Stop Comfort Eating at Night: 5 Steps to Regain Control | TMOHP Episode 081

Comfort eating at night, bingeing before bed, or overeating at the end of the day are the most common patterns of overeating and emotional eating I see. This pattern often seems like it happens on autopilot, and can be a frustrating habit to try to change - in part because we’ve been trained to believe that the answer is willpower and self-discipline.

Today I’m sharing a different approach. One that works so well, I’ve had members of Your Missing Peace tell me that their nighttime eating just “vanished” and others share the surprising realization that they aren’t bingeing in the evening anymore (it was a surprise realization because they hadn’t realized it. They weren’t “trying” to stop bingeing, the behavior just faded away when they began applying these five steps).

If you’re someone who wants to break the habit of comfort eating at night - or someone who partly wants to break the habit and partly doesn’t want to give it up - this episode is for you.

In this episode:

  • Why overeating and comfort eating at night are so common for smart, busy women
  • What your brain wants to do vs. what will help you stop comfort eating at night
  • 5 steps to stop comfort eating at night
  • Where to apply self-compassion with tough love if necessary

[If you love this podcast, will you take 30 seconds to leave a review? It makes all the difference in my ability to share this information!]

Featured on the show:

  • Not sure why you’re overeating, or what your Hidden Hungers are? Take the free Hidden Hungers Quiz and get a free set of resources matched to your results.
  • Your Missing Peace  is the program for women ready to stop overeating and emotional eating for good. Enrollment is open and NOW is the perfect time to join us! Go here to learn more
  • Private Coaching. One-on-one coaching is for you if you’re looking for something completely individualized and specific to your situation. Openings are limited. Learn more here.

Enjoy the show?

Full episode transcript:

Hello everybody, today I want to talk with you about night eating. Comfort eating at the end of the day or right before you go to bed. Or comfort eating that happens when you know you should be in bed, but you really want something nice and rewarding and sweet little treat for yourself. Right? This is a huge problem for smart, busy women. Happens all the time. End of day eating is probably the biggest trouble spot when it comes to trying to take your power back from overeating and from emotional eating. So let's talk about that.

I want to talk about how to stop comfort eating at night in a way that feels empowering and specifically today I have for you five steps that you can take to regain control. Okay?

So autopilot comfort eating at night. What does that look like? You probably know. It's relaxing in your comfy chair and hunkering down with that bowl of ice cream or the quart of ice cream or the bag of chips at the end of the day. This is a pattern that so many, so many, many, many smart, busy women struggle with.

When you have been going all day, especially if there hasn't been much time for you. When you're out of energy, when you're out of time. It is natural to want to squeeze in an easy reward. To squeeze in some comfort, some downtime, something for you. And in that moment, eating at night feels good and it doesn't. Right?

Comfort eating or numbing out at night is often that thing that sabotages you when so many hours of effort and healthy eating have already happened. You've done all the planning, you've checked all the boxes, and then it feels like at the end of the day it all falls apart. What's intended as a reward, that that bowl of ice cream, the bag of chips, that extra going back for the leftovers and the refrigerator. You intend that as a reward. But in the end, it leaves you feeling bad or frustrated or mad at yourself or off track or like, ugh, okay, I need to start over again the next morning. Right? Tomorrow is going to be a new day.

Overeating at night is also just a crummy time of day to add that overeating habit in. And you know that. Right? It can lead to poor sleep. It leads to you feeling less than wonderful in the morning. And also to that feeling of, oh, I am even further behind than I was.

And then there's also this little gem comfort eating at the end of the day, bingeing at night, having that extra treat for yourself. It usually takes place when you're distracted or tired or zoned out or doing something else like watching TV or scrolling through your phone. Most of the time, you don't even fully savor, you don't even fully taste and enjoy those treats in air quotes. Right? Those treats that you are supposedly rewarding yourself with. It's actually kind of a half-assed reward. Right?

So usually if you are a human who was raised in this culture, your brain tells you that the solution to overeating or comfort eating at the end of the day is to sit on your hands and be strong and not do it. Or run yourself ragged, do something productive so that you don't have time to think about food or eating. Do something, get something done. Complete that project. Right. . I mean, it might sound good in some perfectionistic theory that you build in your mind. But how's that plan to clean the kitchen instead of eating the ice cream really working for you? Has it ever really worked for you? I know, it never worked for me either.

The real solution. The real solution to this eating at night problem is to find ways to provide yourself with what you're really craving. The thing that food is really the placeholder for. The thing that food is serving as a temporary band aid for. And if hearing me say this makes you roll your eyes or if it makes you feel tired or like pushing back, just stick with me.

Let's begin where we always need to begin, which is that comfort eating happens for a reason. You are a smart woman. And the eating that you're doing, even when you aren't really hungry, it fulfills a need. There is a reason that it is happening. Some of the magic here is this, figure out how to get what you're craving in ways that are not food. And the food starts to lose a lot of its appeal.

When you figure out what you're really craving and you figure out how to get that in ways that are not eating or mindless eating, even worse. Right? When you start to get what you really need, food starts to lose its appeal. It starts to lose its draw, its pull, its power. Really. The comfort eating or emotional eating that you are experiencing at night might seem unstoppable, but it's not.

You can take your power back and I have five steps to walk you through that will really, really help. And by the way, by taking your power back, I don't mean you can develop superhuman levels of willpower and restraint and self-control. I mean, you can take your power back and feel powerful, feel in charge. You can diminish the power that food and those cravings and those urges have at the end of the day. So that you are not finding yourself in this position where you need to fight against something or be super strong against something in order to win. You simply have your power pack. Sound good?

All right, so let's dive into my five steps to stop that Nighttime comfort eating, stress eating, emotional eating, numbing out eating. Five steps. Ready? Okay.

The first step is to stop. Stop. Reaching for something at the end of the day is so often a habit that you use to stop. To put on the brakes when you're used to going, going, going, going. Right? And you have a constant to-do list in your head. You're counting off all the things that you have to do and looking ahead at all the things that you need to do. It can be a challenge to allow yourself to really stop. Add to that adrenaline and stress and all the societal pressures to stay connected. Right? The screens, the social media. This all makes it difficult to stop. To stop working, to stop thinking, to stop planning to stop with the okay, I'm just going to do one more thing.

We are constantly being pressured not to stop. But stopping is exactly what your brain, your body, and your heart probably need at the end of the day. You need to stop. So resist the urge to do one more thing. It's never one more thing. Right? Resist that urge. Establish a cutoff time. Set a time when your work and your chores and going back to your to-do list and doing one more thing when it ends. Set a hard stop. And if you really want to take this seriously. Consider some electronic free time. Consider banning phones and computers for a period each evening. Consider keeping that stuff out of your bedroom. Consider giving yourself a break.

And here's the thing, I want you to think about ways that you will stop. And this needs to be coupled with giving yourself permission to stop. Give yourself permission to stop at the end of the day. Decide when stopping gets to happen. And just with this one step, you are going to start creating a different connection with stopping and you're going to start dismantling the connection with using food or drink or, you know, going back into the kitchen as a way to be done. Or using eating as a way to kind of take care of yourself while you are not giving yourself permission to be done. Step one is to stop.

Step two for getting rid of this comfort eating at night habit is to start acknowledging what you feel and what you need. Comfort eating at night is usually a way that we are trying to take care of ourselves. But since you probably don't need the food, it really is a substitute for what you really need to be taken care of. Right? It's a band aid for something else. And when you don't stop, step number one, it is almost impossible to be in touch with what it is that you are needing or what you are feeling, or what you are wanting. That popcorn that bowl of whatever that you go and get, can become this autopilot way of responding to what is going on, that you've been too busy to register.

So it's this autopilot way of taking care of a need or a feeling that doesn't even register in your brain. Because you skipped step number one, you haven't stopped. So this is where a pause comes in so handy. Take a few moments at the end of the day. It could be at the very end of your day, or it could be at the end of your work day or at the end of whatever. Take a few moments to ask yourself what you know about how you're feeling, what you know about what you really need. And by the way, don't censor yourself or worry that what you need is impossible, so you just need to not think about it.

Really ask and be curious about what's going on inside of you. The very first step of compassion, which is an important thing when you are trying to change your relationship with food, the very first step, the beginning of compassion, is when you acknowledge your reality. When you acknowledge what it is that you're needing, what it is that you're wanting. What it is that you really, really want, even if you haven't figured out how to give yourself that thing.

So step one stop. Step two, pay attention to what it is that you really need and want and feel. And here we go with step three, and this is the step your brain is going to want to skip.

Step number three is if you are tired, be tired. I mean this, I wish I could accurately measure how much overeating, how much comfort eating, how much stress eating, how much boredom eating happens as a way to medicate or fight off exhaustion. Whether you're trying to perk up so that you can do more. Or whether you are so exhausted but you're staying up late because it is the only time that you've had for you all day long. Ignoring exhaustion has so many negative consequences. It never works. And one of the big ones is overeating.

I always ask my coaching clients about their sleep. About how much sleep they're getting, about the quality of sleep, and about their level of exhaustion. And I continue to be astounded about how much really serious exhaustion gets minimized or actually, I'm always astounded by how much it never gets mentioned as an issue. Because here is the thing. If you're tired, be tired. Respond to that need for sleep and rest. Take care of your needs. Start to manage your schedule so that you get more sleep. And everything else becomes easier. And by everything I mean everything. Just about everything, if not everything, will get easier.

So if you're tired, your best immediate move is to sleep. And if you are resisting sleep, if part of the reason that the overeating is happening at night is because you're exhausted, but it is your only time, and I hear this so often. Right? The end of the day is the only time I get, so I don't want to give it up. I, I know I should go to sleep, but I don't want to. Sleep now. If you're tired, be tired. And then, and it will be easier if you start by sleeping now and starting to get more rest. But what we need to do is work to move the me time to an earlier place in your day. Even if that means getting up earlier. But don't try to do that first, sleep first.

Now, your inner rebel might fight you on this. But this is one place where self-compassion requires some tough love. If you're tired, be tired. And honor your need for sleep. Okay. That is step number three for breaking the overeating cycle at night or at the end of the day.

Step number four is remembering that numbness does not equal comfort. So step number four is to consider the role pay attention, get curious to the role that zoning out is playing in your evening or at the end of your day. If your evening routine and your evening overeating are a means of escaping, if it's a way to push away your day or to numb out to just disengage. Then those activities probably are not truly comforting you. And I'm betting they are not nourishing you. Because you're not fully present to absorb any benefit that you're getting from what it is that you're doing.

And this trap is one that is so easy to get caught in because it is the end of the day. You're out of bandwidth and you're probably tired. So if you find yourself caught in an evening cycle of numbing out and disengaging, or just kind of going on autopilot. I want you to circle back through steps two and three, checking in with yourself around what you feel and what you need, and giving yourself permission to be tired.

Now, remember before we got into these five steps, I said, you know, stick with me because even if you're feeling a little pushback at the idea of doing something instead of eating at night, I we're going to get to that. I want to talk about that. This is the part, all right?

Most importantly, I want you to make sure that you are not making the big mistake that I see happen just about a hundred percent of the time at the beginning. Which is creating an alternative to comfort eating that completely disrespects what you feel or what you need or that you're tired. Right? So this might look like, I used the cleaning the kitchen example before. Right? Or deciding that you're going to give up snacking in the evening, and instead you're going to focus on cleaning out your closets. You're going to get to that project you've been procrastinating.

Cleaning out your closet probably doesn't address what you feel or need at the end of the day in that moment. And I'm guessing it isn't comforting. If you're tired, be tired. If you need easy do easy. Look at ways to take care of yourself that feel easy, that don't require a lot of energy. Right?

Think about what that snacking or bingeing feels like. Why does it feel like a great solution in the moment? What is the thing that it is doing for you? Right? What is the reason? And then look for alternatives that feel like that. Don't choose the productive, don't choose the obvious. Don't use this as a sneaky way to try to get yourself to do that one more thing.

Numbness does not equal comfort and crazy productivity when you are exhausted and in need of a reward. That does not look like comfort either. It is not comfort. Okay, so step number five. This is the last step I want you to embrace ritual. Comfort eating at night is probably at least partly a habit or a ritual. Right?

So is pulling out your phone when you're bored, checking your email, getting on social media. Scrolling through videos. Or automatically asking yourself what you have to do next. Right? These are habits or routines or rituals. To stop comfort eating at night, you're going to want to create new, better rituals that encompass stopping. Encompass, checking in with your needs and your feelings, and respecting your need for downtime and rest.

And at this point in the game, that probably sounds incredibly aspirational. That's ok. Don't expect to nail the perfect routine right away. Don't expect it to just pop into your head and work beautifully. Start with what you already know would feel better than what you're currently doing. Start with what you already know would feel better and what feels doable. And then start adding and start experimenting. Start playing with how to make things better.

Think about how you might routinely provide comfort, a little bit more comfort. A little bit more relaxation for yourself at the end of the day. How could you make that into a routine? If sitting down with something good to eat signals a transition or an end to your day? If that's like, okay, I'm stopping now, I'm having my snack. What could you try instead?

There's some really beautiful things about creating rituals and routines. The first is that you are coming up with one routine to replace another one with. So instead of not overeating at night, right, and holding onto the edge of your chair, you are going to experiment with coming up with a different ritual that doesn't include food.

So that's the first thing. But the other thing is that when you come up with a routine. You know, this is what I'm going to try to do in the evenings. It can eliminate the need to be constantly making decisions over and over each day. What am I going to do instead of eating tonight? Right? The more routines we have, especially the ones that work for us and help us to really take care of ourselves and nourish ourselves, the less we have to think. The less we have to make decisions. Often at times when decision making is really hard. Right? Cuz you're tired, you're out of bandwidth, you've used up your willpower for the day. So a routine can be a lovely thing to just fall into.

Now, often the easiest way to create an end of day ritual is to work backward. So you could decide on your goal bedtime. Right? This is the time I want to be in bed so I can get a good night's sleep. And then work backward from the time that you want to go to bed to, okay, this is how much wind down time I'm going to need. And I can start to put together a wind down routine that will unfold automatically and maybe before the wind down routine, if I'm going to have time for that, this is when I really need to do the hard stop. Start with where you want to end and work backward from there.

So those are the five steps that I have for you to transform an overeating at night habit in a way that gives you your power back and doesn't rely on willpower or expecting, you know, crazy mental discipline at a time of day when very few of us have mental discipline. And very few of us, even fewer of us, I think, want to be using mental discipline. This is supposed to be your downtime. So one of the things I love about this approach to ending overeating at night is that it truly gives you your downtime back.

And with practice as you practice moving through these five steps, you're going to end up with a way to take care of yourself at the end of the day. That really does take care of you. That works actually much better than comfort eating. Plus, you get to take care of that comfort eating habit.

So it, the other piece is if you like this approach and you like the idea of creating a relationship with your time and your energy that works better for you and for your relationship with food? Where it's not about fighting with food, but a relationship where you are the one who has the power. Then I would definitely encourage you to check out the Your Missing Peace Program. That's where we spend six months together addressing your hidden hunger. Learning how to embrace your power. And helping you break patterns of overeating and emotional eating at night and everywhere else.

And I want to say this again, overeating at night. Overeating at the end of the day, this is, I think, the most common pattern of overeating. So if this is something you struggle with, you are not alone. And if you have found this episode to be helpful and you think it would be helpful to someone. Share the episode. Because the other piece of this is that there are way too many smart, incredible women who are struggling with overeating and emotional eating and feeling like they are the only ones.

If you overeat at night, you are not alone. And there is absolutely a way for you to take your power back.

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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