By Collin McShirley –
For many of us, the boogie man isn’t under our beds at night, he’s in our kitchen! Why let all your hard work and careful dieting throughout the day go to waste just because of late night cravings. With these 3 simple thoughts you can learn to give yourself the tools to maintain control, even when we’re often most vulnerable: late at night.
What is it about the end of the day that makes us turn to food for comfort? Something about having made it through the gauntlet of our daily routine, and now we’re alone, trying to wind down and process everything that often leaves us lacking in emotional will power. Maybe you’ve overeaten in the evening after you have already eaten dinner, or 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. Take it from me, I used to habitually let myself give in 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 wanted to share some of those with you today. They have helped my clients break free from the night time eating cycle, shed weight, and even increase overall mood, both in the moment, and also the following day.
Maintain a Healthy Hunger Balance
A lot of people set up dieting rules for themselves, like calorie limits or other meal restrictions, in an effort to lose weight. By depriving ourselves of food, we are setting ourselves up for failure in a couple of ways. First, when we aren’t getting enough food we are constantly thinking 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 more hungry 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 feels or snacks throughout the day, anytime you feel your body asking 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 will make us more vulnerable to bad decisions with food. Its important to eat when your body is asking 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 also 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 also paying attention to when we’ve had enough.
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 or tired or stressed, and an easy way to reduce the impulse to turn to your kitchen for a solution is to first feed your mind. 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 the 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 I signed up for a Thai cooking class. The class was not only stimulating, it also helped me learn to slow down with food and appreciate how much work goes into creating a meal.
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 will have a tasty, healthy, satisfying dinner at night, but then after we are getting ready for bed, and have a swell of emotions enter our minds as we try to relax, we turn to food. For many of us overeating is a coping mechanism we developed 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 realize my feelings were leading to my over eating I would ask myself what I was really hungry for, and what do I honestly need? Most of the time it was rest, love, exercise, and self-care. When I gave myself these things I watched my need to over eat completely slip away.
One 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 are struggling with over eating 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 over eating 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, but just remember that change and growth takes time and awareness. You already have the awareness, so you’re well on the road to solving this very common challenge.