Q: I come home late from work, around 12 in the morning and I always crave rice! I will eat bowls of plain rice with soy sauce or whatever I can find in the kitchen! I’m pretty sure this is the cause for my weight gain. I’ve tried preparing meals ahead of time but I will still reach for the rice AFTER i eat the planned meal. Help 🙁

It’s always something carb-y. Always.

It’s always rice. Or bread. Or ice cream. Or bagels. Or pasta.

No one’s waking up in the middle of the night craving broccoli, or chicken breasts (which, to be fair, I wouldn’t either because I hate chicken breasts), or zucchini noodles.

I’ll circle back to that in a second. I’ve only got a few minutes to finish this before Sprout wakes up and starts throwing toys at my laptop.

Researching habits have truly changed the way I think about things like cravings, especially ones that have become solidified accidentally, like this.

Here’s the scenario:

You work a long, hard day, where the bulk of the meals you eat are mostly built on simple carbs—low fiber, low protein, lots of bread or breaded and starchy things. You come home, eat dinner, veg out in front of the TV, go to bed. In the middle of the night, you randomly wake up. Maybe you had to pee, maybe you heard a noise and decided to go investigate with your favorite Louisville Slugger in hand, whatever. After you take care of business, you wander into the kitchen because why not? It’s the kitchen, and discover some leftover rice in the fridge. You shrug to yourself, mumbling “Well, I am hungry,” and prepare yourself a bowl.

Pause.

Does this sound familiar? It is the origin of a bad habit.

For one, you are hungry likely because the meals you’re preparing throughout the day aren’t fulfilling in the ways that help prevent this kind of midnight eating. Meals that are higher in dietary fat and protein, more fiber-filled fruits and vegetables, leave you fuller and for longer periods of time; the absence of breaded and starchy goods cuts down on not only excessive calories, but unsatisfying meal components that leave you hungry with your blood sugar spiking in the end, as well.

For two, rice is the quintessential starchy grain…especially if it’s white rice. White rice delivers a quick jolt of sugar to your blood stream, which then immediately impacts your hormones in a way that teaches your brain that “if I eat this food, it will make me feel this way.” If you go to bed stressed, it might be a pleasant change that your brain knows you need, so it solidifies this behavior as a habit you should continue.

Not only that, but now your sleep is less restful because your body is essentially waiting for the same dose of sugary, starchy goodness every night, and doesn’t truly let you get rest until you have it. And what’s the one thing that restless people tend to do? Eat sugary foods to keep themselves awake, perky, and alert. (This includes coffee, especially seeing as how few people drink their coffee black, no sugar.)

See how this quickly becomes a cycle that feeds into itself, only further driving you away from your goals?

You have to be deliberate in your attempts to break the cycle. Here’s my suggestions:

1. Change the way you eat during the day. Snack less. Center your nourishment around meals. Set boundaries for when you will and will not eat. Don’t graze—”grazing” might work for some, but for people who find themselves mindlessly sauntering into the kitchen to continue a habit they wish to stop, I find that it only encourages the undesirable behavior.

2. Change the way you structure your meals at bedtime. Build your meals with this in mind: fresh produce, quality protein, healthy dietary fats. This will both ensure your meals are full of things that will satisfy you—healthy fats, protein, fiber—but will also leave you feeling physically full without overloading on calories. If you’re meal prepping, then a simple shift in your macros will make a massive difference in how you feel after a meal.

3. Skip the rice for a while. Sometimes, we have to take a break from the things we love if they’re associated with bad habits we need to stop. Continuing to eat rice outside of your “midnight meal” only continues to remind your brain of the satisfaction you get from eating it, making it harder to stop getting it in the middle of the night.

4. Exercise in the evening times or—even better—right before bed. This one is probably the most important. One of the best ways to ensure a more restful sleep is to thoroughly exhaust your body prior to bedtime. Give yourself a feel-good, stress-reducing, sleep-boosting, calorie-torching workout, then a nice hot shower with maybe some lavender or jasmine in the shower with you to help you calm down, then hit the hay. Rest assured, your rest is, well…assured.

Q&A Wednesday: How Can I Stop Midnight Cravings? Click To Tweet

Sometimes, habits like this sneak up on us without even realizing it. If you follow these four steps, I promise you’ll not only skip the midnight mealing, but your sleep will be better and ultimately will help you make better choices throughout the day, too. As I always say, your body will thank you for it!