Fact: eating late at night does not cause you to gain weight—the only number that matters here is the amount of calories you consume throughout the whole day. 500 extra calories at noon will have the exact same effect as 500 extra calories at midnight. But it’s the time between normal waking hours when many college students’ self-control seems to vanish and we begin to indulge in anything within reach.

Curbing your late night eating habits is not easy, but it’s comforting to know you don’t need to give them up entirely. In fact, if you’re staying up more than four hours past your dinnertime, then it’s perfectly normal for your stomach to start grumbling again in the middle of your cram session. There’s nothing wrong with preparing yourself a healthy snack at any time of the day if you actually need it. Let’s face it, though—you’re probably not finishing off a pint of Ben and Jerry’s or half of a family-sized bag of potato chips because you need to. The first step to controlling your midnight munchies is to identify why you are eating.

So the next time you’re about to dig into a slice of the deluxe meat pizza your friends just ordered at 2 A.M, stop and ask yourself what made you decide to eat. Is it the smell of the melting mozzarella and rich tomato sauce that is calling your name? Is it because everyone else is eating and you don’t want to be the only one to refuse and have to sit there awkwardly? Or is it because the last time you ate was dinner at 8:00 P.M. and you are starting to get hunger pangs again? If so, then have a slice, but don’t eat it mindlessly or try to multitask. Pay attention to when you feel full and stop eating after that. 

Many times, however, you’ll find that you are eating for reasons other than hunger. Late night overeating is often related to boredom, stress, fatigue, habit, or as a part of socializing. Once you realize you are using food as a response to these situations, you can start looking for a healthier, calorie-free solution. If you are just used to mindlessly munching while studying, chewing sugar-free gum and drinking water or tea will give you the satisfaction of having something in your mouth. If you feel like you have to eat to be a part of a group, try to separate the concepts of socializing and eating—the two do not have to come hand in hand. Enjoy spending time with your friends rather than eating with them. No one will be bothered if you leave an extra slice of pizza for them! And if you’re mistaking fatigue for hunger, go to sleep!

Midnight munching is a hard habit to kick, but the process can be a lot easier if you are aware of why you are doing it. By using these steps to take control of your late night snacking, you can not only ward off the freshman fifteen but also develop healthier eating habits for life.