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Do You Binge Eat at Night? Here’s Why Your Hormones Are to Blame

They cause junk food cravings at night

A woman pulling a piece of cake out of her refrigerator.

Ever sneak a late-night snack after a hefty dinner and then go to sleep? (We’re looking at you heaping bowl of ice cream after that generous slice of meatloaf, roasted carrots and mashed potatoes!) Why, oh why?

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“It’s not a character flaw. It’s simple biology. In functional medicine, we look at the root causes of health problems ― like how powerful hormones trigger night-time food cravings,” explains functional medicine specialist Mark Hyman, MD.

To tame your cravings, it helps to understand the havoc four powerful appetite hormones can wreak:

  1. Insulin. Your body produces this to process sugar in your diet. “Eating too much sugar or flour makes insulin spike, then crash ― even after a large ‘healthy’ meal,” Dr. Hyman says.
  2. Leptin. This puts the brake on your appetite, telling your brain, “Oh, I’m full. I don’t need any more food.” Leptin won’t work as well when you eat a lot of sugar, processed foods and flour.
  3. Ghrelin. This “hunger hormone,” produced in your stomach, helps regulate your appetite. It says, “I should eat ― I’m hungry!” and may spike when you’re sleep deprived, Dr. Hyman says.
  4. Peptide YY. This hormone, made in your intestines, says, “Hey, I’m full! I’ve had enough to eat. I don’t need to eat any more.” Peptide YY levels may drop when you don’t get sleep.

Feeling stressed? This drives up cortisol (the stress hormone), adding to your hunger, raising blood sugar and insulin, and starting a vicious cycle.

How to balance your hormones and tame your raging appetite

If you binge time and time again, your body can’t burn those extra calories, Dr. Hyman says. So it stores them as fat. To break the cycle, he recommends:

Eat regular meals. (Don’t skip breakfast.)

Always include a protein. (Choose chicken, fish, grass-fed meat) and high-quality fat (nut, seeds, avocados, coconut, olive oil).

Avoid all sugary drinks. That includes both hot and cold ones, from sodas and sweet tea to fancy calorie-laden coffees.

Avoid gluten or dairy if you can’t tolerate them.

De-stress during the day. (Breathe, do yoga, exercise).

Make sleep a priority. There’s no badge of honor for sleep deprivation. You’ll instead provoke imbalances in ghrelin and peptide YY.

“Taming your night binges can help you avoid weight gain and diabetes, not to mention feel a lot better about yourself,” Dr. Hyman says.

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