Most people believe binge eating sneaks up on them. One minute you're doing well and the next you're scraping the bottom of a bag of potato chips, wondering how it happened.

But researchers with Brigham and Women's Hospital say binge eating isn't an accident. They know why it happens and–even better–they found out when it's most likely to happen.

The researchers monitored 12 women in a controlled environment and found that each of them experienced extreme cravings for sweets, salts and starches at about 8 p.m.–regardless of when they fell asleep the night before or woke up on the day of the study.

In other words: Binge eating is part of the body's internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, which tells you when to eat.

The study is important because if you can anticipate when you're going to be at highest risk to binge, you can take steps to stop it, including:

Hit the sack earlier

No, we're not talking about tearing into a sack of potato chips. We're talking about going to bed. As the researchers point out, our bodies are pre-programmed to want food in the evening hours.

They also discovered that people who stay up later are more susceptible to binge eating. Those who went to bed earlier were less likely to rip into an unhealthy snack and polish it off before finally falling asleep.

Trick your body

The body wants what the body wants, but lucky for you the mind is stronger. When 8 p.m. rolls around and you start feeling those cravings, trick your body into feeling contented by popping a piece of sugar-free gum. Better yet, the researchers suggest you make it mint flavored. Chewing mint-flavored gum keeps your mouth occupied with something besides empty calories. It has zero calories. And, most importantly, it sends a message to your body that it is getting the snack is so desperately desires.

Have healthy snacks on hand

Cravings can be hard to fight off. So, if you're going to fall prey to late-night eating, make sure to have healthy snacks available–fat-free yogurt, vegetables, healthy popcorn, etc.