What is it about the end of the day that makes us turn to food for comfort?
There’s something about having made it through the gauntlet of our daily routine that, once we’re alone, trying to wind down and process everything, often leaves us lacking in emotional will power.
Maybe you overeat in the evening after having already eaten dinner, or you keep eating at night even if you aren't physically hungry. Do you notice that you're sad, stressed, bored, or even happy when you're eating late at night? If any of these sound familiar to you, then you may be eating emotionally.
I used to let myself give in habitually to emotional eating at night.
After a long day at work, consumed with everything waiting for me on my to-do list, I found that food provided me a comfort that numbed my feelings of stress and turned down the volume of the day.
I learned that there are quite a few things that can break this cycle and I want to share some of those with you. They have helped my clients break free from the nighttime eating cycle, shed weight and even improve their overall mood, both in the moment and the following day.
1. Maintain a healthy hunger balance.
A lot of people set dieting rules for themselves, like calorie limits or other meal restrictions, in an effort to lose weight. By depriving ourselves of food though, we set ourselves up for failure in a couple of ways.
First, when we don’t get enough food, we constantly think about eating and never feel truly satisfied.
Second, by letting our physiological need to eat fall out of balance by not eating regularly, we are strengthening the psychological reward for over-consuming calories. Our body wants to make sure that we listen to our hunger cues, so it responds more powerfully the hungrier we are.
The problem is, we all know how we feel after we pig out on a pizza because we’re past the point of starving. Maintaining a healthy balance, by eating smaller meals or snacks throughout the day, anytime you feel your body asks for sustenance, is the simplest way to keep your metabolism chugging along, while also reducing that temporary reward for binging.
Hunger actually weakens our resolve, which makes us more vulnerable to bad decisions with food. It’s important to eat when your body asks for food, so instead of ordering something unhealthy, allow yourself a healthy snack to help subdue cravings.
If you're hungry at night, eat. You will learn not to feel guilty about it because you will feel satisfied and will not feel the urge to overcompensate. But, keep in mind that we’re striving for balance here, so eating too much is just as bad as not eating enough. Part of listening to our bodies is paying attention to when we’ve had enough.
2. Feed your mind!
Relaxation exercises, yoga, breathing, reading, art, etc. are all fantastic healthy ways to stay occupied and entertained. Sometimes, we eat because we are bored, tired or stressed. An easy way to reduce the impulse to turn to your kitchen for a solution is to feed your mind first.
When I started my journey to become a healthier eater, and to stop eating emotionally, I started to pay attention to the fact that I wasn't stimulating my mind enough.
I had a pretty reliable routine, but I wasn't engaging in things that would address my spiritual and emotional cravings. The first time I made this connection was like an epiphany, and I immediately went online and started looking into different activities that I was naturally interested in but had never really pursued before.
One of the first things I did was sign up for a Thai cooking class. The class was not only stimulating, but also helped me learn to slow down with food and appreciate how much work goes into creating a meal.
3. Ask questions.
It is extremely important to ask yourself why you're eating.
What are you thinking about that may be causing you to overeat? Many of us have a tasty, healthy, satisfying dinner at night, but as we have a swell of emotions as we try to relax later in the night, we turn to food.
For many of us, overeating is a coping mechanism we develop to deal with nasty feelings of boredom, stress, loneliness, frustrations from the day and even happiness.
It’s important to slow down and identify these feelings, then take a deep breath and occupy your mind with something positive like reading, working on an art project or listening to a meditation.
When I was able to recognize that my feelings were leading to my overeating I asked myself what I was really hungry for and what I honestly needed? Most of the time, it was rest, love, exercise and self-care. When I gave myself these things, I watched my need to overeat completely slip away.
One the the biggest things you will notice in this process is that you may end up eating more than you normally would.
A lot of people who struggle with overeating or binging are actually used to a routine where they may only eat a few small meals per day, and some even skip breakfast. If you want to stop overeating at night, you need to break up with the habits that lead you there.
By eating regularly, you will start to feel satisfied, have more energy and ultimately find yourself in an all-around happier place. This approach takes practice to get used to, but just remember that change and growth take time and awareness. You already have the awareness, so you’re well on the road to overcoming this very common challenge.