Skipping breakfast in the mornings and having large gaps in between meals will result in unstable blood sugar levels and cravings, points out Dr Paula Goel.
How many of you had that intense desire to eat the chocolate cake in your fridge suddenly in the middle of the night?
You must have tried curbing yourself rather unsuccessfully. And before you realise it, you find yourself standing in front of the fridge wolfing down the chocolate cake…and then there is no stopping you!
Craving for snacks and midnight sweets is something many of us indulge in, not knowing that there are certain scientific reasons for the same.
Some of the common reason reasons for midnight cravings include:
1. Poor nutrition intake
Poor dietary choices with meals high in carbohydrates and sugars like pizza, burgers, vada pav, bakery products, samosa etc is a common cause of poor nutrition in young adults.
Eating too many simple or refined carbohydrates can lead to an imbalance in sugar levels resulting in night-time snack cravings.
Additionally, a lack of protein and insufficient fibre and water intake can also make one feel hungry at night.
2. Irregular meal timings
Untimely meal patterns lead to abnormalities in blood sugar levels enhancing untimely food cravings.
Skipping breakfast in the mornings and having large gaps in between meals will also result in unstable blood sugar levels and cravings.
Any amount of stress increases the level of the hormone cortisol in the body leading to inflammation.
This leads to suppression of leptin (the hormone for satiety, a feeling of fullness after meals) and increase in level of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) causing excess hunger and gradually, obesity.
Fluctuations in body hormones due to stress, menstruation, pregnancy, medication or a health condition, will also cause midnight cravings.
When hormonal activity is irregular, the body craves for sugar and certain junk foods.
5. Mental health
A feeling of depression, loneliness and or anxiety also leads to untimely cravings, also known as emotional eating.
When you are emotionally low, the body’s metabolism is affected. Your sleep and meal timings are impacted which prompts you to reach out for comfort foods which includes snacks, sweets and junk food.
When you are unable to sleep or if your sleep patterns are disturbed, you tend to stay awake at odd hours.
Over a period of time, poor sleeping habits causes sugar levels to drop leading to hunger in the night followed by unhealthy food cravings.
7. Sedentary lifestyle
Leading a sedentary lifestyle with a lack of exercise or physical activity may also be associated with poor eating habits leading to late night bingeing.
8. Alcohol intake
While consuming alcohol, many of us also indulge snacks, which fills up the stomach leading to satiety.
Alcohol has high levels of calories leading to poor control of blood sugar levels.
What is the outcome of midnight snacking?
In addition to causing weight gain as a result of over eating, it also leads to high lipids as the snacks eaten are mostly high caloric, leading to atherosclerosis or fat deposition on the inner walls of blood vessels.
This will predispose to high blood pressure and if uncontrolled, may even lead to a heart attack.
9. Disturbed sleep
Regular lack of sleep will lead to daytime drowsiness and lethargy.
Tiredness and generalised fatigue also creeps up.
Over a period of time, sleep debt creeps in leading to a host of other health problems.
Midnight cravings can lead to multiple chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, high lipids, high BP, obesity, PCOS, obstructive sleep apnoea, all of which is a result of poor lifestyle choices.
So, how can we overcome this habit?
The simplest and easiest way to alter your lifestyle and gradually cut down your midnight cravings.
Here are simple tips to help you:
1. Improve your nutrition
Micronutrient deficiencies causes hidden hunger which manifests in form of midnight cravings.
This can be easily overcome by having a balanced healthy diet with your meal plate.
Include 50 per cent salads and green leafy vegetables along with 25 per cent high fibre carbohydrates and remaining 25 per cent proteins with either fish /chicken or sprouts or thick dal to compile a healthy, balanced diet.
2. Be mindful of your meals
Be aware of your meals — of what you put on your plate.
Maintain your meal time and patterns.
Having meals while watching gadgets (laptop /mobile/phone) is a complete NO and must be avoided at all costs as one lands up eating more than required when you are not mindful of your diet.
3. Exercise daily for 30 to 45 minutes
Walk, jog, dance, do yoga or sign up for a gym. This will improve your body metabolism.
Exercising also releases endorphins (happy hormones) which will improve your mood and decrease depression and anxiety.
Try to soak in as much sunlight as possible. This will not only increase your Vitamin D levels but will improve the level of melatonin.
Melatonin is the hormone for sleep.
Decrease in melatonin occurs due to increased use of gadgets as the blue light from the gadget suppresses melatonin.
Suppression of melatonin levels increases insomnia leading to increased midnight cravings.
5. Deal with stress
Stress is a part of life and has to be dealt with.
You can deal with stress in different ways like going for a holiday or doing an activity that you enjoy.
Stress can be overcome with deep breathing exercises like pranayama, or by meditation or guided imagery. Any activity that makes you happy will naturally decrease stress.
6. Avoid alcohol
From dehydration to cravings and poor liver health, excessive consumption of alcohol can do further harm to your body.
The simple solution is to avoid or to drink in moderation.
7. Improve quality of sleep
Improve your sleeping patterns and try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep in a day to avoid sleep debt and improve your body metabolism.
8. Increase your fluid intake
Drink plenty of water through the day.
A lack of fluids in your daily diet will affect your metabolism leading to poor health and other unhealthy disorders.
The next time you are tempted to get out of bed and go for a slice of chocolate cake, cookies, chips or ice cream at odd hours, just remember, you are responsible and accountable for your own health.
Wait for five minutes and try to assess the situation.
Do you really need to grab that packet of chips or tub of ice cream?
As you become aware, you will lead a healthier lifestyle with good eating patterns, exercise, sleep and avoid addictions.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle as a family or even with friends will go a long way in curbing the dangers of midnight cravings.
Dr Paula Goel — who has an MBBS from Pune University — is a consultant pediatrician, adolescent physician. She has over 25 years of work experience specialising in diagnosing and treatment of early onset lifestyle diseases, chronic disorders, skin problems and eating disorders arising due to unhealthy ways of living in children and adolescents.
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