Also defined as “midnight hunger,” is primarily characterized as an ongoing, persistent pattern of late-night overeating or binge eating.
Does any of this sound like your night time eating routine?
You restrict, deprive yourself or skip meals throughout the day, which leads to:
- Thinking about food constantly.
- Grabbing random snacks here or there, not really considering what your body needs or really wants.
You don’t do any pre-dinner planning, so that you:
- Pick up take-out on the ride home and then feel guilty about what you ate, which leads to even more eating.
- Eat a ton of cheese and crackers while you try to cook a “real dinner,” then don’t feel hungry for the dinner. Later, you are hungry again, but just snack more.
You have a post-dinner ritual that’s all about overeating and zoning out. You:
- Change into loose, comfortable clothes.
- Station yourself on the couch with your Kindle®, book, or laptop nearby and fire up the TV.
- Head to the kitchen and retrieve snacks during commercial breaks.
- Alternate between sweet and salty, so once you’re bored with one flavor, you switch to the other.
- Don’t pay much attention to what you’re eating or how full you’re feeling.
- Stay up late.
Nightly routines such as this are a cause of weight gain for many women. It’s not just about the food itself, either. Overeating at night can disrupt our sleep, leading to imbalances of hunger and satiety hormones, making it harder for us to recognize when we’re truly hungry or satisfied. Human growth hormone, which plays an important role in weight management, is also suppressed by late night carbohydrate consumption.
What can you do if nighttime eating feels out-of-control? Identify the reason(s) you overeat at night and change the trigger.
Top 5 Triggers for Night Eating
Reason #1: You’re starved during the day. Not eating enough during the day “sets the table” for overeating at night. Eat more regular and well-balanced meals earlier in the day to prevent overeating at night.
Reason #2: You’re masking difficult feelings. What purpose is the food serving for you? Is it helping with stress, loneliness, boredom, or procrastination? Determine the need it’s fulfilling and make a point of meet that need in different ways EARLIER in the day. For example, add stress management techniques to your regular routine, plan entertaining activities that involve friends/family for the evening to target loneliness and boredom, or work a reward into that time frame between finishing work and starting household work back at home.
Reason #3: You need more fun in your life. Is eating at night your favorite way to relax and wind down? Is it the highlight of your day or your primary source of joy/entertainment/fun? If so, look at what is missing in your life that might give you a sense of joy, self nurture, comfort, etc… and add that in. You may find you are less likely to fulfill that need with food.
Reason #4: You’re a creature of habit. We all have routines around eating that involve time of day, location, or activity. Shake up your routine to break the habit of eating at night. Example: If working on your laptop at the kitchen table is a trigger, move to your office. If TV is the trigger to begin snacking, consider whether it’s essential to watch TV at night. If it is, pair TV watching with a new activity. Remember that it will take practice, practice, practice before that new habit feels comfortable, so don’t give up if it doesn’t feel great at first.
Reason #5: You have a hard time catching ZZZs. Develop a consistent evening routine and follow our tips to avoid sleep deprivation and weight gain. When waking can’t be prevented and hunger strikes, have a small collection of go-to foods that are easy to eat and brush out of your teeth quickly so you can get right back to bed, such as a glass of milk, small yogurt or a banana.
Sometimes, it can be as easy as changing just one thing to break the habit of nighttime eating. Eliminating your top trigger(s) for overeating at night is your best plan of attack.