Stop Your Nighttime Binges

By Mark Hyman, MD

Do you sometimes crave a late-night snack, even after you’ve had a big dinner? Or worse, do you find yourself binging at night? If so, you’re not alone. Millions suffer from this problem that often leads to obesity, diabetes, and depression.

How You Can Control Late Night Cravings
With a Few Simple Corrections to Your Diet

I call this the “sumo wrestler diet.” Have you ever wondered how Japanese sumo wrestlers get so huge? They have a giant meal at night and then go right to sleep – guaranteed to pack on enormous amounts of weight.

So, if you eat late at night just before bedtime, you’re on the sumo wrestler diet, and you will gain weight and probably get pre-diabetes. Your body will store the extra calories as fat instead of processing and burning them.

How does this happen? Have you ever thought about why, even after a big meal, you desire more food, more sugar, and more junk, and want items like chips or sweets or other unhealthy foods? Do you wonder what the root causes of this are, and how you we deal with them?

Balance your hormones
It’s not a character flaw or an emotional issue that you may have to fix. It’s not some psychological trauma that you have to overcome (although for some, night eating is indeed triggered by stress). Mostly, it’s simple biology. All you have to do is understand why these changes happen in your body, and how they make you crave food late at night to overcome them.

The underlying cause is an imbalance of the hormones that regulate your appetite. These are what I call the “four hormones of the apocalypse.” There are specific triggers that launch each of them, and if you understand how to balance them, you won’t have cravings for sweets and other bad foods – and you won’t be eating late at night anymore.

These four hormones are the following:

Insulin
A very important hormone that your body produces to process the sugar in your diet. When insulin spikes and then crashes shortly after, it makes you hungry. This can happen even after a large meal of healthy food.

Leptin
This is the brake on your appetite. Leptin says to your brain, “I’m full. I don’t need any more food.” Unfortunately, when you eat a lot of sugar, processed foods, and flour, the leptin doesn’t work anymore. Your brain actually becomes leptin-resistant.

Ghrelin
It’s a “hungerhormone” produced in your stomach that helps regulate your appetite. Ghrelin sends the message, “You should eat – I’m hungry!”

Peptide YY
A hormone that is produced in your intestines, and it also says, “Hey, I’m full! I’ve had enough to eat. I don’t need any more.”

Cortisol
There is one other hormone you need to consider. Cortisol is a stress hormone. When you are stressed, your cortisol level goes up, and when that happens, you get hungry, and your blood sugar and insulin levels rise. This sets the stage for pre-diabetes or insulin resistance, and it’s a vicious cycle.

So, all these hormones have to be kept in balance. How do you get them in balance? It’s very simple.

Eight steps to end nighttime eating
Here are the steps you should take to balance your hormones, stop cravings, and end nighttime binges.

Eat breakfast
This is a key strategy to stop the nighttime cravings. Of course, if you are binging at night, you probably won’t want to eat breakfast, because when you wake up, you’re still full. So you have to break that cycle, and you have to start by having breakfast, a good, protein-rich breakfast, that is.

There are two kinds of breakfasts I love and enjoy all the time. The first is eggs in any shape or form, as an omelet, fried, or poached. Eggs are a great source of protein that helps balance your blood sugar. Be sure to eat whole eggs, not just egg whites.

The second is a whole food protein shake that can be made quite simply. I keep all the ingredients I need in my cupboard, so it’s ‘goof-proof,’ and I don’t have to think about it. It’s all there. I put in hemp seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almond butter, coconut butter, frozen cranberries, frozen wild blueberries, and a little unsweetened almond or hemp milk. I place those ingredients in a blender, and it becomes a fantastic mix. If you have one of those for breakfast, it will keep your blood sugar even all morning and all day.

Don’t drink your calories
If you have sugary, liquid calories in the form of sodas, juices, lattes, sports drinks, or iced teas, it will spike your insulin and blood sugar and will cause cravings for more.

Make sure you eat regularly
Have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you want a snack in between, that’s fine, but make sure you eat at regular rhythms and regular times. Your body is a hormonal clock, and you best eat in rhythm to keep it in balance.

Have protein and good-quality fat at every meal
Good fats are nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut, olive oil, and quality protein sources like chicken, fish, or grass-fed beef. Some combination of these (plus lots of vegetables) balances your blood sugar.

Find your pause button and soothe the stress
Stress makes you overeat and subsequently fat. Relaxing makes you thin. Learn to find your pause button and de-stress. I encourage everyone to look at my blog on reducing stress to learn exactly what to do. Breathing, yoga, and exercise are some of my favorite means for stress reduction, which also helps reset hormonal balance, brain chemistry – and stop cravings.

Prioritize sleep
If you don’t get enough sleep, you will be hungry, especially for carbs and sugar. Why? Because when you are sleep deprived, ghrelin, the hormone that drives hunger, goes up and PYY, the hormone that makes you feel full, goes down. So, if you want to lose weight, “sleep it off.”

Find your food sensitivities
People don’t realize this, but we often crave the thing we are allergic or sensitive to. Gluten and dairy are among the biggest triggers for food sensitivity. Try to get rid yourself of these for a few weeks and see if your cravings stop.

Supplement to cut cravings
There are natural molecules that balance blood sugar and insulin – and help stop cravings. Omega-3 fats, especially fish oil, a couple of capsules a day, can really help. Vitamin D also helps regulate hormones and balance insulin. There is a super fiber supplement called PGX that’s very simple to take. It’s made from a Japanese root called glucomannan and seaweed. And it comes both in powder form or capsules. Take it 10 to 15 minutes before you eat and after dinner, and it will help cut your cravings. It slows the spiking of insulin and blood sugar, helps make you feel full, increases the PYY, balances out all the hormones, and stops further cravings. I’ve seen people lose up to 40 pounds using this simple high-fiber supplement. New studies show how branched chain amino acids can also help with hormonal balance, stop cravings and increase muscle mass.

Tell us your story. Share it with the community in the comments section below. Learn how other people have dealt with this, and see that you’re not alone.

Mark Hyman, MD is a physician and widely acclaimed book author. He is chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine and serves on the board of directors of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine. He is the founder and medical director of The Ultra Wellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts.

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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