Today’s question….how do I stop myself from feeling so hungry at night? We’ve all been there. You made it through the day and only ate foods that you perceived to be healthy. You had dinner about an hour or so ago, but you’re starting to feel that strong sense of hunger overtake you. Your thoughts begin to race and you feel a sense of anxiety as you can’t stop thinking about food. What should you do now?
Well, first of all. I’m a strong believer that if you’re really that hungry, you should be eating. So, for now, find something healthy to snack on and only have a serving (notice I said “serving”- make sure you’re reading that nutrition label!). Some background information to get you started, there’s actually a psychological diagnosis called “nighttime eating syndrome.” Those who have this issue actually eat more than half of their daily calories between 8pm and 6am! While research is still being conducted on this relatively new diagnosis, it seems to be at least somewhat affected by hormone levels. Of course, like anything else, there are lifestyle factors that contribute to nighttime hunger too. So, how do you curb that nighttime trip to the kitchen?
1. Make sure you aren’t depriving yourself during the day. This is the number one reason I see many people running to their kitchens in the evening. Yes, you want to make healthy food choices during the day, but you don’t want to go through your day feeling hungry. It’s important to consume enough calories for your body to sustain itself. So, while you definitely need to cut calories if you want to lose weight, you should only aim to lose about 1 to 2 pounds per week. One pound is about 3500 calories, so if you were trying to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week, you would want to eat 500-1000 less calories per day. But, remember if you’re exercising, you won’t need to drop as many calories because you’re burning some off during your fitness activities.
2. Eat breakfast everyday! Believe it or not, most people who binge eat at night aren’t hungry in the morning. A huge percentage of them actually skip breakfast. Break the habit! Start eating breakfast every morning, whether you want it or not. After only a few weeks, you’ll be in a new routine and eating breakfast will feel like a necessity. A healthy breakfast that’s going to keep you feeling satisfied and energetic throughout your morning includes a combination of healthy carbs, fat, and protein.
3. Break bad habits. As humans, we’re creatures of habit. Our daily routines can become hard to break, especially when they work well to keep us on track. This means you may have gotten into the habit of sitting down with a huge snack while you watch TV at night. Food can be comforting, especially after a long day. There are an endless number of ways to occupy yourself at night that don’t include food. Um, knitting, anyone? If that’s totally not your thing, and you just know that your evening needs to include food, then get all of the unhealthy foods out of your house. I repeat, get all of the unhealthy foods out of your house! If it’s there, you’re going to eat it. No one has that much willpower. If it’s not in your house, you’ll be much more likely to choose a healthy option instead.
4. Understand what real hunger feels like in your body. True hunger is experienced as an empty feeling in your throat. It’s not rumbling in your stomach or thoughts you can’t get out of your mind. It isn’t triggered by the sight or smell of a food. Real feelings of hunger can be satisfied by eating just about anything. What you’re experiencing when you can’t get a certain food out of your mind and you just have to have it is actually a craving! Becoming aware of the difference is the first step. The second step of overcoming it is a bit more difficult. This is another great reason to get all of the unhealthy foods out of your house! Also, finding alternatives to those foods that you just can’t get enough of is also a great way to satisfy a craving without actually indulging in foods that make you feel worse in the morning.
5. Talk to someone. If you sense that your nighttime eating is more deeply rooted and changing your habits and eating routine don’t help, talk to someone. There’s no shame in opening up and working through your struggles with a trained professional. Nighttime eating syndrome is a real disorder and like anything else when it comes to your health—don’t take it lightly. Be your own advocate. Research shows that cognitive-behavioral type therapy techniques have been effective in the treatment of this issue.
Remember it takes time to change your habits. It won’t be easy at first, but really what is? But, it will definitely get easier with time. It takes about 21 days to change a habit. Take time everyday to visualize yourself living the life you’ve imagined. Before you know it, you’ll be sharing your story with others.