Q: I'm having trouble avoiding carbs in the evening. I have a high workload and, at times, a stressful job, and it makes me crave comforting foods. Do you have any suggestions for me?
For many people, stress is a major contributor to snacking and overeating. Chronic stress can influence your eating behaviors and food choices. It may even lead to weight gain.
Stress increases cortisol production. This hormone can promote feelings of hunger and drive cravings for high-fat, energy-dense foods, like processed carbohydrates (1).
There are many ways to reduce work-related stress and learn to effectively cope with stress. For example, research shows that simply taking a walk outside during lunchtime can reduce stress and cortisol levels and even lead to better sleep (2, 3).
Yoga, stretching, and calming breathing techniques are also effective ways to reduce work-related stress.
Additionally, taking the time to do something healthy for yourself every day — such as cooking a healthy meal or exercising — is important for overall health and mental well-being.
Even though stress can lead to overeating and unhealthy food choices, other factors may be contributing to your nighttime cravings.
Common factors that can lead to snacking at night include:
- Undereating during the day. Make sure that you’re eating enough calories during the day. Have healthy, whole-food-based meals that include plenty of protein to help control your hunger and keep you satisfied throughout the day.
- Lack of sleep. Adults ages 18 to 64 should get seven to nine hours of sleep. Getting less than that can contribute to stress, overeating, and weight gain over time (4).
- Distractions. Eating in front of the television or while scrolling through your phone can cause you to consume more food than you would if you ate mindfully. Eat when you’re seated at a table and minimize distractions whenever possible.
- Blood sugar fluctuations. Not eating enough protein, fat, and fiber at meals and with snack can cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to fluctuate widely throughout the day, which can increase feelings of hunger. Add protein and high-quality fat to your meals and snacks to prevent this.
- Overly restrictive diets. Extreme diets that cut out many food groups and don’t allow for an occasional treat may lead you to constantly crave “off-limits” foods like sugary carbohydrates.
To reduce nighttime cravings, ensure that you’re regularly fueling your body with the right types of foods.
Avoiding fad diets, getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and engaging in more physical activity are effective ways to reduce nightly snacking and can help you reach your weight loss goals in a healthy, sustainable way.
Jillian Kubala is a Registered Dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. Jillian holds a master's degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science. Aside from writing for Healthline Nutrition, she runs a private practice based on the east end of Long Island, NY, where she helps her clients achieve optimal wellness through nutritional and lifestyle changes. Jillian practices what she preaches, spending her free time tending to her small farm that includes vegetable and flower gardens and a flock of chickens. Reach out to her through her website or on Instagram.