If someone asked you, "Would you rather have table sugar or crack cocaine," how would you react? It sounds like a ridiculous question, but studies show that the neurochemical pathways of drug and sugar addiction are almost identical. When you eat a candy bar after a stressful day at work, the sugar triggers a rewards pathway that makes you feel good and reinforces the behavior. Before long, the bad habit of snacking on sweets at night becomes an addiction. Curing your nighttime sweet tooth won't be easy, but there are some basic steps you can take to curb the cravings.
Eat at least three small meals and two snacks each day. If you skip lunch and dinner, your blood sugar will crash and you'll be desperate for a brownie at the end of the day. Regularly planned meals will keep your blood sugar stable and will keep binging at bay.
Take a trip to the grocery store and explore the world of produce. If you've always been curious about the flavor of an ugly fruit, for example, buy one and have it for a late night snack. It will take time, but eventually your taste buds will appreciate the natural sweetness of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Trick your tongue with spices. Instead of noshing on sticky caramel popcorn, try sprinkling a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger on air-popped popcorn instead. The taste of the spices may distract you from your cravings.
Plan your evenings ahead of time. If you think about it carefully, you'll probably be able to identify trends associated with your late night eating. For instance, you may be in the habit of eating cookies while watching the evening news or sipping chocolate milk just before bed. Make a list of activities you could do when your sweet tooth strikes. For example, do push-ups in front of the television or express your feelings in a journal.
Overhaul your diet with the help of a physician or nutritionist. Cravings are often the symptom of a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Your body may be trying to tell you that your diet is lacking in nutrients.
Drink a tall glass of water. If you aren't used to listening to your body's signals, it is easy to mistake a craving for thirst. Sip the water slowly over 10 to 20 minutes. You may be surprised to find your cravings have disappeared.
Understand the mind-body connection between food and feelings. Although you may enjoy sweets at any time, you may be particularly prone to cravings when you are stressed, sad, depressed or anxious. Before you reach for the cookies, identify your feelings. Pick up the phone and talk through your emotions with a close friend instead of eating.
Get rid of temptation. It's all well and good to talk about self-control, but curing your sweet tooth will be a lot easier if your pantry is devoid of goodies. Throw out every last cookie and candy bar in your cupboard and start fresh. Don't bring any junk food into your home.
Carolyn Robbins began writing in 2006. Her work appears on various websites and covers various topics including neuroscience, physiology, nutrition and fitness. Robbins graduated with a bachelor of science degree in biology and theology from Saint Vincent College.