Last month we talked about the common struggle of losing control with food at night. I think it is probably clear now WHY this happens, and it’s different for everyone, but there are common themes and hopefully this article will give you some ideas about how to combat the issue.
One of the most common causes of overeating at night is being underfed throughout the day. Whether it’s because you haven’t taken time to eat, or are purposely trying to restrict because you think it will help you achieve a goal, this is setting yourself up for failure! Your body will rebel against these efforts as soon as your willpower runs out, which happens mighty quickly. A much better strategy is to keep yourself fed throughout the day with a healthy dose of real food, which tends to be more satisfying than liquid nutrition. Focus on getting an adequate amount of protein each time you eat whether at a meal or snack. If you’re unsure what an “adequate amount” would be, it varies widely depending on the person, but a starting place would be 20-30 grams per meal and 10-20 grams per snack. In addition to your protein, whole pieces of fruit and any veggies you can get your hands on are great options because they provide water and fiber (volume in the stomach) along with lots of nutrients to help you feel full and keep hunger pangs that are waiting to strike later this evening at bay!
Along the lines of what to eat, and another common reason people fall off the wagon at night, is that the food that they did eat during the day was not enjoyed. For some reason, and this angers me to no end, we have adopted the idea that food is just “fuel,” a means to an end, or needs to be bland and boring when we’re trying to lose weight or improve health. NOT TRUE!!! And if you’re under the impression that you should be eating chicken breast, egg whites, and steamed broccoli, I AM HERE TO SAVE YOU! 😉 I want you to enjoy your food, and if you want to make lasting life changes, this is a MUST. It may take some time, thinking, and maybe a little more planning (especially in the beginning) to figure out how to simultaneously eat food you enjoy, WHILE still being on track to achieve your goals, but it is absolutely possible. Also, do not allow yourself to fall into the all or nothing thinking camp. Does this sound familiar: A co-worker brought in cupcakes for someone’s birthday, you ate one, thinking to yourself, well, I messed up, and now I might as well enjoy the rest of this day and start again next Monday…so you go back for another cupcake later on, and then munch on all the other foods you’ve been depriving yourself of when you get home. Guess what? One cupcake WILL NOT hurt you…it’s often what that one cupcake turns in to as a result of this extreme way of thinking. Balance is so important for longevity purposes. Next time the cupcake happens, ENJOY the heck out of it, and knowing there will always be other treat opportunities, make the next meal or snack right back to nutrient dense food, and move right along.
In some cases, the problem of overeating at night is simply out of boredom, habit, or meeting some need such as stress relief or comfort. In this case, it is imperative to become more mindful of what is going on. 95% of our behavior is habit based because that’s how our brain conserves energy. Take some time to figure out what the circumstances are surrounding your habit. This is the cue or reminder that directs you to engage in the behavior. It could be a particular time of day, a feeling, or an event. Since we can’t just avoid these, we must strategize our way through them. As an example, if you go straight to the pantry when you arrive home from work, a solution could be simply going in the front door so you bypass the kitchen. If you wind down and relieve stress with a few glasses of wine, ask yourself if there’s any other way to do that. We all need a release at the end of a busy day. Exercise is one of the most potent stress relievers, so if it’s not a gym night, maybe head out for a walk to clear your head. If this doesn’t work for you, try something else. The key here is to change your routine. We all know if we keep repeating the same pattern, expecting a different result, we won’t get very far. Often times, just making the effort to be more aware, increasing mindfulness around our food behavior, can help us start to make changes. If you struggle with night eating to the point that it’s negatively impacting your results, my challenge to you is to take some time figuring out what exactly is triggering the behavior, what needs are being met, and start to strategize other ways of meeting these needs and changing the routine. And whatever you do……DON’T END UP STARVING when dinner rolls around…because no amount of willpower will be enough at that point! Good luck, and if you feel like some additional support or accountability would be helpful, we are always available for a quick 15 minute nutrition consultation!