Conquering Nighttime EatingPosted: Feb 11 in Weight loss, Weight Management Strategies by Dr. Lazarus
Have you ever successfully lost weight only to find yourself sabotaging all your hard work in the hour or two before bedtime? If so, you are not alone. In fact, I think nighttime eating can be a problem even for the most driven and committed person after losing weight.
What causes nighttime eating?
Evidence has mounted suggesting that nighttime eating is a biological response both to weight loss and to stress. After weight loss, our bodies make less “satisfaction” hormones when we eat. And, when faced with stress (and/or poor/inadequate sleep), our bodies crave dopamine and serotonin.
After dinner, we don’t feel satisfied, and we want to eat foods that will help us relax – a.k.a. “Comfort foods.” Unfortunately, chicken breasts or a salad don’t usually give us what we are looking for – a release of serotonin / dopamine. Instead, we turn to carbs / fats – ice cream, peanut butter, crackers – foods that will help us “Relax.”
Tips and Tricks to Reduce Evening Grazing
If we recognize the biological basis for these cravings, it can help us develop strategies that will actually work. Here are a few ways to conquer nighttime eating.
- Get the right amount of sleep! Getting the proper amount of sleep will decrease your biological desire to restore serotonin and dopamine and reduce the tendency towards nighttime eating.
- Work on reducing stress. This is a whole topic unto itself. Be sure to have a boundary between the work life and the home life. Limit work to a reasonable number of hours in the day.
- Review medications with Dr. Lazarus or Heather Thomas, PAC. Many medications can leave us feeling hungry at night resulting in an increase in nighttime eating. Some of the weight loss medications work better during the day than in the evening. Sometimes a simple medication adjustment can make a big difference!
- Include a fixed calorie meal replacement in the evening as part of your structured food plan. This can help control your total calories, but allows you to eat when you are hungry.
- Eat Regularly throughout the Day. Sometimes nighttime eating is a result of skipping meals. Having regular meals with protein in each meal spaced throughout the day works wonders for many people! Or alternatively, if this strategy doesn’t work…
- Time-restricted eating strategy. Time-restricted eating (also called Intermittent Fasting) can be a great way to stay on track. While there are many types of time-restricted eating approaches, sometimes to deal with evening eating, we will recommend a 20/4 plan – for some days, we do a 20 hour fast, and compress all of the daily food into a 4 hour chunk of time (say between 4 and 8 PM). It can be hard to actually eat the daily food due to the compressed time interval! If hungry, use 1-2 fixed calorie meal replacements during the “Fasting” interval. Be sure to keep up with water and electrolytes during the day. Talk to your dietitian first to make sure this strategy is appropriate for you, and customize it to fit your schedule.
- Find other relaxing activities in lieu of food. This could be a hot bath, going for a walk, getting back to a favorite hobby – music, reading, art. I personally find it very hard to eat while playing the cello!
- Phone a friend. Sometimes we are really just bored and crave human connection. Especially through this COVID-19 crisis, many feel separated from those they care for the most. Instead of the ice cream, why not a zoom call with a friend or family member you haven’t spoken with in a while?
- Elimination. If it isn’t in the house, it will be more difficult to eat it! Get the junk out of the house, but leave several healthy options easily accessible.
- Talk to a doctor. If the nighttime eating is more serious, particularly if you are waking up to eat and consuming a lot of calories in the middle of the night, speak to a doctor for evaluation and treatment options.
I hope that with some of these strategies, you can stay on track with your weight loss goals, and conquer the nighttime eating!