Linda Melone
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How to stop nighttime eating

It was a dark and stormy night. In the soft glow of the refrigerator door light, with a spoon in one hand and a carton of Chunky Monkey in the other, guilt enveloped Sally like a cold wet blanket.

She shook it off with the realization that after spending all day going from meeting to meeting, fighting traffic, and then –the last straw — discovering she’d missed a a one-day sale on inflatable lawn ornaments, she deserved this sweet treat!

No jury would convict me, Sally thought to herself, spooning the frozen dessert into her mouth with the passion of a death row inmate.

Let’s face it, romanticizing nighttime eating isn’t hard to do. It’s dark, you’re alone, and your willpower level is below zero. Who’s to know?

Even if you haven’t gone as far as the Sally scenario, you may have found yourself uttering one of these common phrases to justify a nighttime food bender:

  • “I haven’t eaten all day! What am I supposed to do — starve??”
  • “What else am I going to do with my hands while watching TV — just put them on my lap?”
  • “If no one sees me eat this half gallon of Neapolitan ice cream it doesn’t count.”

Because after all, we all know once the sun goes down all dietary rules go out the window. Whether you’re stressed, tired, hangry, or just want to curl up with a bowl of [your favorite comfort food here], any and all eating feels justified. 

I get it.

But here’s the thing: If you give in to your ravenous appetite you’re not only more likely to overeat (pretty much guaranteed), but studies show you’re also at risk for a lot of other, not-so-great, fates: 

— You increase your risk of diabetes

— You’re more likely to gain weight

— Eating late at night may negatively impacts fat metabolism

— You’ll increase hormonal markers associated with heart disease

— Your sleep will suffer 

Who needs any of that?

I’ve mentioned in prior posts that I credit my 15+ lb weight loss (which I’ve kept off for more than seven years) on cutting out nighttime snacking.

And it’s the absolute truth, regardless of all the exaggerating I do on these posts.

I decided that cutting out those calories would eliminate a few hundred and, may, over time help me lose weight.

And it did.

Keep in mind, however, it took about a year. We’re talking about 200 to 300 calories a night deficit at the most. It wasn’t as if I polished off a sleeve of Oreos and half pint of strawberry Häagen-Dazs each night and then one day decided to eat nothing after dinner.

It was a bit uncomfortable, but not horrible. It was a step I could handle.

It’s why I advocate making small changes when you’re working toward a goal, whether it’s to firm and tone up or lose weight.

It’s way more effective than vowing to NEVER AGAIN eat chocolate, cut out bread, ban booze and work out every day.

Skipping a small snack at night? Doable.

If this is your issue, I have a few tips that may help you, too.

1. EAT MORE DURING THE DAY

Wait, what? Eat MORE? This may sound counterintuitive, but if you’re “starving” at night and didn’t eat much during the day, chances you didn’t eat enough during the day, which is exactly why you’re ravenous at night. If you eat enough during the day you simply won’t be hungry at night.

Do not allow more than four hours to pass between meals so you avoid becoming too hungry to make sensible dietary decisions.

2. INCLUDE PROTEIN AT EVERY MEAL  

Lean protein — fish, eggs, dairy, lean meats, beans, etc. — does a bunch of wonderful things. Protein revs your metabolism, keeps hunger at bay and fills you up. Strive to include 20 grams with each meal (approximately 3 oz) and about half that with snacks.

Plus, as we age our bodies become less efficient at processing protein. We need an ounce or two more each day than we did in our formative years.

Swap out any carb-loaded meals (I’m lookin’ at you, bagel for breakfast) with a protein to fend off hunger longer.

3. SET SMALL GOALS

Ideally, you want to stop eating two, preferably three, hours before you go to sleep. If you typically eat up until you turn off your nightstand light, begin with a half hour and “train” yourself to gradually go for longer periods of time between your last meal and sleep.

The side benefit: You will sleep better, too.

4. FIND A HEALTHY, NON-FOOD ACTIVITY

A recent calorie-free project 

Cutting out snacking may also mean you’re cutting out something to do with your hands. A hot, calorie-free, comforting beverage at night fits the bill.

I sip on herbal tea. The downside? Pee dreams. You know, the dreams when you spend half the night looking for a bathroom because in real life you have to go. Those.

So maybe knitting or coloring may work better for you. Just make sure it’s non-food related. See my latest coloring project posted here… all those little details take my mind off anything caloric.

5. ADJUST YOUR MINDSET

I talk a lot about mindset because we often see these types of changes in a negative way. And telling yourself you “can’t” have something makes you want it even more.

Flip that switch. Know why you’re making this change and give yourself time to adjust. I’m talking about a month or two, not a couple of days.

“Oh, well, I tried this for a week and it didn’t work for me, so I may as well go back to my bad habits and forget the whole thing,” is an excuse. Stop doing it.

You can do this! I did it, and I don’t possess any superpowers. At least none that I’m aware of yet. That could change any given moment.

Until then…

Do YOU tend to eat at night — and will you try any of these tips? Let’s chat! Leave a comment down below — and share this on your social networks — to get the conversation going…

Other posts you may enjoy:

How to motivate yourself to exercise when you hate it

3 counterintuitive weight loss tactics that really work

How to break the rules and still see results

Your Ageless Body Coach,

About the Author Linda Melone

Linda Melone is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified trainer and award-winning health and fitness writer. She specializes in helping women over 50 get in shape and lose weight.

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Leave a Comment:

Karen Lee says

Wow ! Its like you can see me in a window what i get up too at night lol
Everything you’ve said makes so much sense Linda,i can go all day & not eat & then night time comes 😨 😎
Thanku for your advice x

Reply
    Linda Melone says

    haha! It’s a very common issue, Karen! I hope you found these tips helpful.

    Reply
Helena Guilfoyle says

You must’ve been reading my mind when I opened your email… thank you 😉

Reply
    Linda Melone says

    It’s one of my super powers, Helena! 🙂

    Reply
Pat Smith says

Oh Linda, I love this…you must have special hearing powers. I was just talking with my husband that I need to come up with something light & low calorie to eat when I come home from work after 8:30 at night. I can run around all day and not eat but when I sit down at night I’m looking for something to eat plus after working for 6-8 hours on my feet I am rather hungry. I’m up 5 pounds due to eating at night and limited exercise with the broken bones in my foot. I’m on the mend so back it’s back to light exercising and easing into walking. I just need to come up with something light and flavorful for the evening meal. Thanks again.

Reply
    Linda Melone says

    Thanks so much, Pat! Recent research showed that eating protein (they specified cottage cheese, but it could be yogurt or other low-fat protein) at night did not add on weight. Then again, I don’t know anyone who eats a container of cottage cheese for a snack :).

    Reply
Mary Harrell says

Jigsaw puzzles are really great for keeping both hands busy. I was into it for awhile, quit and started eating like there was going to be a famine.
Now I weigh more than I ever have.

Reply
    Linda Melone says

    Mary, so you know what you need to do and what works, which is great! You want to look at what triggers your eating… boredom? depression? anxiety? Then address the real issue instead of reaching for comfort food. It’s a matter of doing it, falling off the wagon and starting again until it sticks. You can do this!

    Reply
Roula Awada says

I have the same problem. The problem is that just after dinner, when I am not hungry, I start thinking about snacking and i can’t understand why specially that I am not hungry and it never happens to me after breakfast or lunch. Only after dinner. I even go to bed extremely early in order to avoid snacking, it is the only solution I found!

Reply
    Linda Melone says

    Have you tried doing something to keep your hands busy, such as coloring (my thing :))? A friend of mine who’s lost 100 lbs took up needlepoint. Or, PLAN for healthy snacks at night that won’t wreck your calorie intake. Unbuttered popcorn is a good one. It’s low calorie and crunchy. Or cut up fresh veggies or fruits.

    Reply
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