When it comes to eating patterns, one of the biggest struggles women seem to have is nighttime overeating. I think it’s important to say that eating past a certain time isn’t a bad thing- unless it is a detriment to your life quality and is negatively impacting your goals. There are many studies that have shown the issue isn’t eating past a certain time, it’s typically the quantity and quality of what we are eating. At the end of the day, if you have weight loss goals, you need to have a deficit. It doesn’t matter if you stop eating at 5 or 9 as long as you have that deficit. For the purpose of this blog I’m going to be speaking in generalities and will be defining overeating as “eating to the point beyond comfort, eating beyond your personal needs, eating without feeling hunger”. If you have an eating disorder, specific dietary questions or concerns I suggest seeing a medical professional that can cater to your specific needs.
Common Reasons Nighttime Overeating Happens:
- Habit/Routine (you know, Netflix and snacks)
- Nibbling while making dinner
- Association: Where you associate snacks, food etc with relaxation (after the kids are in bed and you FINALLY have some time to yourself)
- Boredom, stress, needing a break and other emotionally related reasons for eating
- Depriving yourself all day: This is one commonly overlooked! Some people purposely try to avoid eating too much to control weight and it backfires with extreme nighttime hunger. It will take experimenting to be able to tune into hunger and fullness cues to make sure you are fueling your body rather than starving it.
- Forgetting to eat: Alternatively, some women spend all day caring for others, working and on the go and . When Happy Hour arrives you finally have time to focus on you and what you want without needing to share your food or mentally exhausting yourself further. With both of these situations, it’s important to find ways to nourish yourself during the day.
So how do we break the cycle? If you have distinguished your nighttime eating is related to boredom, habit or something besides hunger, these strategies are for you!
1) Replace your current snacks with healthier options. This is a simple way to ease into less nighttime eating/snacking. For me, I started by replacing my nightly buttered covered popcorn/chips with a pre-seasoned version and the grocery store. I got my salty snack fix without feeling like I was missing out. When you’re first starting out, you may not be ready to say goodbye to your nighttime snack. That’s okay! Start exactly where you are and see if you can make your current snack 1% better. Can you swap extra-butter popcorn for regular? Can you try adding some veggies to your food? Swap the wine for water? Look around for ways you can make your snack enjoyable with a healthier twist.
2) Choose a smaller portion of what you are currently having. This is method to bring more awareness to what you are eating without changing what you are eating. Many women I’ve met love the way snacking is their way to unwind and mindlessly tune out the stressors of life, so this method is a way to bring awareness to what is truly benefiting you. If you normally eat your snack straight out of the bag, carton or original container; start by grabbing a bowl and putting your snack in that. You can also start by buying pre-portioned versions of your favorites. Don’t worry about the portion size too much yet, start with this and then focus on decreasing the amount.
3) Delay, but don’t deny. Snacking can be immediate reward for temporary emotions and to some, restriction leads to binging. Instead of snacking right away when you have a craving, try to delay your snack by 20 minutes and do something else. In 20 minutes do a check to see if you really want it or if you’d rather do something else. Do some self-discovery to find out if you are feeding emotions and stressors or need something to eat.
4) Recognize that your habit is serving a purpose, work to understand it and replace it if you want to. I remember the first time I heard “even bad habits have rewards”. Wait what? This is somehow HELPING me? It turns out, my Netflix and snacks habit was helping me unwind after a stressful day, gave me a mental break from life, and was a way for me to relax with my husband. I wasn’t very hungry, but it was fun to have something to do while watching TV, not having to share my food with anyone (anyone with kids gets this) and was a distraction. Eventually I realized there were better ways I could end my night (such as reading, sexy time, hobbies etc) and I began to replace my nighttime snacking ritual with options that better suited my goals. Ask yourself over and over why you are doing what you’re doing and if it’s truly serving you.
5) Close your kitchen. For awhile I had this habit of just finding myself in our kitchen for no reason. I’d just be there, staring at it looking for answers on “what I wanted”. I started a new pattern of cleaning and closing the kitchen so I don’t feel annoyed by a mess and with the lights out I also don’t have the appeal to go there. My nightly routine of setting the coffee maker, running the dishwasher and wiping off the counters has made it much easier for me to shut down and stay out. By closing your kitchen, you are also giving yourself the gift of waking up to a clean kitchen. One less thing to deal with!