How to Stop Overeating at Night | TMOHP Episode 027

Overeating at night is probably the struggle clients ask about most often. Overeating, emotional eating, and bingeing are all most common at the end of the day and it’s also the period of eating that most women feel least confident about being able to change. There are good reasons for this, but I’ve got some new tools to share with you to help with night eating.

In this episode, I’m covering what it takes to break the habit of overeating at night. Listen to find out why overeating at night is such a common issue, why efforts to change it often don’t work, and how you can get a clearer picture of what’s going on with your eating at the end of the day so that you can start making effective changes.

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • Why overeating at night is so common (even though so many women feel like they are struggling alone)
  • How to assess your end of day eating patterns and habits
  • WILL power vs. Willpower
  • How to create an evening routine that works better than overeating (and feels more empowering)

Featured on the show:

  • Take the free Hidden Hungers Quiz and find out your primary Hidden Hunger and your best place to start shifting your relationship with food.
  • Your Missing Peace is a 16-week program to change your relationship with food and to end emotional eating and overeating. Go here to learn more.  
  • Visit http://toomuchonherplate.com for more tips and resources to create peace with food and overcome overeating and emotional eating.

Episode Transcript

The most challenging time for overeating or emotional eating is the end of the day. If you ask most smart, busy women, the time when their eating falls apart is either at the end of the workday, after dinner, or at night - right before bed. 

And this is so frustrating when you’ve worked all day to color inside the lines - to eat the way you wanted to eat and at the end of the day all your good intentions disintegrate.

As you probably know, there are some good reasons why end-of-the-day overeating or even bingeing is so common.

It’s the end. And by the end - whether your end is after work or after the kids go to bed, so many of your resources are all used up. If you struggle with overeating at the end of the day, you're not alone!

Why is overeating at the end of the day so common?

And by the way, I want to underline this because so many smart, successful women feel like they are alone with this deep dark secret. You are not alone if this is something you struggle with.

Think about it. Traditional approaches - not my approach, but traditional approaches to ending overeating are based on willpower. By the end of the day, you've used up your energy, your discipline, and your willpower. 

You may be low on fuel (solid nutrition). 

You're over-hungry. 

Your day may be packed with the demands of others and your needs haven't received a lot of attention. 

You'd like to put your feet up, but there's still a lot to do (and/or think about). 

It's hard to relax and unwind. 

You've been going, going, going all day and the end of the day feels like your only chance to do something "nice" for yourself. 

You've already had a big day, and there's still more to do. You'd just like to zone out for a bit, and chocolate or icecream or leftovers are there to fill in the gaps.

Here are some reasons that aren't helpful (or even reasons, really)

If you're frustrated with yourself about overeating at the end of the day, again, you're not alone. But please understand that spending time blaming yourself isn't helpful, it probably isn't accurate, and it might even contribute to the cycle and make overeating worse! If the reasons you come up with for your overeating involve a negative label (such as, lazy, weak, or undisciplined), I’m going to challenge you to take that label and consider why you might be feeling that way.  For instance, if you believe that you're overeating at night because you're simply undisciplined and lacking in willpower, please consider why this might be the case. What might explain a lack of willpower? 

Change doesn’t grow out of negative judgment. It emerges with curiosity and compassion.

So you’re going to want to take a closer look at your end-of-the-day overeating patterns to learn more about how to change them. Without judgment and with curiosity and compassion.

When does your overeating "begin"? Be detailed and think carefully here. What's the real beginning of the overeating? When does the overeating happen (between what specific hours of the day)? This might be the end of the work day, late afternoon, before dinner, after dinner, or after others have gone to bed, or .... 

Do you plan for it (buy certain foods in advance)? Look forward to it? Dread it? Does the urge to overeat build slowly, or come out of nowhere? Are you aware of overeating while it's happening or does it feel like you are on "autopilot"? 

What's your do you know about your hunger level before overeating at the end of the day (are you starving, hungry and irritable, not hungry, already very full?.)

What's your energy level before overeating at the end of the day (exhausted, dragging, full of zest, my brain is tired, in a slump, even and peaceful ...)

What’s your mood like?

Let’s talk about sleep - how much do you generally get? Why do I ask - because lack of sleep is a huge contributor to overeating. If you’re overeating at the end of the day and you’re not getting 7.5 quality hours of sleep a night, making this happen is going to be your first assignment. Always.

Be curious about anything else you know about your overeating at the end of the day. This is a good place to consider your results from the Hidden Hungers Quiz. If you haven’t taken it yet, I’ll put the link in the comments. It will help you identify more about the reasons you’re overeating.

Now that you’ve got the details about your overeating patterns, the next step is to decide on your goal - what do you want instead of overeating at night?

Before you say that this result is “not overeating,” let’s consider what you really want. I’m guessing what you really want is to not want to overeat, to not consider overeating, or to not be tempted to overeat. But what does this look like for you? If you’re like most women who struggle with this issue, you probably have a clearer picture of what you don’t want to do than of what you do want to create.

I want to tell you about something I call willpower that is not the willpower you’re thinking of. WILL is an acronym.

WILL stands for What It Looks Like, and WILL is an essential piece of solving this puzzle. 

If you don’t want to be someone who overeats at the end of your day then you need a clear idea of what you do want to do with that same period of time. This vision of what you do want to do or be has to fit - here's what I mean: 

It’s tempting to create a WILL vision that sounds good but doesn’t really fit with what you want. For instance, an example would be someone who works 12-hour shifts and tends to overeat in the evenings. Say she creates a What It Looks Like Vision of her ideal evening that has her coming home, full of energy and cleaning out closets instead of eating in front of the TV. 

You already know the problem with this WILL vision: it sounds good, but it wouldn’t feel good. Her reality is that she’s just worked a long day and she’s tired. She needs something soothing and easy (which is why eating in front of the TV has become a habit). Your WILL vision should be a match for what you need and where you are in terms of energy and mental and emotional bandwidth. Make sense?

Let’s start crafting your What It Looks Like vision of YOUR end of the day, an end of day that unfolds without overeating. 

Step One: Crafting your WILL vision is a process, it’s something that evolves over time, and often, through trying new things and figuring out whether they fit, or whether there is something that would work better. 

Since you are breaking a cycle that’s familiar, it’s likely that you have a clearer vision of what you don’t want to do, than of what you do. This is normal. In fact, you may never have thought about what this time of day would look like if a) food wasn’t involved or b) you weren’t being some “perfect”, unrealistic version of yourself. 

Start by creating a very rough sketch of what your What It Looks Like vision is. Start with the time of day that your overeating is happening. Consider what you already know about how you are feeling (physically, emotionally, energy-wise) and what you know about what you need or crave during this time (that isn’t food). 

What would it look like to take food out of the equation? Brainstorm, make lists, do some free writing of whatever comes to mind. 

Bonus tip: If you get completely stuck, ask yourself the opposite question. If you wanted to guarantee that you spent your time overeating – if this was destined to happen – what would you do to make it so? Take this answer and see if there is anything here that would help you form the opposite vision – one where food and overeating just weren’t important. Here's an example WILL vision for Kate who works 12-hour shifts and overeats in the evenings: 

WILL - I'm tired when I end my shift at the hospital. On the way home, I make an effort to let go of my workday. I play my favorite music, sometimes I sing out loud and sometimes I listen to something relaxing. I made sure to eat some almonds before I left work so I'm not starving like I used to be after a long, difficult shift. When I get home, I no longer go right to the kitchen (like I used to do).  I take fifteen minutes to transition into being home. I change my clothes, wash my face, and put on the hand lotion that I love the smell of.  I give my brain and my body a chance to relax. I make a cup of tea, or get a glass of ice water and sit on the deck or at the kitchen table. Sometimes I read a novel for a few minutes. My family knows that they get a better version of me if I take some time for myself before diving into the next phase of my day. I keep my expectations for myself to a minimum on long workdays. It's okay to be tired. Instead of trying to get everything done before bed, after dinner, I keep it simple. Taking the pressure off and giving myself some time to unwind makes all the difference. After dinner, it's about being with family, winding down, and getting ready for bed. It's rest time, not chore time. My treat is real permission to put my feet up and watch a favorite TV show, and to go to bed early. I've come to love a good night's sleep.

Remember, creating your own WILL vision is a process. Consider your first run-through a rough draft. Take some time to think about the WILL vision you’d like to experiment with instead of overeating at the end of the day (whenever that end of day time is for you).

Double check to make sure your WILL vision matches your energy levels and your cravings at that time of day? 

Look for obstacles or things that might interfere with your plan and see what workarounds you can come up with.

Remember, you’re creating a rough draft. This doesn’t need to be perfect.

Also, if you’re overeating at the end of the day, it’s not only a habit. To a part of your brain, it probably seems like your best option for getting your needs met. One of the things we really work on in Your Missing Peace is tackling these things one step at a time.

There may be a big gap between your current pattern and that WILL - what you want it to look like. You may be thinking thoughts that make changing your current pattern feel impossible. Things like:

There is no way I can get my needs met.

·        The work I need to do before bed is never-ending

·        My family won’t understand if I make time for self-care

·        I feel guilty if I take time for myself when I haven’t cleaned the kitchen

This is a place where it can be great to get help. These are the kind of things we love to tackle in Your Missing Peace. You can do this. Be honest with yourself about the gap (or difference) between your current pattern and what you want it to look like. And instead of trying to jump that huge distance, ask yourself how you could close this gap by just a small bit. Pick one step to take.

Ending overeating at night is possible. These steps will help. And they will help you SO much more than telling yourself that the only solution is to be strong and come up with willpower that you used so much earlier in the day.

I’ll talk to you soon.

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Your Missing Peace is the psychologist-designed program that provides the tools, the support, the coaching, and the confidence to create freedom from emotional eating and overeating. Finally - emotional eating help done right! Your Missing Peace is specifically designed for smart, high-achieving women who are DONE with diets, who want a lasting solution, and who are ready to take their power back from food, from overeating, and the scale. 

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