Why We Make Bad (Diet) Choices When We're Tired

Anyone else notice the (serious) connection between a bad night sleep and poor dietary choices? Simply put, lack of sleep = deep exhaustion = give me junk food = can't stop eating. I know you know what I'm talking about. 

I feel that many of us are so focused on eating healthy and making good dietary choices, that we forget just how important it is to get enough shuteye. In reality, sleep is a major factor in the health equation and may even dictate what we crave, when we eat, and how much we eat. I decided to bring in the sleep experts from the Tuck Sleep Foundation - a community dedicated to improving sleep hygiene, health, and wellness - to give us a bit more info about the sleep-hunger connection. Here's what they have to say: 

Why We Crave Junk Food When We're Sleep Deprived

Sleep deprivation can increase cravings for junk food and binges. It's how you end up in a drive-thru lane late at night, or crave donuts in the morning after a long night.

When you don't get enough sleep, it's especially tempting to binge on junk food. Your impulse control is weakened, and production of the hormones that control feelings of hunger and satiation are altered.

When you're sleep deprived, it's tough to get through everyday life, much less stick to good nutrition habits. But with better sleep, you can adopt a more healthy lifestyle and support yourself as you eat well.

What Sleep Deprivation Does to Hunger Hormones

Sleep deprivation alters the production of hormones that affect hunger and satiation. This can trick your hunger cues and make you feel as if you need to eat more even when you're full.

When you're well rested, your hunger hormones are well regulated and effectively tell your body when you're full, when you should eat, and when you should stop eating. But when you don't get enough sleep, production of these hormones is not regulated properly, and can send cues that encourage overeating and poor food choices.

Ghrelin is the hunger hormone. It's responsible for telling your brain when you're hungry and should eat.

Leptin is the satiety hormone. This hormone tells your brain when you're full and should stop eating.

When you're sleep deprived, production of ghrelin and leptin is unbalanced, with a decrease in leptin production and an increase in ghrelin production. That means your hormones are sending signals to your brain that you are more hungry and less full, which can make you eat more than you should -- maybe even hungry and tired enough to eat junk food you know it's best to avoid.

Sleep and Self Control

While your hormones are sending confusing signals to your brain, your self control is weakened, making it difficult for you to resist junk food cravings when you're sleep deprived.

Sleep deprivation reduces your self control, influencing junk food cravings and poor nutritional choices. And you're less likely to feel energized enough to exercise, so you may not work off extra calories, either.

People who are sleep deprived often struggle with self control, and are more likely to:

  • Eat bigger portions

  • Give into cravings for foods rich in fats and carbohydrates

  • Snack late at night

  • Consume more calories overall

  • Drink less water

  • Consume more carbohydrates and high carb snacks

How to Sleep and Eat Well

When you sleep well, you're better prepared to make good nutritional choices. Your hunger hormones are appropriately regulated so you get the right cues when you're hungry or full, and your self control is stronger, so you're more able to resist the temptation of junk food cravings.

You can improve the quality and quantity of your sleep to support good eating habits with these tips:

  • Make sleep a priority. You probably have a lot of demands on your time, making it tempting to sleep less and do more. But sleep is the most important thing you can do at night, because it prepares you for a better tomorrow. Plan your schedule so that you have at least eight hours to rest each night, as the average adult needs seven to seven and a half hours of sleep, plus time to fall asleep and wake up.

  • Create a healthy sleep environment. It's not just the quantity, but quality, of sleep that matters. Eight hours of tossing and turning isn't restful enough to support healthy habits. Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable place to sleep, keeping it dark, cool, and quiet. Choose a mattress that fits your needs for comfort and support.

  • Maintain healthy sleep habits. Good sleep habits can improve the quality of your sleep as well. Create a regular bedtime schedule, and follow a consistent bedtime routine that will help you feel sleepy and fall asleep more quickly when it's your usual time to go to bed. Take care to avoid habits that can interfere with healthy sleep, such as consuming caffeine or alcohol late at night, eating a heavy meal before bed, or exercising in the hours just before you go to sleep.

  • Don't stress about missteps. If you struggle to sleep well for a few nights here and there, don't be discouraged. One night isn't enough to make you completely fall off the wagon of healthy sleep. Focus on maintaining healthy sleep habits overall and staying as consistent as possible, even if you slip up now and then.

Discussing Dairy & Why I Love Muuna

Dairy. Adjective. 1. Containing or made from milk.

In my opinion that definition should read “most controversial class of foods EVER.” While some people live by the motto “cheese on everything,” others wince at the very sound of the word. So let’s take the opportunity to scratch the surface of dairy controversy…

Let’s cut to it: Is dairy really the devil?


The answer is NO! In fact, dairy products can be super nutritious! Milk is high in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, B vitamins, potassium, and phosphorus. Calcium and phosphorus are vital for bone health, and dairy happens to be one of the best sources of them. Dairy can really be a great low-calorie, high protein meal or snack. But of course, as anything else, you have to be wise about the dairy products you choose to consume.

One of my all-time favorite dairy products (if you haven’t already caught on) is Muuna cottage cheese. I love this brand especially because 1) their products are DELICIOUSLY creamy, without being high in fat and 2) I trust the ingredients. I always keep a container of their plain cottage cheese in my fridge so I can easily spread over a whole grain toast or fiber crackers and top it with drizzled honey or homemade fruit compote. I’ll also use it as a healthy ingredient for a larger meal, like my cottage mac & cheese.

I especially love their individual cottage cheese cups available in eight creamy flavors. At 5.3 ounces they are perfect for portion control and they’re an easy snack for when you’re on-the-go. Yes, I said on-the-go! Throw it into your bag with a spoon, and it enjoy it on your way to work, when you get to work, or wherever your destination may be! The individual cups come in several different fresh fruit-on-the-bottom flavors, so I don’t have to worry about topping it with homemade compote. I’m especially excited about their new Vanilla, Raspberry, and Black Cherry flavors!

Let’s take a closer look at the Muuna nutrition label

Each individual cup has between 15 and 19 grams of protein, which is super important! Protein helps us actually feel full when we eat meals or snacks. Each 5.3 oz cup has only 9 grams of sugar (less than your average Greek yogurt!) and 130 calories or less. Yes, that includes the fruit flavors too! Oh, and Muuna uses ZERO artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners. Basically, all you need to know is that it’s totally Tovita-approved.

What about lactose intolerance?

As we get older, many of us lose that lactase enzyme that normally breaks down lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk. If you are one of those people who can’t digest dairy, you do have to be careful with the foods you choose to fuel your body. As with any food allergy or intolerance, if you have it, you have to honor it. The good news is that certain dairy products like cottage cheese or hard cheeses (parmesan, swiss) have less lactose than milk or creamier cheeses, meaning many people who are typically lactose intolerant can still enjoy these products.

My advice?

If cottage cheese is your thing, I’ve just introduced you to your new favorite brand (you’re welcome). If you’re skeptical, give it a try. It might be best to start with a familiar flavor like vanilla, or a sweeter fruit flavor that you already love.

Some of my favorite ways to eat it are:

  • With oatmeal, for protein and flavor

  • With sliced apples and cinnamon, for a filling snack

  • On top of whole grain crackers

  • Plain! It tastes delicious on its own and has enough protein to stand alone


Butternut Squash Pasta

'Tis the season to celebrate all things squash! Spaghetti squash, butternut quash, acorn squash.. you name it. While spaghetti and acorn squash will have their moments on this blog, tonight we're talking strictly BUTTERNUT - and specifically butternut squash pasta. 

This dish combines naturally sweet and savory flavors - and I promise it's barely time consuming with my shortcuts (ie. you can use butternut squash puree if you don't have the time to dice and bake). While you can use whatever pasta you prefer, I recommend using chickpea pasta (ie. Banza) or red lentil pasta. Both of these are delicious high protein, high fiber pasta options. 


Ingredients (serves 2):

  • 2 cups pasta, dry (chickpea pasta or red lentil pasta)
  • 1 can organic butternut squash puree (I used Trader Joe's brand)
  • 1/2 white onion, diced 
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded 
  • 2 teaspoons thyme, dried 
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 
  • Pepper, to taste 


  1. On one stove top, begin to cook pasta according to directions on box.
  2. On another stove top, caramelize onions on medium heat until they begin to brown. While onions are cooking, put butternut squash puree and spices in blender. Once onions are cooked, add them to blender and blend on high for about 30 seconds or until ingredients appear uniform. 
  3. Once pasta is cooked, drain water and place pasta in bowl. While pasta is still hot, add Parmesan cheese and mix together. Allow cheese to melt into hot pasta. 
  4. Top pasta with blended butternut squash sauce. May top with additional thyme for aesthetic. 
  5. Enjoy! 


Cottage Mac n' Cheese

Mac n' cheese is one of my favorite childhood foods. And adulthood foods. I mean I don't really have to sell anyone on mac n' cheese - I think a universal consensus exists that buttery and cheesy warm noodles are delicious. BUT, knowing how unhealthy traditional mac n' cheese actually is, makes it fall on my forbidden foods list. I'm talking like, top 5.

The silver lining is that as a dietitian, one of my favorite pastimes is experimenting with food and creating innovative, healthy ways to enjoy the otherwise unhealthy foods many of us grew up with.

Here, I used chickpea pasta instead of traditional elbows made from refined white flour. Chickpea noodles are loaded with fiber and protein, while white noodles have little, if any. I also added muuna 2% plain cottage cheese for extra protein, flavor, and creaminess. This recipe calls for zero butter or artificial flavorings. In other words, this dish has lots of fiber and protein, and you can confidently prepare it without feeling an ounce of guilt! 


Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 1 box elbow Chickpea pasta (I used Banza)
  • ½ cup 2% plain Muuna cottage cheese
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (note: set aside ~¼ cup to sprinkle on top before baking)
  • ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

*Note: for those of you who like it extra cheesy, feel free to double the sharp cheddar to 2 cups total. 


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Cook chickpea pasta according to instructions on box. Once cooked, be sure water is completely drained.
  3. While cooked pasta is still hot, add cheddar, parmesan, Muuna cottage cheese, garlic powder, and salt, and mix ingredients together until they appear uniform. Remember to set aside ~¼ cup cheese to sprinkle on top before baking.
  4. Transfer pasta and cheese mixture to baking pan. You may sprinkle the remainder of the cheese on top. Bake for ~10 minutes, or until cheese appears melted.
  5. Serve and enjoy!

Southwest Quinoa Salad

This recipe is one of my all-time favorites, partially because it's completely fool proof, but mostly because it's so delicious. Bonus: it's packed with fiber and protein and serves as a standalone meal, or as a side dish to a larger meal. I like to make a big portion of this in the beginning of the week and keep it on-hand in the fridge all week long. Note: if you want to make a larger portion, just double (or triple) the ingredients below. 

Ingredients (serves 2-3):

  • 1 cup quinoa, dry
  • 3/4 cup organic canned black beans
  • 3/4 cup organic canned corn 
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved 
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled 
  • 2 whole, organic eggs 
  • 2 limes, for juice 
  • chili lime seasoning, to taste
  • smoked paprika, to taste 
  • sriracha sauce, if desired 


  1. Cook quinoa according to instructions on box. Once cooked, set aside in bowl to cool. 
  2. Combine quinoa, tomatoes, corn, feta and black beans together in bowl. Add paprika and chili lime seasoning, according to desired taste. Squeeze juice of 2 limes. Mix ingredients together until contents appear evenly distributed. 
  3. You may poach, fry, or scramble egg to top quinoa salad. Note: Add egg right before serving. 

Spice Up Your Eggs

Breakfast foods are my absolute favorite. I love breakfast for breakfast... and I also love breakfast for dinner. Especially when I've had a long day at work and I have about 5 minutes of dinner prep in me, at best. As a dietitian, maximizing the nutrition in my meals is always a priority - and it just so happens that nutrients and flavor go hand-in-hand when it comes to my scrambles. I'm big on adding spices to eggs because 1) they provide a ton of flavor, and 2) spices are super high in antioxidants - that substance that combats otherwise harmful free-radicals. I urge you to try my recipe for spicing up your scrambles, regardless of what meal you make it for.  PS: feel free to get creative! If there is a spice that you love not listed below, modify my recipe and make it your own! 


Ingredients (serves 1):

  • 2 whole eggs, organic, cage-free
  • 2 tablespoons feta cheese 
  • dash of soy milk (or almond if you prefer)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric 
  • generous pour of garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of thyme 
  • may top with sriracha 


  1. Crack 2 eggs in bowl and whisk so that egg yolks break and mixture appears uniform and yellow. Add dash of soy milk and mix again.
  2. Add spices to egg mixture and mix again.
  3. Use nonstick pan and turn heat to medium. Add feta cheese to skillet. Scramble eggs until they are cooked to your liking.
  4. May garnish with more thyme or spices, as desired.