“I eat really well during the day, but I have a hard time controlling what I eat at night.”
I hear this from so many clients, friends and family members as one of the number one reasons as to why it is difficult to lose weight. I too, know what it feels like to walk in the door after a long day of work and snack from dinner time until bed. You may be stressed, irritated, exhausted, drained and despite all your hard work throughout the day of eating well and even getting your workout in, you somehow, in the moment, don’t really care about how this may be affecting your long-term physique or health goals.
You may even justify your behavior, saying you did well during the day so you deserve it, or it is just one night and you will do better the next day. All the willpower you have mustered up throughout the day has somehow dissipated and your fallback method is your habits. And when your habits are going straight for food without even thinking about it, they are difficult, but not impossible, to break.
Here are three ways to stop eating everything in sight at night.
Practice self control in a way that has nothing to do with food.
In the book, The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal, she says, “It’s the habit of noticing what you’re about to do, and choosing to do the more difficult thing instead of the easiest.”
Whether you are walking into the kitchen, opening the fridge, or have your hand in a bag of Doritos or spoon in the peanut butter (oops that is me), it is SO easy to just stay in the moment, and so difficult to just stop. So instead of trying to scrounge up every ounce of energy and willpower you have to break the habit at the hardest moment, why not try to practice changing your habit in a small way, that practices self control and works toward strengthening your willpower, without the internal battle of why you are eating when you shouldn’t be.
McGonigal also gives examples of ways to improve self control that have nothing to do with resisting food but maybe resisting different, smaller challenges. For example, for one day, try to brush your teeth or open any door with your nondominant hand. Try not to say “um” or “like” when you talk, or try not to use any swear words. This type of challenge helps the brain get used to thinking about what it is doing before acting. And while it does take a little extra effort to complete these tasks, it is not as overwhelming as trying to resist night time eating. These trivial self-control challenges may translate into bigger self-control challenges.
Be less strict during the day.
You may fear that loosening up on your diet during the day will derail you from your health and fitness goals. However, if you come home at night feeling deprived and/or starving, you may be more likely to binge and overindulge. Instead of oatmeal for breakfast, a plain salad at lunch and chicken and veggies for dinner, try adding more satisfying foods in throughout the day, that will help keep your hunger and cravings in check. Add peanut butter to your oatmeal, a palm full or rice with your salad, a piece of fruit in the afternoon and protein to your lunch and dinner.
Sometimes being more strict can cause us to binge more at a later point because we never truly feel satisfied with what we are eating. You see this all the time a super strict meal plans which most people are only able to follow very short term. They may lose the weight initially but have a hard time keeping it off because it is not something that is sustainable. Ultimately, isn’t what you want something you can do forever? Eat healthy and indulge occasionally, while maintaing a healthy weight and a healthy and happy relationship with food.
And lastly, do not fall for the halo effect.
I only had a salad for dinner, so that means I can have dessert.
I only had three slices of pizza, it’s not like I had the whole pizza.
I worked out really hard today so I deserve a big dinner.
I ate healthy all day so I deserve to eat what I want tonight.
I had to eat out and that is why I could not make good choices.
McGonigal describes the halo effect in this way. “The halo effect is a form of moral licensing that looks for any reason to say “yes” to temptation. When we want permission to indulge, we’ll take any hint of virtue as a justification to give in.”
It even has a name in the dieting world, called the health halo. We tend to find any reason to not feel as bad about the choices we make. Often times we look for validation when it comes to giving into temptation, a reason that what we are doing is ok. A reason why we are deserving of our hard work, even though it may affect our goals long term.
Instead of justifying your behavior ask yourself if the choices you are making are in line with your goals? And in order to do this you need a concrete way of measuring whether or not they are.
One reason I like the not eating after 8:00 PM rule, is because it gives you a very concrete way of determining whether or not you can stay out of the kitchen at night, by a simple yes or no. Studies show that sometimes it’s not so much about when you eat but the culmination of how much you eat throughout the day. Yes it may be better to eat smaller meals throughout the day, but if you are struggling with night time eating implement this rule.
Try implementing one or more of these tools to help tame your night time eating and always remember the “why” behind your goals. Why are you so intent on reaching your goal and why are your stopping yourself from getting there.