some other vegetable, salt, and spices simmered in fats will ensure stable blood sugar. Eating one prominent taste thinking that we like that taste better will feed further imbalance and night cravings.
2. Get protein at every meal
It is not enough that we eat protein at dinner, if we have snacks and coffee all day long. Each of us might want to tweak our mealtimes and components based on our bodies. However, having some protein at every meal helps our blood sugar remain stable all through the day. Think about eggs, lentils, plant protein, etc. for breakfast. Consider fish, mutton, rajma, chole, dal, tofu, or cooked sprouts for lunch. Similarly, having warm cooked food that is calming to the gut, with well-cooked protein at night, helps prevent any need for a nighttime snack.
3. Avoid watching stimulating content in a dark room
When it comes to watching television, it is ideal that you stop by 9 p.m. There are two main points to consider. The first is avoiding having a pitch-dark room with only the television screen shining bright into your eyes, which triggers imbalance. The second point to consider is that stimulating and disturbing content are best avoided. I had a client who liked exciting shows, and we came to an agreement that he would watch one episode of such shows on the weekend, during the day. At night, he would watch calming content, such as comedies and heartwarming shows. Try it for yourself. Don’t take my word for it.
4. Journal with the non-dominant hand to face emotions
In ayurveda, journaling with the non-dominant hand is said to release emotions that we tend to suppress within our subconscious mind. Since denial of strong emotions is a major reason for emotional eating and night cravings, using this hand to journal whatever comes out, is a great way to release emotions. Ayurveda mentions clearly that we might have disagreeable interactions that create imbalance. We must deal with those emotions in our own time and within our own space.
5. Get to bed early
I would place eating before sunset and getting to bed so we can be asleep before pitta time of the night as the most important step in not having night cravings. If we eat early, have some time to digest our food and relax ourselves, we allow our body to feel sleepy naturally, without aids. When we get to bed early, we do not have any way to experience cravings, or to give into them. Such a simple tool within our hands!
Any balanced body begins with what we eat at breakfast. Having the right breakfast sets the stage for us to eat the right foods all through the day. When we do so, there is no way we will have night cravings. Remember, we must listen to our body when it whispers and not allow it to scream!
Edited by Megha Reddy
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)