Appease the hunger monster
April 1, 2014 5:01 AM   Subscribe

It's 5am, and I'm up because I'm hungry.

I constantly wake up in the middle of the night because I'm hungry. I'm trying to lose weight by being more active (jogging, going to the gym, walking 10K steps with my Fitbit) and cutting down on the portions for my diet, but it's not working. In fact, I'm putting on more weight.

Nearly every day, I wake up in the middle of the night because I'm starving. I have to eat. Right now I'm eating a hardboiled egg and an apple, with herbal tea.

My daily meals:
- Bowl of oatmeal in the morning: includes flax seeds, chia seeds, almonds, etc.

- Lunch: Salad/something quick on the go.
I have to admit that recently I haven't really been taking the time to eat a proper lunch since work is so busy. There have been many days where I'm hungry all day because I'm taking small bites throughout the entire afternoon.

- Dinner: Dumplings or noodles.
I usually eat dinner late because I might have something going on in the evening--doctor's appointment, working, etc. This past week I've eaten all of my meals out. But even if there are days where I'll eat something that is very hearty, I'm still hungry later.

- Snacks: fruit, edamame, hummus, apples with peanut butter

I feel that I'm eating enough calories, but regardless of what I eat, I'm always hungry later at night. I'll often go to sleep late (around midnight - 1am) a bit hungry, and even if I eat a snack before, I'll wake up a few hours later because I'm starving again. For instance, I ate a rice bowl-size portion of edamame right before I went to sleep, but I'm now up again.

What can I do to stop this horrible cycle? I'm tired and stressed out because I don't get enough sleep. It's been like this for a few months now, and it's been really bad this past week, where I've woken up EVERY single night except the one night I had multiple bowls of pasta.
posted by so much modern time to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Looks like you aren't getting much protein. Have a chicken breast or some Greek yogurt before you go to bed.
posted by greta simone at 5:07 AM on April 1, 2014 [10 favorites]

Have you had a physical lately? What you're describing could be nighttime hypoglycemia. Besides waking up hungry, do you have other symptoms like shakiness, clammy skin, elevated heart rate?

If blood glucose issues have been ruled out, you may simply not be eating enough food to support working out. Make eating lunch a priority even if work is busy. If you have a goal of weight loss, having a session with a registered dietitian could help you figure out how many calories you should be consuming and how to ensure those calories are comprised of foods with a high satiety factor.
posted by little mouth at 5:11 AM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel that I'm eating enough calories

You feel that you are, or you are? There's a difference. Calories are straightforward math, and you should be calculating them if you're trying to lose weight. But it also doesn't work to just cut them as low as you can; your body reacts negatively in that situation.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:15 AM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I'm running a lot, I find that the ONLY thing that fills me up is protein. A chicken breast will leave me more satisfied than a huge bowl of ice cream, even if the ice cream has more calories.
posted by barnoley at 5:20 AM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a chronic dieter, I'd say that you're missing protein, especially if you're having a lot of carbs at night. Balance with protein.

Have a full-fat Greek yogurt before bedtime, throw a piece of fish on the side with your noodles. That salad, toss it with full-fat dressing and a chicken breast.

Full fat dairy, preferably from grassfed cows is very satisfying and it contributes to weight-loss.

Balance, it's all about balance.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:20 AM on April 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

You're not eating nearly enough. Make sure you have a big dinner with plenty of protein.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:23 AM on April 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have found that eating a late dinner makes me wake up hungry, no matter how protein-filled. Try eating a few hours before bed to see if that helps.
posted by chaiminda at 5:28 AM on April 1, 2014

Thyroid and blood sugar are, I think, the usual things to check if you're sure everything else checks out.

This all seems... low-detail. I'm not someone who's capable of calorie tracking, so I won't fault you for not doing that, but you don't mention your current weight, or quite how much of this jogging/gym thing you're doing, or portion sizes. It could be a lot of things, depending on the answers to those things. Not enough calories, maybe, if you're burning a lot and those portion sizes are relatively small for meals, especially if you're often not eating lunch at all. Or too many, especially with all the eating out, it's very easy to end up consuming far more than intended, the difference between a romaine salad with a light vinaigrette and something with chicken and cheese and whatnot from a restaurant is huge, and if it's mostly carbs in the evening then that could cause the tanking blood sugar a few hours later.

So, there's a lot of variables to get a handle on, really.
posted by Sequence at 5:31 AM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

More protein, more fat, and track what you're eating. You might "feel" like you're eating the right amounts of the right things, but you can't know it until you track it. A lot of simple carbs at night and yeah, I wake up hungry, too.
posted by rtha at 5:55 AM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Keep a stock of high quality protein bars at work. These can make half decent meal replacements if you don't have time to eat. I agree with others that it sounds like you need to eat more, especially during the day.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:01 AM on April 1, 2014

An egg and an apple is what, less than 200 calories. Of course you're hungry all the time. You're not eating enough food. A bowl of soy beans is about five ingredients away from being dinner.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 6:01 AM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, way more protein and way less carbs. Eat eggs for breakfast, not oatmeal. Dinner should be protein with veg for carbs, not noddles or dumplings.
posted by Specklet at 7:30 AM on April 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nuts are your friend. So are eggs, Greek yoghurt and seeds.

I don't think you're eating enough. I work out (hard) every second day, and I eat similar to what you do, but more of it. For example, for breakfast I eat bircher muesli with a big dollop of full-fat Greek yoghurt, half a cup of blueberries (buy them frozen in big bags and defrost in microwave), flaked almonds, chia seeds, milk.

Add nuts and seeds to your snack repertoire: almonds, walnuts, pepitas, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, pistachios.

Also eat an extra hard-boiled egg or two during the day, and some cheese cubes, as snacks.

Put a jar of nuts, seeds and dried fruits on your bedside table. Admittedly, you have to be careful not to go crazy (and especially go easy on the dried fruit when you make up the mix), but they're great to have if you wake up starving. Easy to shovel in a handful or two and get back to sleep.
posted by Salamander at 7:33 AM on April 1, 2014

Nothing makes me hungry faster than plain carbs like pasta. Agree with all that you want some protein and fat for your last meal of the day.
posted by chowflap at 7:48 AM on April 1, 2014

Eat eggs for breakfast, not oatmeal.

Oatmeal is very high in protein and fiber, and the carbs are complex and not quickly digestible - it's one of the "slow carbs" (along with beans, lentils, soy and quinoa). The real problem with oatmeal is the sugar in the flavored instant varieties.

I will agree that noodles and dumplings before bed may not be the best idea - they're refined carbs, which gives you lots of energy that your body will miss once it runs out. You're waking up because of a sugar crash, essentially.

Dinner needs to be all about the protein and roughage - meat(or tofu/eggs/beans/etc. if you're a vegetarian) and veggies. This will keep your body busy digesting things, and feeling sated, while you sleep.

If you don't have time for a decent lunch, that's OK. Have a BIG breakfast instead, and make it a regular habit. Get some protein in with some good carbs - add an egg on the side with that bowl of oatmeal, or some lox or cold roast chicken.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:48 AM on April 1, 2014

you can put mixed nut meal (walnut, almond, pistachio, pecan, peanut, macadamia) in your oatmeal for added fat and protein.
posted by goethean at 7:54 AM on April 1, 2014

I think the worst thing is the way you are going all day on just a salad. Not eating much during the day and having a bunch of carbs at night seems like the perfect way to have a blood sugar crash in the early am hours. Also I find that if I have a lot of kind of stodgy food in the evening there is a point overnight when my stomach gets growly and unhappy.
posted by BibiRose at 8:05 AM on April 1, 2014

Are you vegetarian? What about a can of tuna or salmon with lunch?
posted by goethean at 8:09 AM on April 1, 2014

nthing that you aren't eating enough food in general and not enough protein or fat, specifically. Are you tracking what you're eating? Even if you are busy at work, there are apps like LoseIt and MyFitnessPal that make it easy to log your food intake. I use LoseIt, and if you eat a lot of the same stuff it's even easier to log every day. You may feel like you are getting enough calories, but being hungry all the time indicates to me that you're not.
posted by bedhead at 8:43 AM on April 1, 2014

I have reactive hypoglycemia -- the simplified explanation is that my body overproduces insulin in response to carbohydrates so that I end up with low blood sugar. Eating a starch-only meal like noodles is guaranteed to leave me starving and surly within just a few hours. Whenever I've tried to calorie-restrict without carb restricting, I've been exhausted and hungry and depressed just all the time. And I don't lose weight -- I gain it, just like you are.

What works for me is to eat pretty much just meat, eggs, fats, and vegetables, with occasional dairy and fruit. Eating 500 calories of oatmeal for breakfast leaves me more hungry than if I just skipped the meal altogether, but if I eat 300 calories of sausage and vegetables, I'm happy and high energy until lunchtime. I personally avoid cheese and nuts because I love both of those things so much I can eat a thousand calories at a sitting while watching TV, but other people might do well with them. On this diet, I have plenty of energy, my sleep problems disappear, I got off my antidepressants, and my blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol all return to normal levels. Oh and I lost fifty pounds.

I put my diet together with the help of a registered dietician -- not just a "nutritionist," which is a label with no regulatory distinction, but someone who actually is trained in these matters. There is a lot of quackery out there, and what is right for one person is totally wrong for another. If you're having these kinds of troubles, it is really worth it to talk to someone who is armed with the skill and education to figure out what's going on. But as an experiment? Try replacing your noodles and dumplings with a steak and a mound of broccoli, and see if you don't feel better. (And definitely start rigorously tracking your calories. These things are not even remotely intuitive.)
posted by KathrynT at 9:28 AM on April 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

You're eating a TON of carbs/sugar (I'm not anti-carb, but it will make you hungry all the time), way not enough protein (eggs, nuts, beans, meat), and you're not tracking your calories. Track them! Keep track of what you eat and make sure you're getting enough, and eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. If I skip a meal, I am ALWAYS hungry late at night/in the middle of the night, no matter what I eat any other time of day.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:57 PM on April 1, 2014

By the way, if you find it difficult to track calories, try just eating simpler food. If you cook for yourself, calculate the calories in your favorite recipes and save them in an app (like MyFitnessPal).
posted by stoneandstar at 1:03 PM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I've had the same problem -- still do from time to time.

There are two things that have worked for me: Eat more, and eat a higher proportion of fruits/veg. When I'm good, I eat at least two big meals and a third regular-size. I'll have two or three pieces of fruit in the day. There should be some vegetables with lunch and dinner. Snacks are fruit or trail mix. Americans eat way too much meat and starch.

If I haven't eaten enough during the day, I know I'll be in for a tough night. When this happens I'll have a banana and maybe a couple packets of instant oatmeal before bed and that can make a big difference. The sooner before bed, the better, as it's not really good for digestion to be lying down.

For reference, I'm 6'2" and 190lbs. I'm fairly fit and work out 3-4 days a week for 30min. I feel like I need to eat more than most people I know, even those of similar body type.

I don't know how long you've been trying to lose weight, but I don't believe in restricting intake below healthy levels. Work out, eat healthy, and be patient.
posted by cman at 2:29 PM on April 1, 2014

Try getting more sleep. My appetite can vary wildly depending on how sleep I get to the point that on the weekend when I get 12 hours now and then I forget to eat and get a horrible headache which is contrasted by wanting to eat a burrito every 2 hours when I've only gotten 4 hours of sleep. If you are eating less and exercising more you may need even more sleep than normal to compensate.
posted by whoaali at 3:20 PM on April 1, 2014

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