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Published on August 02, 2017

Help! My night eating is out of control!

You're not alone. Find out why it happens and what you can do about it.

Night eating is so prevalent that it's one of the most common complaints we hear from patients. Oftentimes they feel like it's out of control and are desperate to stop it from reoccurring. The good news is that it's completely fixable. Consider these culprits:

Lack of structure

When and how often you eat is important. Our bodies require nutrient fuel approximately every three to five hours. When on a diet, "being good all day" often means that eating is spaced out too far (e.g. eating one meal per day) or isn't providing enough calories to reach a three to five hours between meals mark (e.g. eating low-cal food, grazing). Whether you intentionally limit your eating in an attempt to lose weight or simply get too busy and unintentionally forget to eat, the results are the same: intense hunger and cravings in the evening and eating into the night.

Using food as entertainment

How often do you actually eat for physical hunger? If you are like most, boredom, stress, cravings, being tired and procrastination are all more common reasons for eating. Challenge that head hunger. Do you need the free sample at the grocery store? Are you actually hungry for a second helping?

Remember, food is fuel, not entertainment, and nighttime is no exception. Take a shower or bath, brush your teeth, go to bed early, adopt a hobby, keep food in the kitchen—not in the living room or bedroom—and reserve food for its intended purpose: nourishment.

Restriction and deprivation

Any eating plan that tells you exactly how many calories to eat, eliminates certain foods or food groups or tells you when you are allowed to eat is restricting. Calorie restriction and/or food deprivation always leads to overeating later. Always. So if being "good all day" means restricting calories when distracted in order to bank calories for later when the distractions are gone, it will backfire and lead to excessive night eating.

Diet speak

The diet industry, and programs therein, comes with a specific vocabulary, centered around black and white thinking: good/bad, should/shouldn't, can/can't, following rules without deviation. The thing is, living a healthy lifestyle is all about the gray. There are no good or bad foods. Nothing is actually off limits, and your behaviors around food are far more important than the food itself. On top of that, the guilt and shame of night eating often encourages restricting during the day and gorging at night, a vicious cycle that is often difficult to stop when submerged in diet thinking.

The bottom line

Take charge of your night eating by getting structured, honoring your physical hunger, resisting the diet talk and most of all–stop restringing. When you give your body the fuel it needs for you to function at your best, your night hunger will fade away.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System delivers great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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