I eat well throughout the day. But at nighttime, my cravings go wild and my evening turns into a feeding frenzy. I’m not hungry, but I just can’t seem to stop nighttime eating. What can I do? I just know that if I’d stop nighttime eating I’d lose weight.
If so, you’re not alone. Nighttime snacking is one of the most common struggles my clients have when it comes to their eating habits. It comes up time and time again in our nutrition coaching sessions at Ascend Fitness. Personally, it’s my biggest struggle as well. I also recently recorded a podcast on the topic were I discuss night-time eating in more detail than can be covered here. If you’d like to listen, go to www.tanjashaw.com/21.
Ready to ditch nighttime snacking? Here are the steps to take action:
1. Find out WHY you want to stop. Do you feel out of control? Do you wake up feeling lethargic with a sugar hangover? Do you have weight you want to lose and you know that your nighttime eating is the main reason you’re not losing?
The reason I want you to discover your why (and make it a big why!) is so you can move onto the next step, which is….
2. Keep a food journal. Most people cringe when I recommend they keep a food journal. So please, revisit step 1 if you’ve checked out and think that you can overcome your nighttime eating without one.
Here’s the lowdown: I don’t want you to track calories, I don’t want you to obsessively measure every morsel of food you put in your mouth. I want you to write down what you eat, approximately how much, and the situation (your environment, thoughts, feelings, why you’re eating, how hungry you are).
With a food journal, you can objectively look back at your day and see if you can make any changes to nip nighttime snacking in the bud. Many times we are so strict and ‘good’ with our eating habits during the day that we are actually hungry at nighttime. Skipping meals or not eating enough fat and protein during the day can also lead to nighttime hunger. Or, we rush through our meals during the day, scarfing them down in front of a computer, or while scrolling Facebook distracting us from getting any pleasure from our food.
The result: nighttime hunger. Use your food journal to bring awareness to your eating habits and to look for trends.
3. Discover why you eat at night. The food journal will help to determine if you’re actually hungry, and if you got enough pleasure from your food during the day. The next step is to determine why you’re eating. If you’re hungry, then plan to eat a bedtime snack. There’s nothing wrong with a planned, balanced nighttime snack. The trick is to plan your snack ahead of time- not to wait until the nighttime eating demons come out!
Most often, we eat at night not because we’re hungry, but because we’re bored, lonely, out of habit, we need to unwind, or for the pleasure we get from eating. In other words, we’re eating for a reason!
And it’s not enough just to ‘stop’ eating; you need to replace it with something. Again, the key is to plan ahead.
IF you’re bored, what can you do instead?
If you’re lonely, what can you do to feel connected?
If you need to unwind after the kids go to bed, how else can you do this?
If you need pleasure, what else would make you feel good
Here are some ideas that clients have used:
- Drink a hot cup of tea in a beautiful tea mug.
- Watch a funny TV show.
- Take a yoga class.
- Write in a journal.
- Go to bed (maybe you’re tired!)
- Have a planned snack but make it a healthier version.
Be sure to set yourself up for success with all the ‘tools’ you need to overcome nighttime eating. For example, you have tea in your cupboard; you have a nice journal to write in, and so on.
For a worksheet to walk you through the steps, go to www.ascendfitnesscoaching.com/nighttime
4. Set up a system of reminders
Despite best intentions, and planning ahead, you can still find yourself in front of the freezer, eating straight from the ice cream carton. It happens. We forget. And that’s why setting up reminders ahead of time is so important.
I’m a big fan of simple sticky notes. Write a message to yourself such as “You are strong” or “How do you want to feel tomorrow?” or “Fuel your body” or “Eat with gratitude”. The sticky notes will serve as a reminder in the moment.
Keep the reminders positive, especially if you have kids or young adults living with you. Also, change the sticky notes from time to time. If you see the same message over and over again, it will become part of the background and it will not be as effective.
5. Ditch the ‘all or nothing’ mentality.
Finally, let go of perfectionism. If you ‘slip up’ and start mindlessly snacking at nighttime, don’t continue to polish off every morsel of ‘contraband’ in your cupboard so that you can make the failure official. Or worse, don’t keep going for days so that you can start fresh on Monday.
Allow yourself to ‘start again’ immediately.
With a little bit of pre-planning, you can tame the nighttime feeding frenzy. I’d love to hear how it goes for you!