Late night eating
May 21, 2008 5:36 PM   Subscribe

How to deal with the late night munchies?

For as long as I can remember, I've always woken up to eat. Sometimes it's because I can't fall back to sleep and feel like I need food to get back to sleep, lately as I battle depression/anxiety on a daily basis (I am seeing a psychologist and am on Lexapro though, so that's covered), I find the need to just continue eating more and more until I'm miserably full sometimes at 2, 4, 5 am, etc.

I've asked this before on other sites but I didn't like the answers of "just watch what you eat" or "it doesn't matter when you eat, it's how much you eat". Dammit, if it were that easy I'd do it. What I'm talking about is effective strategies to either trick me into being full (like oatmeal, which works sometimes but not as effective as I'd like it to be) or finding the ideal low calorie snack that doesn't consist of baby carrots, asparagus, or any other ridiculously disgusting idea like that.

I've got my symptoms boiled down, now I'm just looking to do something about them. I've even tried writing on my hand with a sharpie (ALL OVER my hand) "do not eat" , "if you eat, eat a fruit". It doesn't work. The hunger I have is very much psychological hunger too, because there's no way in hell when I eat a full bowl of oatmeal at midnight that I'm hungry at 3 am. No way.

Has anyone here successfully battled this and won?
posted by isoman2kx to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Otter Pops? Low Calorie and oh so tasty.
posted by charlesv at 5:45 PM on May 21, 2008

Eat a fixed small portion of something that satisfies -- a few crackers, a handful of nuts, a slice of cold cut turkey. Then brush your teeth immediately. The mint from the toothpaste should kill your appetite.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:51 PM on May 21, 2008

Also drink a giant glass of water before starting to eat, should help with the fullness.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:53 PM on May 21, 2008

What are you eating during the day? If you are eating mainly refined sugars, you will have wild blood sugar highs and lows, which will spike your hunger. If you are eating a lot of protein, higher fat foods, and quality complex carbs, your hunger level will be lower and more consistent. The hunger reduction effect of low carb diets is one of the big reasons they work -- people on them *have* to eat lots of protein/fat to get calories, which keeps them feeling full longer.

Beyond that, here are some other suggestions.

* eat a small, fat + protein snack - think cottage cheese, beef jerky, chicken sausage, etc. Even something like a zone bar is better then bingeing on junk. Cottage cheese + cinnamon can be a nice one if you have a sweet tooth.
* if the problem is eating a lot of junk, don't bring junk food in your house! eating a lot of whole grain sandwiches or whatever is a lot better then cookie dough + pizza =)
* have a glass of water, brush your teeth with some super-mint toothpaste, and find something to do so you don't end up eating out of boredom.
* maybe try avoiding caffeine late at night, and add exercise during the day, which should help you sleep longer and deeper

It sounds like really getting at your depression and sleep issues is the only truly long term fix, but I hope this helps short term.
posted by rsanheim at 5:53 PM on May 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would try:

  • Chewing gum when this feeling arises

  • Drinking a couple glasses of water until sated

  • Making sure you are exercising at least 4x a week

  • posted by pwally at 5:54 PM on May 21, 2008

    2nding LobsterMitten. The more water you drink, the less you will eat. It fills you up the same. 'Course then you're up peeing instead of eating. ;)
    posted by netbros at 5:57 PM on May 21, 2008

    It's like not eating anything, but you get really full.
    and it's tasty.

    just cut it up before bed so you're not groggily wielding a knife in the middle of the night.
    posted by Acari at 5:59 PM on May 21, 2008

    If you wake up hungry and eat a bunch of junk food and can't stop yourself, the solution is to stop buying and bringing junk food into your home. Or at least stop buying the foods you're most tempted to eat at night.
    posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:02 PM on May 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

    This is what works for me when I have this problem:

    -A dill pickle or two. The things usually only have about 5 calories each, and are salty and crunchy and leave me pretty satisfied.
    -Green olives. The ones I get are marinated in wine and come with pepperocinos and garlic and are about 8 calories each. Also very salty and satisfied; I savor one or two and then put the jar away.
    -Gum for sweet cravings
    -Diet soda, also for sweet cravings
    -Drinking lots of tea
    -A serving of cereal (whatever the back of the box says, usually 3/4-1 cup) and 1/4 or 1/3 c skim milk works for when I need to feel a little more sated.

    When you eat any of this stuff, put it on a plate, sit down, and eat it slowly and deliberately. I find I eat so much more when I quickly start munching.

    You will still really want to just eat sometimes, but the more you force yourself into doing other options, the less likely it is that you'll have the cravings. I have to keep most easy to eat food (aside from fruits and veggies) out of my apartment, or else I WILL have an emotional/stress episode and engulf it all.
    posted by Polychrome at 6:03 PM on May 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

    Mix up 2 cups cottage cheese plus 1 cup (or more) of yogurt. Mix in some peeled, seeded cucumber, a bit of green onion and black pepper. Stir well and sit in the fridge for a half-day or so.

    That is one of my favorite snacks, especially at night or after a workout.
    posted by charlesv at 7:07 PM on May 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

    If plain old water doesn't sound interesting enough to satisfy late night hunger, try sparkling water, with or without flavor. Some people dislike it but I actually prefer it over soda. Plus, the bubbles seem to make me feel fuller.
    posted by juliplease at 7:30 PM on May 21, 2008

    I ate a whole lettuce like an apple once, just taking big crunchy bites out of it. I was full afterwards, it satisfied my desire to eat, and was healthy too. The trick would be not to consume half a bottle of mayonnaise with it. A gigantic slab of watermelon also fills me up without being too harsh on my body, like something fatty or salty.

    I also agree with the idea of keeping that sort of food out of your house if possible. I never have chocolate in the house for example, because a) it doesn't last very long and b) I know I'm just going to eat all of it if I do put some in the cupboard.
    posted by tomble at 7:35 PM on May 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

    Look into the Shangri-La diet as an appetite suppressant. It sounds weird, but taking a tablespoon of olive oil every evening the past few weeks has kept my hunger pangs down.
    posted by exquisite_deluxe at 7:50 PM on May 21, 2008

    Response by poster: @ Exquisite Deluxe

    Olive oil you say? How's ... that taste?
    posted by isoman2kx at 7:53 PM on May 21, 2008

    Olive oil you say? How's ... that taste?

    Actually, the theory is that you consume a set amount of calories, completely divorced from taste. So I use the suggested extra light olive oil, which has basically no flavour. Again, it sounds ludicrous, but google or seach askmefi for Shangri-la and you'll see that many people have had luck with this for keeping down their appetite. It's worth a try!
    posted by exquisite_deluxe at 8:59 PM on May 21, 2008

    Get the best, most flavorful extra-virgin olive oil you can find. You can also get specialty oils that are infused with herbs or other flavors. If you can't hack just taking the oil, try getting a small piece of whole grain bread and soaking up the oil with it. I don't know if the bread idea is approved by the Shangri-La experts, but it sure is tasty.
    posted by expialidocious at 9:07 PM on May 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

    On lack of preview, my suggestion is obviously not on the same page as the Shangri-La theory, but it's a filling, healthy snack.
    posted by expialidocious at 9:09 PM on May 21, 2008

    nthing the food that digests the slowest, fat+protein. Cottage cheese is great, but mix something fibrous in there, like flax seed, and you have something that should keep your stomach full for a while.

    Also, how much water are you drinking a day? If it is too little that could also be a factor.
    posted by munchingzombie at 9:13 PM on May 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

    Do you have any stomach problems? Sometimes people feel gnawing hunger because their stomach acid is looking for something to digest. When I had a stomach ulcer I was always "hungry" in the middle of the night.

    Perhaps you could do a test taking some Zantac or Pepcid before bed.
    posted by 26.2 at 9:44 PM on May 21, 2008

    Unless I've missed it, your question doesn't indicate that you've considered replacing eating with another activity. I appreciate that this may be something you tried ages ago and have long since given up on, but your behavior, as you describe it, suggests a fixation on the activity of eating, rather than on food.

    How about drinking a glass or two of water to fill you up a bit, and then replacing the activity of eating with another activity that is likely to put you to sleep? I often get the midnight munchies, but I'm trying to lose about 10 kilos, so I've had to find other things to take my mind off of eating. I find that passive types of entertainment work best -- commercial-free radio and fashion magazines. Books haven't worked for me because they keep my mind just engaged enough to become distracted with thoughts of eating. The same with TV (and eating while watching is almost part of my culture, anyway). So by "passive" I mean something that gently attacks your senses without prompting you to think much about anything -- a perfect formula for inducing drowsyness.

    Apologies if this sounds too much like another "just watch what you eat" suggestion. I wouldn't like that suggestion, either, but it just sounds to me like the real issue isn't what you eat, it's what you do (i.e., to get back to sleep).
    posted by Bixby23 at 9:50 PM on May 21, 2008

    Assuming you can tolerate dairy: warm milk with a bit of honey before bed.

    A little protein and some sucrose, with the added benefit of a shot of tryptophen.

    Bonus points during allergy season if it's local honey.
    posted by availablelight at 10:11 PM on May 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

    This doesn't meet either of your 2 criteria, but maybe it could be used in combo with other suggestions. You could try to make the snacking as unappealing as possible by setting rules.

    Example: can eat in the middle of the night, but you have to go into the kitchen, sit at the dinner table with a proper plate and utensils, and the lights must be on. You have to wash up and brush your teeth before you can go back to bed.

    This is one of those behavioral tricks that can be really effective for some people, but others just know they won't bother following the rules. Whatever works for you!
    posted by peep at 10:18 PM on May 21, 2008

    I used to sleepwalk and eat sugar and then go back to bed all the time.

    Part of what helped me is when I got up, and periodically throughout the day, I would take three or four fiber supplement pills.

    They kept me feeling really full, so full that if I ate a small meal, (PROTEIN AT EVERY MEAL! ALWAYS!), the fiber supplemented the "normal" portion of food into making me feel as full as I usually was when I overate. It's important to eat protein at every meal if you can; protein is harder to digest and has fewer calories than just carbs or fats alone.

    Take some before bed, too. And take them IF you get up and eat. With a glass of water, before you put anything else in.

    I never went over 12-15 capsules in a day, though. I hope nobody comes in and says that's dangerous; it didn't do anything to me except make me feel like you said, you know, a huge bowl of oatmeal level of full.

    Eventually my body/mind got used to eating smaller portions more frequently, such as every four hours. My blood sugar highs and lows evened out. I stopped being so damn hungry all the time.

    The urge to binge eat a whole bag of candy or what have you strikes now and again, but it's nothing like it was. I've even weaned myself off the supplements now. It may take 3-6 months to do, but it worked for me... and I'd been off-and-on binge eating sugar, especially at night, since I was 11.

    Good luck.
    posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:49 PM on May 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

    You need a Dagwood Sandwich. ;)

    Really, how about eating some protein, fat (oooohhhhh, booogyman) or highly complex carbs close to the time you go to bed such that you don't wake up in the middle of the night with hunger? Eating simple carbs prior to bed can help some people fall asleep, but such foods trigger a hunger attack in many folks a few hours later. Experiment, everyone has slightly different issues here.
    posted by caddis at 11:39 PM on May 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

    I vote for popcorn. That's what I eat for my middle of the night muchies.
    posted by wv kay in ga at 12:59 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

    I guess there's no set answer, because what's worked for me has been focusing on the "eat to taste" rather than the "eat for calories" -- intellectually I know I don't NEED the food, so I must be craving the activity of eating, and the "symptom" of that activity is taste, right?

    My dad suggested something that works really well for me: incredibly bitter chocolate. I bought a box of unsweetened baker's chocolate at the store, and when pangs get unbearable I eat about 1/3 of one half of the wax-paper-wrapped squares. About 20 calories; I let it melt on my tongue and the bitter cocoa overdrive convinces my tastebuds that I'm all "tasted up" and the craving goes away.
    posted by Shepherd at 8:04 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

    I take a CVS Menthol Cough Drop, with a second one about 10 minutes later. The flavor is aromatic and persistent, and it calms my urge for food completely.
    posted by KRS at 11:11 AM on May 22, 2008

    Similar to Exquisite Deluxe's suggestion, but I'd suggest flax seed oil. Some people will say the Omega 3 fatty acids help depression, but all I know is that a tablespoon of it kills my cravings for fat and carbs (it tastes kinda nutty, maybe an acquired taste). Also, I have the same issue as you, eating junk until I feel sick because I just. can't. stop. It's gone away some with antidepressants (Wellbutrin suppresses appetite somewhat) but my trick to beating it in the past was healthy fats. You get the yummy rich mouthfeel without the bad stuff. On that front, toasted sesame oil tastes great (think asian dressings), avocado is great and you can make it into healthy ice cream (google Alton Brown's recipe), macadamia nuts are sweet and creamy and other nuts in general are crunchy and satisfying.
    posted by blueskiesinside at 11:50 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

    Oh yeah - an awesome snack is air popped popcorn. I do this by putting some kernels in a paper bag and putting that in the microwave. You can put some butter and salt on it if you want, but it's a good "mindless snack" and actually good for you - unlike prepackaged-bag-popcorn.
    posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:05 PM on May 22, 2008

    Sometimes my stomach starts gnawing on itself in the middle of the night, if I didn't eat for several hours before bed. I usually get up and have a banana and go back to bed. If we don't have any bananas, I'll have a Special K cereal bar. I prefer bananas though, because I don't have to pour myself a drink to wash it down. Often I'll swish with Biotene right afterwards - it's a no-alcohol mouthwash made for people with dry mouth. I don't do it to kill my desire for more food, I just do it to get the banana gunk out of my mouth.
    posted by IndigoRain at 12:42 PM on May 24, 2008

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