It’s late, but you only have one more episode of Orange Is The New Black to get through—you can’t quit after getting this far, right?! So the DVR goes into “play next” mode and you hunker down on the couch. At the same time, your stomach growls and you make a mental note of what’s in the kitchen: microwave popcorn, left over chicken and pasta from dinner, half a tub of hummus… The next thing you know, you’re wrist deep in a carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream. How bad is a little midnight snack, anyway?
Pretty bad according to a study published in Obesity. Researchers noticed when you stay up late your body’s internal circadian system kicks off hormone production that causes increased appetite, cravings for sweets, and fat storage. And giving in to those hunger pangs for high-calorie treats can lead to significant weight gain.
While the mechanisms aren’t entirely clear, scientists believe those circadian appetite cues helped early humans get through lean times—those who could store fat were better able to survive. Today, your next meal is much easier to come by, making those midnight binges unnecessary. Here are three ways to help keep your weight loss goals in check.
EAT FULL MEALS DURING THE DAY
Don’t skip breakfast or skimp on lunch to try to save calories. Research shows eating too few calories early in the day leads to even higher calorie consumption at night, compared to those who ate a significant amount for breakfast and lunch. And a study in Cell Metabolism looking at lab mice shows confining calorie consumption to daytime hours—the way your grandparents likely did, with three square meals—can ultimately help prevent weight gain, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
GO TO BED EARLIER
Hitting the sack earlier can have a positive effect on your stress and hunger hormones. In fact, research shows getting enough sleep can help eliminate those late night cravings, make it easier to engage your willpower muscle during the day, and decrease your risk of obesity.
CHOOSE SNACKS & TV SHOWS WISELY
Sounds silly, but research conducted at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab reveals people who were given popcorn while watching a sad movie ate up to 55% more than those viewing a comedy. And during adventure flicks, eaters tended to pace their snacking with the action, causing them to munch more, too. Consider changing the channel when things get intense, and, if you must snack, put something healthy in front of you—like cut up veggies and that tub of hummus.