Felicia Newell, RD, MSc
Why you might be hangry and crave or overeat later in the day
Do you find it easy to implement healthy habits all day just to have all the cravings, and sometimes binge in the evenings? You’re not even close to alone. A lot of people struggle with overeating later in the day and there are various root causes that with some tweaks can help you stay full, satisfied, and not hangry. One of the biggest causes for the unsatisfied night cravings is restricting too much throughout the day. So, what does this look like?
The average person needs around 2000 calories a day; however, this is very dependant upon their activity levels, age, height, weight, and gender (for example, a 6-foot athlete may need 3000-4000 calories daily). Meaning that for the average person each meal should be around 400-600 calories, and around 500 calories for total snacks throughout the day. Lightly grazing or skipping meals throughout the day can leave your body unsatisfied allowing your body to have built up hunger cues that come forth as the day goes on, resulting in overeating in the evenings.
How do we stop restricting throughout the day?
1. Eat at regular times throughout the day
While this may seem simple, it is common for people to skip breakfast or lunch and this habit can lead to not feeling satisfied/full/satiated, and thus leads to cravings in the evening. Or it can leave us feeling so hangry in between meals and picking at things we wouldn’t necessarily consume if we weren’t hangry. E.g., the chips in the cupboard that are easily accessible while we’re making supper.
2. Have well balanced meals that satisfy your hunger and manage blood sugars throughout the day.
Ensure that your meals contain adequate amounts of carbohydrates, fibre, proteins, and fats. This will provide satiety to your body and leave you feeling satisfied after your meal. Examples include lean meats, tofu, nuts, seeds, fruits, veg, whole grains, oats, legumes (beans, peas, lentils).
3. Listen to your body cues and eat when you are hungry, regardless of if you ate an hour ago
Not being able to have a snack shortly after finishing a meal is a common misconception. Everybody has different needs that differ day to day, some days you may not be satisfied after your lunch and feel the need to have a snack. This is perfectly okay and encouraged. Intuitive eating allows for a healthy relationship with all foods and not having rigid food rules. If you’re hungry, honour it. If you’re craving something (e.g., chips, chocolate, etc.), tell yourself you will honour that craving, but try sometimes to pair it with something that will help satiate you more, such as some fruit, a handful of nuts, a piece of cheese, yogurt, etc.
4. Allow yourself permission to all foods
Restricting yourself from certain types of foods can often lead to an over-fixation on the food item (we want what we can’t have), and then eventually a binge. Some days you may be craving a bag of chips or a chocolate bar, fulfilling these cravings satisfies the urge to overeat these foods. Labelling foods as good and bad foods is unhealthy and often leads to binge episodes. All foods can be incorporated into a healthy diet. We just want to also nourish our body with the foods that make it feel great (e.g., more nutrient dense foods), but also leave room for the foods that may not be as nutrient-dense, but they nourish our soul and provide comfort, nostalgia, etc.
While restricting throughout the day is a major cause for the afternoon/evening ‘hangrys’ there are other factors that can contribute to this as well.
1. Not enough protein
- Protein is the macronutrient that makes us feel full for the longest amount of time. It takes longer to digest, keeping our bodies satisfied for longer amounts of time with less amount of foods. Protein increases the hormone Peptide YY which is a hormone that makes our bodies feel full. It also helps us absorb carbs more slowly, so they enter the bloodstream more slowly, causing more well managed blood sugars versus a spike and crash we might get if consuming *only* carbs. Starting off your day with a high protein breakfast is one way to keep you on track for a healthy day of eating.
2. Not enough fibre
Just like protein it is important to ensure that you get enough fibre in the diet. Fibre also helps to slow down and encourage healthy digestion, both of which allow your body to feel full for longer. Fibre also is important for heart health and helps prevent certain cancers as well as manage certain digestive conditions. Fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, oats, and whole grains are great sources of fibre that will help keep your body feeling satisfied throughout the day.
3. Going more than 3-4 hours without eating (for most people)
Having long periods of times with little/no food is almost always followed by a short period of time with too much food. Think of someone holding their breath for a long period of time and then finally able to breathe – they don’t just take a little breath; they get in as much as possible. Ensuring that you are constantly fuelling your body throughout the day will suppress the urge to overeat in a short period of time. Your body is constantly burning energy and it is important to refuel your body as you go. This will aid to diminish the urge to overeat later in the day.
Some people’s bodies have adapted to not eating at certain times of the day. Sometimes this can be okay. For example, if someone usually doesn’t eat breakfast and just has an early lunch, plus regular snacks and other meals, and it doesn’t cause them to overeat later on in the day, it is okay! If skipping meals does contribute to hangriness and cravings later in the day, but you’re not hungry earlier in the day, try adding small snacks and then slowly work your way up to a meal. Your body will eventually adapt to feeling more hungry at these times.
The most important tip to stop overeating later in the day is to listen to your body. Everybody’s body is different and has different needs. These needs change day to day and it is critical to listen to your body and eat intuitively as this will create a healthy relationship with food.
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Felicia Newell is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist, Food and Nutrition Expert, Health Coach, and a mom of 4 kids under 12. She is also the owner of Sustain Nutrition/FN Health. Felicia wears many hats, and knows what it is like to try and live healthy in a busy world, where our environments aren't always supportive of making healthy choices. Life is busy, confusing at times, and full of contradictions, especially in the world of health and wellness. Felicia is passionate in helping others fight through the misinformation out there, and to navigate life and health, but most importantly, to enjoy it while doing it. She has over 12 years of education and experience in Nutritional Sciences. Between completing her Bachelor and Masters in Nutritional Sciences, working at a research centre, teaching university courses, years of nutrition counselling helping people crush their goals, and being a busy mom of 4, she has the passion, skills, education, and experience to help you reach your health and wellness in a way that works for YOU.