It’s 11:00 pm, you’re hungry, and you already know you won’t be able to stop eating at night.
You’ve had a long day, and all your willpower evaporated during the day, so it’s time to eat. But wait–you ate dinner an hour ago! And lunch earlier!
Why are you still hungry? It turns out that many people have this problem. They don’t know how to stop eating at night!
They feel like they have control during the day but then lose control at night.
In fact, some studies show that as much as 50% of our daily calories can come after dinner each night.
The good news is that there are plenty of strategies for those who want to stop eating later at night.
In this blog post we’ll share 10 steps that will help break the habit and change your mindset about eating at night. These steps help you to build a strong, stable eating foundation.
How To Stop Night Eating (And Binge Eating)!
1 – Know Why You Eat Too Much At Night
The first step is to figure out why you’re eating too much at night.
What are the triggers? Are there certain foods causing more problems than others?
Or thinking back about whether something happened earlier that day which resulted in out of control eating?
The key here is identifying what causes this late night bingeing behavior so you can plan the other steps!
Here are some of the main culprits to watch out for:
- Not eating enough during the day (see step #6 for more info)
- Boredom at night
- Anxiety at night
- Tossing and turning, can’t sleep at night
Spend some time thinking about the triggers that cause your overeating habits!
Because you won’t need all 12 tricks covered in this article to reduce your night eating episodes.
But if you know why you eat too much at night, then you can just pick a few of the tricks listed below which are right for you.
The key is to really deeply think about why you overeat at night. Learning how to stop eating at night requires a strong moral foundation so I recommend you take 10 minutes to journal and really be honest with yourself.
Just do this one time. Really get your thoughts out on paper.
Now is the time to be honest. No denial. What’s going on late night? Write your answers out because this will help clarify your issues.
For example, you’re honest with yourself and write down that you don’t eat enough during the day …
2 – Eat Plenty During The Day
It’s not easy to admit that your problem is you’re not eating enough hearty foods during the day.
Let me repeat: A primary reason your cravings get triggered is because you aren’t eating enough hearty foods.
You aren’t eating enough.
But to admit this is difficult.
One reason why it’s difficult to admit you don’t eat enough hearty foods is because our society demonizes any type of ‘fat’. Often people fear the slightest weight gain, so of course they eat less during the day!
At the Eating Disorder Treatment Center where I work, we see patients with anorexia. Oftentimes they are young women. And these women will be stick thin and still be deathly afraid of weight gain!
The problem with not eating enough during the day means you set yourself up to eat those calories at night. How many times have you been hungry at night before you go on a crazy nighttime calorie intake binge?
And oftentimes when we eat late at night we’re eating junk food instead of nutritious food. Plus we can easily lose control and eat until we feel sick and painfully full.
But it’s very difficult to eat more food during the day.
Oftentimes you think you are being ‘healthy’ by not eating more during the day (but in reality you are not eating enough).
For example, people think eating salads and no carbs through the day means they are healthy.
While these are somewhat healthy choices, you still must eat enough calories to feel full and satisfied each day to avoid nighttime eating. Learning how to stop eating at night depends on this lesson!
3 – Stop Weight Loss Until You Have Stable Eating Foundation
Many times people are approaching their health backwards. They want to lose weight first and then figure out everything else.
But this is like building a tall house on a quicksand foundation!
Because let’s face it: many people lose weight, but in the long term most of these people regain the weight. In fact many people often end up weighing more than when they started!
This is what happens when you try to lose weight first without a strong, stable eating foundation.
It’s very important if you are serious about eating at night that you stop trying to lose weight during the day.
Because if you are trying to lose weight during the day, then you are not eating enough during the day. Remember step #2?
You gotta eat enough during the day!
I know eating this much food throughout the day might seem unusual to you. But let’s face it – you are eating much more food at night!
4 – Have Protein and Fat Each Meal and Snack
How many meals are there in a day? Most people will say three meals per day.
How many snacks are there in a day? Most people will say between zero and two snacks per day.
If you really want to stop overeating at night, then embrace this rule of thumb!
Eating protein and fat will help you develop a strong, safe and stable eating foundation.
After your nighttime eating normalizes then you can start to test what changes you’d like to make about your weight. But for the beginning at least don’t focus on weight loss! Focus on step #4!
Not sure how to incorporate more fat or protein into your diet? Here are some ideas:
- Add lean protein such as chicken, fish or eggs to a salad and top it off with avocado.
- Brunch is the perfect time for some healthy fats like avocados!
- Top your toast in an eggy way (over easy, yolks, scrambled, etc.)
- Add leftover spinach leaves right onto sandwich halves. You’re getting even MORE veggies into this dish while boosting flavor at the same time!
- Nuts make for a convenient and great snack. Pair with fruits and you are good to go!
Following this step, when you go to bed you should NOT be hungry. Of course eating a full meal and feeling full right before bed is not advised either.
But eating an hour or two before and getting a nice satisfied feeling is your goal.
5 – Plan Your Day
Now so far we’re talking about very standard advice to help with night time overeating.
But what if you are already eating plenty during the day? And you are still overeating at night?
Imagine trying to keep care of a potted plant with a leak. But you don’t know about the leak!
No matter how much water you give the plant, it always looks sad and lifeless. You try your best but your plants always seem to die after a few weeks.
Same goes for overcoming nighttime eating. You can experiment all you want. But if you lack awareness about ‘leaks’ then you’ll continue to eat late at night despite your best efforts.
6 – Hide Visible Trigger Foods
Sometimes you’ll hear advice that you need to get rid of all the sugary foods in your house.
At first getting rid of all the sugary foods seems like a good idea. But then one night you just go for a quick drive, get tons of sugar cookies and end up binge eating anyways!
I recommend taking a less extreme approach. Simply make sure your sugary treats are not visible.
Sometimes at night we see something that triggers us to eat. If you left the blue bag of Oreos out then you might suddenly start eating these foods without even thinking!
So double check to see if any treats are easily visible and put those away.
7 – Reduce Crazy Stress
Look, some stress is fine and normal. But if you are under crazy stress then you need to reduce it.
I’m sure you know stress relates to overeating. When you’re stressed it feels like you are in danger. Your body then produces a hormone called cortisol that makes you feel out of control and hungry.
If your stress levels are high, it is hard to maintain the healthy eating habits needed for good health. Because binge eating late at night leads back into more distress.
Since you overate yesterday, now you are paranoid and undereating today! You are thinking about your food and can’t stop thinking about eating it.
This increases your stress because you’re not relaxed around food like normal people. You keep thinking about your food even when not eating!
This triggers even heavier late night binging eating cycles, in turn further perpetuating this vicious cycle!
Now most people say they would do things like a hot bath to reduce their stress but that they don’t have the time.
If you are short on time then here are some things to reduce your stress:
- Go on walks during phone calls meetings if you can. This will help you de-stress while still being productive
- Use your car rides and commutes to meditate. Yes, you can meditate in the train or even while driving! Just turn off the radio and tune in to you!
- Take bathroom and hydration breaks throughout the day. Research has shown taking a 10- minute break every hour actually boosts productivity. Need an excuse to take a break? Say you’re doing it to stay hydrated and use the bathroom while you’re up.
8 – Have More Good Moments During The Day
How fun is your life? Silly question, I know.
But let’s also realize how eating at night often is your effort to calm you down. Right?
Your mind is racing. You have a long to do list and you aren’t even halfway done yet. You’ve been working all day and have hours of work left. Bills are unpaid!
Under all these stress for hours, your brain needs a break.
You might not think your brain needs a break, but your brain has a mind of its own!
One way your brain takes a break is by eating at night. While eating at night, your brain is in a distracted state. Plus, the dopamine from the sugar rush gives your brain a temporary high and numb feeling.
Let me be very clear right now:
If you’re stressed and depressed throughout the day …
If you have nothing other in your life than food which brings you happiness …
You will continue nighttime eating because your brain needs this happiness.
You need to have more fun during the day!
I know you’re busy. But if you’re serious about overcoming night eating, then find ways to be creative with your schedule.
You can figure out a way to set better boundaries or to find the courage to ask for some more time for yourself.
Ask yourself: What are you missing in your life? Are you craving joy? Self-nurturing? Comfort? Ice cream doesn’t have to be a bad thing!
It might not be the Cherry Garcia snack at night after all. So add in what you really need more of – and then you may find that you’re less likely to fulfill that need with food.
Here are some silly ways to have more good moments 🙂
- Create a fun playlist on your phone and listen to it while you’re walking around the block.
- Wear something silly like mismatched socks or crazy hair one day every other week (not all year).
- Put an orange slice in some of those lunches with friends! 🙂
- Take yourself shopping at least twice per month anywhere but Target 😉
- Pick up lunch from somewhere different each time. You’ll find your favorite spots without realizing how many there really were 😉
- Walk at a different pace. Faster or slower than what you normally do!
9 – Get Better Sleep
Getting more sleep is really important.
Many studies have shown night time eating gets worse when you get less sleep.
This can be because your body doesn’t know when it’s full or that you’re stressed from lack of sleep.
If you are lacking sleep there’s also less likelihood you’ll be able to plan your next day (step #5).
Lacking a plan, you’ll basically sleepwalk throughout the day. You’ll miss the important meals because you aren’t hungry. Why aren’t you hungry?
Because you’ve been half awake for the entire morning and you’ve eaten three boxes of crackers without you even knowing it!
When you lack sleep you are more likely to graze on salty crackers and other unhealthy snacks. You just won’t be aware of what you’re eating and you’ll overeat.
Even worse you’ll overeat on foods with zero nutrition! Don’t get me wrong, I like sugary treats. But I also realize sugary treats have zero nutrition and don’t help me stay full for very long.
If you lack sleep you’ll crave sugary treats, like a moth being attracted to a deadly flame. You won’t be able to resist too because your willpower is down.
At night you don’t stand a chance either. Get some sleep.
Here are tips to get more zzz’s at night 🙂
- Schedule a bedtime routine
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and waking up at the same time every day
- Keep your room dark with minimal light. This will help signal it’s nighttime to fall asleep sooner rather than later!
- You can also try wearing an eye mask or earplugs if that helps too 🙂
- Create some kind of soothing ritual before going into deep slumber
- Try exercising right after work but not earlier in any other part on preceding days (if possible). So when nightfall comes around all those endorphins are ready go-go party rockin’ down there!
10 – Get Support
Overcoming night eating is tough. Let’s face it, millions of Americans eat too much during the night.
This is a very common problem and it’s common because it’s tough.
Everybody needs some emotional support, even without overeating struggles getting in the way!
If you have a partner, talk to them. It’s not easy opening up about your personal struggles like night time eating, but it can be really helpful for the both of you!
If nobody at home feels comfortable with talking and being open, then find somebody else who offers support. Maybe a friend or more distant family member is more willing to chat.
Sometimes even going on social media (Facebook!) will lead someone in need into contact with others who are struggling too 🙂
Or googling ‘how to stop eating at night’ and ending up on a blog like the post here about nighttime eating 🙂