What is the physiological reason for a raging appetite in the late evening hours?

Like a lot of people struggling with losing weight my appetite clock is kind of messed up. From waking I have no real appetite, except for maybe a small bite of something sweet (and coffee) in the morning, a small lunch will suffice in the late afternoon (but I’m still not really all that hungry), a moderate dinner between 6-8 PM and then I’m OK until 10PM till midnight when the appetite monster crawls out and it’s just raging at that time! And it’s not an honest “starving” hunger, but a more nefarious “just want to eat, eat, eat” impulse.

It makes no logical sense to me for a human being to be (via evolution) wired this way, yet many are. Why does this happen physiologically? Why the brain chemicals of some people do this at night?

From the sound of it, it’s because you’re not eating much earlier in the day.

I’m not clear, astro.

Are you actually physically hungry at night, as in, stomach growling and stuff, or do you just want to nibble?

If you’re actually physically hungry, sounds as if you’re not eating a lot during the day. I do the same thing you do because I prefer to be able to eat a big dinner, so I take it easy during the day.

I experience the same thing that astro does, and if he is anything like me he is not hungry during the morning/early afternoon. I may eat a small snack but I don’t get hungry until later and night and then I am continuously hungry until I go to sleep. I am hoping for an explanation as well.

I’ve got the same problem, and it has nothing to do with what, or how much, I’ve eaten during the day. I might crave something sweet, then something salty, then something fatty, then something else sweet, etc. This never occurs at any other time of day.

To be more clear. I eat an adequate dinner that should by all rights satisfy me until I go to bed, but as 9 to midnight creeps by the (strong) urge to eat a bowl or two of cereal, sandwich(s), ice cream etc. etc and etc. is present and overpowering. And it’s not like I’m coming back from 3 mile walk or jog. This happens more if I am sedentary and playing around on the net late in the evening than if I am exercising.

The reason I made the distinction between the physically “hungry” hunger and this “wanna eat something” impulse, is because if I stop and analyze if I am “empty stomach” hungry the answer is “no”, and yet this strong impulse persists even though I know there is no physiological rationale for it. My brain is dumping “eat, eat, eat” neuro-chemicals into my system and I don’t know why.

I’ll say “it’s an insulin spike caused by your dinner”, and then run away as all the anti-low-carb advocates rush in to pump me full of sugar.

I can’t say that I have any idea for the psychological cause of the hunger tha t you explain, but if it’s a way to counter it, my suggestion is two-fold.

First, even if you are not hungry, eat solid meals in the morning and at lunch. Force yourself if you are not hungry. Those first two are key in establishing your new eating pattern. If you were to break up your three meals per day into the levels each should carry in calories, I’d suggest 40% breakfast, 35% lunch, 25% dinner. Preferably, if you can break down those first two into two eating times each (that is, have two 20% breakfasts at, say 7:00 and 9:30 and two lunches at 12:00 and 2:30) you should. You could even break your dinner into two “snacks”, each having 10% to 15% of your daily caloric intake, say at 6:00 and 8:30 p.m.

Second, will. You need to force yourself to not eat in the evenings. You may feel ravaged for the first couple of days (maybe even a few days), but that should pass quickly. Remind yourself as you sit there and feel like you will starve, that you’re not going to starve. If necessary have a single piece of cheese or other high-fat, low-carb snack. The fat will satiate, without requiring a lot of bulk.

I say that within a few days, you will begin to establish a new pattern of when to eat, and your body will quickly learn what it is you want it to do. An adult body acts very much like a 3-year-old child. It will throw little tantrums (telling you that it is incredibly hungry, for example), knowing full well that if it keeps it up, you wil give in. Your body is testing your limits like a child might. Of course, the only way to continue to be “the boss” is to establish what the rules are. If one of those rules is “no eating anything substantial after 8:30 p.m.”, then consistent application of that rule will quickly teach your body that you are boss, not it.

Of course, this takes willpower, just like anything else. And what is willpower, but simply insisting that you be the boss and not your physiological and psychological functions.

I think I have an idea for the psychological reasons now. The very same psychological reasons that make that 3-year-old scream and scream for the candy-bar or new toy, is what makes you starving at night. You’ve trained your body that late-night is when it should be clamoring for food, by always giving it food then in the past. It may well have started innocently, eating snacks or some such thing in front of the TV, but over time, it was sheer conditioning.

I think it’s got to do with the carbohydrate craving syndrome.

Well, I usually eat breakfast at 7:00 in the morning. By 11:00-12:00, I’m hungry and ready for lunch. Then, around 5:00-6:00 I’m hungry for dinner. If I go to bed by 10:00 or 11:00 at night, I’m fine. But if I stay up any later, I start getting hungry again.

I don’t think there’s any mystery here. My body is used to being fed every 5 or 6 hours, and only sleep prevents me from being hungry at night.


I asked my doctor about this once when I was cutting calories. I was eating a very light breakfast and lunch and no snacks, then about a 700 calorie dinner. I said I was hungrier and hungrier as it got closer to bedtime and sometimes I would be lying in bed thinking about getting up and eating a snack. I said, “it’s almost as if my body knows I didn’t have its usual calories that day,” to which she said, “yeah it does.” She also asked me how often I actually give in and eat something and I had to admit I did about half the time even if it was just some crackers with peanut butter. If I didn’t, I was hungrier the next morning. She told me that if I never ate at night I would be hungrier in the morning and would probably start loading my calories closer to the start of the day but I said it didn’t work that way, I was always hungry at night. She actually told me to eat my dinner closer to bedtime if that was the case but she did say that it’s because I know that it is the last chance to eat that day and my body knows it too. If you eat the snack sometimes, it raises your body’s expectations for what is a normal caloric day. Then when you try to skip it, you are cutting calories. On top of that, in the evening you are less busy and more in tune with your body and so even if it is only a passing thought of crackers, you have more attention to give it.

My doctor is a little bit of a bullshitter sometimes but what she said made sense to me.

Your eating ‘bad carbs’ during the day. Bad carbs are simple/refined sugars. There are plenty of good whole grain complex carbs that can be your friends.

Fruit juices (the ones made with high fructose corn syrup), sodas, white breads, white rices, cakes, candies, white potatos,etc. All these are simple sugars or in the case of the white bread, more ‘refined’ carbohydrates.

The good news is: they are everywhere and everybody likes them.

The bad news: they need to be processed by your body quickly as energy or it’s off to fat storage. When they are off to fat storage and your insulin level drops, it’s that mechanism that makes you really hungry. Heck, you eat something, you don’t burn it, it’s processed and BOOM, you’re at square one again: hunger.

Return to good news: replace ‘whites’ with browns: whole grain breads like whole wheat (check labels! even these can contain corn syrup!!) over white bread. Brown rice over white rice. Dark potato over light potato. And never drink your calories from a sugary drink, because this sugar will most definitely be causing an insulin spike/drop and it will bring you back to square one: hunger. And the sugar up/down issue is what creates that uncontrollable hunger.

quote: It makes no logical sense to me for a human being to be (via evolution) wired this way, yet many are. Why does this happen physiologically? Why the brain chemicals of some people do this at night?

Ah, but it makes great sense. Those with the highest and most undeniable urges to eat will work the hardest for the food. Additionally, it’s just the most efficient way to store fat: eat before sleeping.