Hunger isn’t the only reason why people find themselves thinking about food more in the evenings. Unhealthy longstanding habits and boredom are just as likely to leave people raiding the cupboards as hunger pangs.
Many of my clients report that managing their eating is infinitely easier in the daytime when their hours are filled with work, distraction, childcare or general busyness, but when the evening rolls around, the daytime-snacking-restraint starts to slip away and the urge to comfort eat can take hold.
Reaching for your favourite snacks as a form of ‘self-care’ when all of the chores are done for the day and you’ve got an hour or two to yourself in front of the TV may seem like a harmless indulgence, it is important to recognise just how detrimental this habit can be to your wellbeing. Just a few of the issues which can arise from unhealthy nighttime dietary habits are obesity, insomnia and depression.
We’ve set out five considerations for you to tackle your problem with night-time snacking to help you put the habit to bed – for good. Changes don’t happen overnight (no pun intended), but recognising that there is a problem which needs to be addressed is the first step, and you completed that first step by reading this article!
Identify the Cause of Your Overeating Habits
It is no secret that humans are creatures of habit, but recognising the presence of a habit alone isn’t enough. You will need to dig deeper to understand how the habit formed. Consider your eating habits throughout the entire day, did you restrict your food intake during the day? Or did you eat healthily and adequately and your mind is turning to food through boredom?
Your high calorific intake in the evening may be a consequence of your perception of what ‘winding down in the evening’ looks like. If that sounds like you, try and think of other ways to unwind – that doesn’t involve food. Some great alternatives include creative pursuits, reading, meditating or journaling. Replacing food with other distractions may not be easy initially, but remember, habits are made to be broken and they can be history in under 21 days.
It is also important to note that some nocturnal eating habits are caused by eating disorders such as binge eating disorders or night eating syndrome; both can be just as detrimental to your health and they can both leave people feeling inclined to reach for food to quash negative emotions such as frustration, anger or sadness. If this resonates with you, don’t hesitate to reach out for support.
Do You See Food as Pleasure or Sustenance?
There is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying food, however, problems can start to arise when food becomes one of the primary pleasures in our lives. That mindset will lead to craving the food which brings the most pleasure, rather than what your body needs for optimal performance.
Turning to food which is high in sugar, saturated fats and carbohydrate for comfort is often a vicious cycle. A bad diet can often have a detrimental impact on mental and physical health, which means that in turn, people start to seek more comfort from food rather than looking for it in healthy places.
There is no room to wonder why people turn to food for pleasure with the amount of stress the average person takes on daily, but contentment can be found in a myriad of different ways – yes, even during a lockdown. You can get those happy chemicals flowing by engaging in some light exercise, going on a socially distanced walk with a friend or starting a project that you’ve procrastinated on for too long.
What Do Your Daytime Eating Habits Look Like?
Many modern diets ask those partaking to restrict their calorific intake or stay away from certain foods in the day. If you tend to feel ravenous after your evening meal, your body may be giving you a sign that your diet is too restricted before the evening rolls around.
One of the biggest causes of overeating in the evening is ‘rebound eating’ caused by avoiding carbohydrates in the daytime. The good news is that rebound eating is an easy habit to break. If you stop forbidding yourself from eating carbohydrates in the daytime, you will be less inclined to turn to sugary and fatty carbs such as biscuits and crisps in the evening. Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of high-carb foods which are healthy such as oats, sweet potatoes, brown rice and quinoa.
Are You Riding the Blood Sugar Rollercoaster?
If you tend to consume plenty of sugar throughout the day, your nocturnal cravings may be a result of the blood sugar rollercoaster that you will still be riding in the evening. Not only is your physical body screaming out to be topped up on sugar, but you will be psychologically craving sugar too.
The trick here is to achieve balance. You don’t need to swear off sugar for good, however, it is important to keep your blood sugar levels stable by incorporating all of the food groups into your diet (protein, vegetables, good fats and slow-release carbs). Never allow yourself to get to the point of ravenous hunger.
Does Food Help You to Cope Emotionally?
Self-reflection will be your best friend when it comes to overcoming unhealthy eating habits. Every time you find yourself craving crisps, ice cream, chocolate, sweets, cakes or biscuits, take some time to reflect on how you are feeling.
Here are some easy questions which can reveal whether you are turning to food for hunger or emotional reasons:
- Are you feeling overwhelmed, angry, lonely, or depressed and you’re turning to food for comfort?
- Have you had a balanced diet throughout the day?
- Do you feel in control as you’re engaging in your night-time eating habits?
- Has lockdown had an impact on your mental health, and in turn your eating habits?
- Is there a difference between the food you want and the food you feel that your body needs at present?
Don’t worry if you don’t like the answer to any of those questions – self-compassion is key when it comes to breaking habits and taking proactive steps towards change. It may feel like a form of punishment to deny yourself comfort, but in the long run, you’ll thank yourself for making positive changes to your lifestyle.