Q & A: Help Me Break My Nightly Comfort Eating Habit! | TMOHP Episode 103

This is the first of what I hope will be an ongoing series of episodes of the Too Much on Her Plate podcast dedicated to answering listener questions. If you’ve got a question you’d like me to address in a future episode, be sure to join my (free) Freedom from Emotional Eating and Overeating group on Facebook and share your question! Today’s question is from Jodi who wants to know how to break the habit of comfort eating at night. How do you break the habit of reaching for food to self-soothe at the end of the day?

Eating at the end of the day, whether it’s the end of the work day or before you fall into bed, is a challenging spot for so many people. If this is the place you find yourself “falling off track,” you’re not alone.

In this episode:

  • How to address the perfect storm of Hidden Hungers that tend to show up at the end of the day
  • Why you might have a long list of alternatives to overeating, but you still don’t use them
  • How to start breaking the habit of overeating at night even if, in the moment, you don’t really want to

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Episode Transcript

Hey everybody. Today, I have something a little bit new for you and something that I hope is going to be an ongoing feature or an ongoing kind of episode that I'm doing. And that is a Q and A episode. I am taking your questions and giving my best answer. Questions related to your struggles with emotional eating and overeating. What it takes to break the cycle. Places that you're stuck. Things that you've been wondering about.

And if you're a member of my free private community on Facebook, then you too can submit your questions and maybe they will show up in a future episode. The link to join the private Facebook group is in the show notes, and I'll tell you more about it at the end of the episode. 

I'm going to try to keep these episodes short and sweet and actionable. Meaning I want to do my best to answer your questions, and I want to give you some new ideas to experiment with, some new strategies to try out, some ways to break out of the same old, same old that obviously hasn't been working.

So let's dive in with the first Q and A episode. Today's question is from Jodi. And Jodi says, I want to know what to do to break the habit of reaching for food to soothe myself every single night. I know that I can pick from a host of other activities, but in the moment I never do. I can't remember the last evening I've had that I didn't eat from the moment I sat down until I forced myself to go to bed. I need, and she has that in quotes, I need to zone out with food. It feels impossible to break this habit. And honestly, I feel like I don't want to. 

Jodi's question is so familiar and some variation of it may be very familiar for you. Right? Questions like, why can't I stop overeating at night? Why is the overeating at night habit the hardest one to break? Why do I overeat at the end of the day? Why can't I stop it? Why am I good all day and then I blow it at the end of the day? 

So here are some things that you have heard me say before in other episodes. The end of the day for most of us tends to be a perfect storm for overeating. It's a perfect storm of hidden hungers, things that you are hungry for that haven't been fed during the day that have nothing to do with food. Right? 

This is the time of day when you tend to be out of energy. When you not only tend to be out of energy and you're tired, but it is probably the last time in your day when you have the leftover or the surplus or the available energy to give yourself what it is that you really need. So it's easy to cop out. It is easy to lean into the old familiar thing. 

The end of the day tends to be a perfect storm if you have any sort of pattern of neglecting your own self care or putting your needs last. Right? So many women tell me I get to the end of the day and I realized there hasn't been anything for me all day. I have been reacting to my to do list from the moment I woke up. And now I'm just tired and I feel like I deserve something that is just for me. 

The end of the day, and by the way, this could be the end of your work day or it might be the literal end of your day the last time before you go to bed, but it is literally the end. And so you've used up a lot of your good stuff. 

The end of the day is when we are typically lowest on willpower, because we've been using it all day long. And depending on how you have managed the rest of your day, maybe you've been so busy that you skipped lunch or you forgot to bring your lunch because you were so busy taking care of everybody else's lunch or whatever. But so often, especially when we think about the end of the workday, you end up too hungry. Right? You haven't eaten what you needed to or fed yourself the kind of things that would help your energy be in a good place at the end of the day. Or maybe your blood sugar is wonky because it is now the end of your day and you came home from work early and then you ate all the things and the things maybe were the high sugary snack easy to grab kinds of things and now you had this blood sugar crash. And so your blood sugar isn't where it needs to be.

And back to that idea that the end of the day is where we've used everything up. This is probably the hardest time of the day to conjure up motivation. So Jodi says I can pick from a host of other activities, but in the moment I never do. And I really don't want to. Well, guess what? It's because you're tired. You're out of willpower and your motivation is probably pretty low. 

So in these circumstances, or if your situation is a little bit different, some variation of these circumstances, it becomes really easy to understand why food is so appealing. Why reaching for something to eat or reaching for the special extra outside of your plan thing to eat. Right? Feels so good because food is easy, food is accessible. Food touches almost all of our senses. Food feels good in the moment, and when you're tired and when you're out of energy, your perspective tends to be pretty focused on a moment or two.

And so, if food is a reward, or an escape, or a comfort, or a way to rest, or a way to shut down your brain and go numb. Food, reaching for something to eat, overeating, and even a binge can start to feel like the only choice that's accessible to you. Or, like Jodi's saying, I know there are these other choices, but I can't figure out why I won't do them. 

Well, I hope what I just explained to you, Makes it easier to understand and have compassion for why it is that your logical brain can come up with a whole host of other activities, productive things that you might do or alternatives to eating or overeating, but in the moment you don't want to. And starting with a realistic understanding and compassion for why that is, is a really important first step for breaking the habit of reaching for food to soothe every single night. 

If you want to break the overeating at night habit, then you are going to need to start by talking back to your brain that wants to do some really unhelpful things. You're going to need to talk back to your brain that is expecting you to be full of willpower and full of energy and full of the willingness to do really difficult things at the end of the day. Basically, you need to talk back to that part of your brain that has bought into the deprivation myth that if something isn't working, i e. if you find yourself overeating every single night or most nights or every other Monday, then the solution is you just need to find a way to be more superhuman and to try harder. 

Let's do it differently. So first of all, I think, and this may sound a little off or strange, but it's important to be really clear on what is the habit that you are trying to break. But also, what is the habit you want to create? 

So often we get focused on, I don't want to eat anything after eight o'clock. I don't want to eat ice cream in front of the TV. I don't want to eat all the cookies after everybody else goes to bed. But we don't take the time to figure out and to really create a clear, Picture of what is it that we want to, what do we, what is it that we want to have? What are we building here? What do you want to create? 

And what you want to create is probably more than a to do list. What we want is almost always embedded or related to a feeling that we want to have. So how do you want to feel at the end of the day? How do you want to feel while you're winding down before bed? How do you want to feel when you go to bed? How do you want to feel when you wake up in the morning? And what are some things could help you do that? What are some things that match that are in sync with how you are at the end of the day? All right? 

So the second thing I want you to think about is how much your brain is telling you to that to break this eating at night habit, you need to rely on willpower. Because I think we've already established that for most of you, willpower is pretty much all spent by the time you get to the end of the day. 

So, instead of telling yourself, I'm going to be strong. I'm going to be tough. I'm not going to give in tonight or any other night from here on out. Right? How can you change things up?

If you've taken my hidden hungers quiz, you know, about the five common hidden hungers that are the reason so many smart, busy women overeat. And the key to taking the power from those hidden hungers is to start thinking about how you can feed those. So maybe your habit that you want to create is more about giving yourself what it is that you really need that isn't food, a reward, an escape, comfort, rest, a little bit of time of zoning out. Companionship. 

And while you are easing up on the expectation of someday waking up with perfect, unrelenting willpower, I want to encourage you to stop relying on perfect plans. Plans that, you know, at the end of the day, instead of overeating, I'm going to spend some time working in the garden. Or at the end of the day, instead of going and getting a bowl of ice cream, I'm going to clean up the kitchen and maybe go lay out my clothes for the day. Or maybe fit in an extra workout or a first workout. Right? 

 a plan that when you really think about it, I'm Requires you to be different than you are to feel differently than you typically do at the end of the day and to make yourself do more hard things. If that is the case, you're setting yourself up. What you want to do is two things.

You want to create a plan that matches the reality. If my pattern is collapsing at the end of the day in a really comfortable chair, wanting only to zone out until I can crawl into my bed. Wanting to be left alone and not wanting to do one more hard thing because I've been working all day long, then... A plan, a habit that I decide to create instead that's all about doing something productive or crossing another thing off my to do list or reading that nonfiction self-improvement book is probably not going to happen.

It doesn't have anything to do with what I really need. It doesn't have anything to do with why that bag of chips is calling to me and I can't resist the craving. Right? So stop creating plans that don't match what you really need or perfectionistic plans that somehow turn you into a superhuman nonexistent human being.

The other part of this is to create that plan in advance. We're just going to assume here that the end of the day is not you at your best. It's not you with your best energy, with your best creativity, with your best focus, with your best willpower, with your best perspective. The end of the day, let's just assume, is when you are pretty done. And that is one of the reasons that food has such a foothold. 

So, think about earlier, when it's not the end of the day. What is the habit I would like to create at the end of the day? What might feel good for me at the end of the day? What could be easy at the end of the day? Create a plan. And by plan, I don't mean something set in stone, but something that you can experiment with, create that plan in advance and then try it out at the end of the day, have it pre prepared for yourself.

Along those lines, I think it is so important to stop giving your lowest times, all the power. At the end of the day, when you are done, when you are lowest on resources is not the time to put the pressure on you to make the right decision. That's why it's so great. If you can create a plan in advance. And it's also great if you can, not at the end of the day, but during a time when you have more energy and bandwidth, take a look at what leads to you being so depleted at the end of the day. And taking a look at what you can do earlier. 

 One of the stories that you may have heard is about Jessica in my, Your Missing Peace program. She was somebody who, when she joined the program was binging most nights. Feeling really out of control, feeling really frustrated and upset with herself. She got rid of that habit. Actually, she lost the habit. And by that, I mean, the habit went away and she didn't even realize for a couple of months that she wasn't doing it anymore. Because it didn't go away by force of will. It went away because she took care of some other things and she took care of them earlier in her day.

Here's what happened. As Jessica worked through the curriculum of the Missing Peace Program and as she and I did some coaching together, which is a part of the program, she started to realize a few things that rather surprised her. She hadn't realized how much perfectionism and being really hard on herself was running her life. And really creating stress and eroding her energy throughout the day.

As we looked at the patterns, she started identifying how she was showing up at the end of the day. Feeling so upset with herself, having spent the entire day being pretty hard on herself, which, while it was creating results, like she was getting stuff done in the earlier part of her day, she was feeling like crap by the end of it. And also how what she was really hungry for was self-care and self compassion and some me time.

And so she stopped giving all the attention and energy and focus to the worst moment, the end of the day and the binging. And she started feeding herself earlier in the day. She really focused on doing more nice things for herself. Her self talk, her thoughts and the beliefs that were leading her to be so hard on herself.

Putting these things into place earlier in her day led her to feel more powerful and more focused at the end of the day. Plus, it took some of the heat off. She didn't have all these expectations of things she needed to take care of or think about or worry about. She was allowed to be tired at the end of the day. And part of self care for her meant allowing herself to be tired, allowing herself to have her needs. And that made it easier to take care of them, to respond to them instead of beating herself up and telling herself she should feel like doing an extra workout or cleaning up the kitchen or finishing up that report for work.

So when you have a habit of nighttime eating, end of day eating like Jodi does, and honestly, it doesn't feel like you don't want to give it up or you are feeling a real disconnect between the things you are telling yourself you should do and what you really want to do. Be honest with yourself about that. Be compassionate about that. Get curious about the reasons you would prefer to eat instead of doing the other things. And consider creating a different set of habits, a different set of things that you might want to do. 

If you don't want to do the things your brain is saying are the answer. What is your brain really want to be fed? That isn't food. What are your hidden hungers? Take the hidden hungers quiz. Stop expecting superhuman strength and resolve when you don't have it. 

Ask yourself what you might do in the middle of the day, or, I don't know, two thirds of the way through your day, so that the very end of your day doesn't have you feeling quite as much as whatever it is that you're feeling now. So that you're feeling a little stronger, a little more empowered. 

These are the steps that I would start to focus on Jodi. And it's going to take some time. It's going to take some repetition. It's going to take some reminders. This is the kind of thing we do inside Your Missing Peace. We take a look at what isn't working and we layer in better habits. Better thoughts, better approaches, new ways of thinking. And we do that through the Missing Peace curriculum. 

We do that through the coaching calls that are three times a month where we talk through these situations. We talk through what's working, what isn't working, where you're stuck. We blow up the perfectionistic thinking that sneaks in every single time. And the tendency to try to do things the hard way and then get mad at ourselves because we don't really want to do things the hard way, you know. And, and to look for the easier solutions. 

That's the kind of stuff we do inside the program. So if what you want is help and support with this, make sure you check that out. I'll put the link in the show notes. 

If you have a question that you're hoping I will answer in an upcoming podcast episode, then come on over to the Freedom from Emotional Eating and Overeating Group on Facebook. It is a private community inside of Facebook, and it's the place that I'm taking questions for future podcast episodes.

I hope to see you there, and I'll be back here with another episode next week.

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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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