Most food cravings can be subsided with a healthy, filling snack. Other times, we just want to eat for the pleasure of eating. In these cases, focus on helping yourself sleep, distracting yourself, or training yourself to resist triggers that cause this desire. In many cases, both of these factors are involved, and you can take steps to combat them on both fronts.

Change Your Diet

  • Eat healthy protein for dinner. Protein gives you long-term energy and can keep you full for a long time. While not all cravings are caused directly by hunger, a full belly can make them easier to resist. Include a healthy protein in your evening meal, such as:

    • Lean poultry or fish
    • Nuts or seeds
    • Peas, lentils or beans.
  • Include fiber in your diet. Dietary fiber takes a long time to digest and has few calories by volume. Eating plenty of vegetables and fruit can keep you full for longer without compromising your healthy diet. High-fiber cereals low in sugar are also a good option.
  • Reduce sugar and simple carbohydrates. High-sugar foods cause a sudden rise in your blood sugar, followed by a sudden crash. This crash can leave you feeling tired and hungry, causing food cravings or making them more difficult to resist. Simple carbohydrates found in white rice, white bread, white pasta, and most pizza crusts quickly break down into sugar after they are eaten, and have a similar effect.
  • Consider eating small meals throughout the day. If you can’t stop your cravings, plan around them.

Taking Other Steps to Prevent Night Cravings

  • Get to sleep earlier. The earlier you get to sleep, the less time you’ll have to get hungry after dinner. Also, if you stay awake until you are exhausted, it can be difficult to make wise decisions. If you are having trouble adjusting to an earlier schedule, try these tips:

    • Purchase a red light bulb, since red light increases the production of sleep hormones.
    • Avoid evening caffeine, cigarettes, or blue light from computer or television screens.
    • Take melatonin pills nightly to help set your bedtime earlier.
  • Keep a cravings journal. When you have a craving, write down what you want to eat, and what caused it.
  • Rehearse yourself through triggers. If you know what sets off your cravings, prepare yourself for the trigger in advance. Repeat to yourself what you’ll do to avoid giving in, and picture yourself walking past the food without eating it, or going to bed without stopping by the kitchen. Imagining this process in advance can build up your willpower when it comes time to actually turning down the food.
  • Ban your worst culprits. If your junk food is easy to get, it is easy to mindlessly devour it. The best solution is simply not keeping the food in the house. For instance, you might crave ice cream at 10 p.m. but not want badly enough to actually drive to the store.

Respond to a Craving

  • Try some liquids. When food cravings hit, try drinking some liquids. Drink a large glass of water, caffeine-free tea, or low-fat milk or milk substitute when you have a craving, instead of eating a snack.

    • Avoid sugary drinks–and drinks you make sugary. A cup of peppermint tea is a terrific choice for an evening beverage to avoid snacking…but not so much if supercharged with sugar. A tablespoon in your tea (15 calories) is one thing, but an American Southern-style sweet tea is far too sugar-filled to be considered a real alternative to a sugary snack.
  • Have healthy snacks available. If your food craving is caused by legitimate hunger, keep a small plate in your bedroom with a healthy option. A piece of whole wheat bread, a small apple, four or five unsalted nuts, a few cherry tomatoes, or a small square of dark chocolate are all examples of a small snack you could eat instead of visiting the kitchen.
  • Chew sugar-free gum. Keep a pack of sugar-free gum, and chew it until the craving passes. This likely won’t eliminate your cravings, but it may make them less intense than they would otherwise get.
  • Use flavored toothpaste or mouthwash. When you’re kept up by a late night craving, get out of bed and brush your teeth with a strongly flavored toothpaste, or rinse with mouthwash. The taste may help you deal with the craving, and the “clean teeth” feeling may make you less willing to eat directly afterward.
  • Think of something disgusting. If you’re sensitive to unpleasant images or thoughts, disgust yourself too much to eat. This is not the most pleasant way to deal with a craving, but it works for some people.