We all have this problem – we are “good” all day and then when we get home, we have this insatiable appetite. No matter what we eat, we don’t feel full or satisfied even if we’ve eaten a decent dinner.
What’s the deal?
In this post, we’re going to walk through the physical and emotional reasons that this might be happening, as well as cover several action steps to prevent overeating in the evening.
But before we get there, a disclaimer – we do not want to create a sense of guilt and shame around nighttime eating, that is, if you eat something, that you are “bad” and if you don’t, you are “good”.
We all use this method of guilt and shame on ourselves all the time, and fun fact, IT DOESN’T WORK!
Instead, we want to be able to live our lives without this guilt and shame that we put on ourselves. Giving yourself some grace is vastly needed in today’s society especially around food AND especially in females.
When it comes to physical reasons of nighttime eating, we have a couple of areas to explore:
First up, blood sugar regulation. When we start our day off with an imbalanced breakfast (or skip it and just have coffee) and/or an imbalanced lunch, we set ourselves up for cravings later in the day.
Instead, choose a breakfast that has plenty of protein and healthy fat. No, one egg is not enough protein, nor is 2 or 3 and nor do you have to eat only eggs for breakfast! Step out of your box and try different protein options (beef chicken turkey pork eggs seafood) and healthy fat (avocado, real butter, olive oil, olives, coconut, raw or dry roasted nut and seeds, no sugar/oils PB AB) at breakfast and lunch.
Here are some examples:
2-3 eggs cooked in real butter, 1 precooked chicken sausage, sautéed with peppers, onions, and spinach; served with shredded cheese or ½ avocado
2-3 eggs cooked in real butter, 1/4lb ground pork cooked into a patty, blueberries
¼-1/3lb ground pork cooked into a patty, 1-2 slices bacon, an orange
Finger-food friendly – precooked chicken sausage (cut into 1” pieces), orange, and raw almonds
Grilled chicken/beef/pork (leftover from dinner the night before maybe), leftover roasted veggies, ½ avocado
Precooked chicken sausage (cut into 1” pieces), steamer bag of broccoli mixed with sea salt and real butter
Leftover beef/pork roast, steamer bag of broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots mixed with sea salt and ½ avocado
Protein + fat + vegetable or low sugar fruit = done!
Second, adrenal health plays a huge role in cravings, both salty and sweet. When we have adrenal imbalances, as we discussed on the blog last week, we tend to be go go go and never stop because if we do stop, we’ll crash and “never be able to get back up!”
This is a sign that we have major adrenal issues going on that MUST be addressed.
Often, we are in the go go go mentality from the time we get up until after dinner. When we finally allow ourselves time to rest, our body goes from a high-level cortisol (stress hormone) state to a low level cortisol state. Our body feels this shift and likely doesn’t like it. It’s accustomed to getting a “high” from going going going all the time.
So what does the body do? It instinctively craves something highly palatable loaded with sugar or salt or that hits the pleasure points in our brain to release a feel good hormone called dopamine so that we can get back up from that low level.
Preventing this takes more work and healing of the adrenals. Not only do we need to figure out what is stressing and pushing our adrenals all day, but we also need to work on adding more times of calm and joy earlier in the day. Often when we see this adrenal imbalance pattern, we’ve gone all day without a moment of pause, reflection, or doing something that WE actually enjoy.
I recommend here making yourself a list of what brings you joy. It could be something as simple as watching a cat video or something more complex like getting a massage or visiting family. Once you have that list, put it somewhere where you will see it each day and work on adding one of those items each day or each week.
When we pause and have more joy and relaxing earlier in the day, we prevent the extreme need for it later in the day.
And if you say you don’t have the time, eventually you’ll be forced to make the time because your body will give out and burn out!
Third, your workouts can impact your nighttime eating. If you workout in the afternoon or evening, make sure to eat enough at dinner and earlier in the day to keep your energy up. Otherwise, you might be reaching for a nighttime snack simply because you haven’t gotten enough calories in the day. This goes along with a PFC balanced breakfast to balance blood sugar as well.
Next, we have sleep. If we get poor sleep the night before, we are more likely to be hungrier throughout the day and next evening to try to make up for that lost repair and recovery time and lost energy. Focusing on sleep is critical! Read more about falling and staying asleep.
We could also be dehydrated or lacking essential nutrients. Making sure we are getting enough water to compensate for our activity needs and intake of diuretics is very important. Plus, eating a nutrient dense diet like we talked about earlier Is key as it helps our body get the nutrients it needs and prevent cravings later in the day.
Lastly, nighttime cravings could also be traced back to a gut issue. Most bad gut bugs love sugar, so they’ll crave those things when they are dominating your gut. This is especially true with a fungal/yeast overgrowth in our small or large intestine. Eating sweets makes the yeast happy and makes you feel crappy, but they can be so powerful in influencing our emotions and cravings that it’s often hard to resist. This is something that I work on with clients when we test the gut and develop protocols to address any imbalances that are forming.
However, it typically nighttime overeating isn’t just a physical problem. Usually it’s a combo of physical and emotional in which case we must dig deeper and deeper to get to the root problem.
When it comes to emotions, many of us suppress our emotions over years and years. It’s a pattern we develop throughout childhood and beyond. Before we know it, we have something during the day that sets us off and we are head first into a pint of ice cream without even realizing it.
To get to the root of this type of emotional eating, again we must first remove that shame and guilt from our vocabulary. Being gentle on yourself here and not beating yourself up is critical. When has berating yourself EVER worked?
Next, start to bring awareness and ask yourself questions:
What happened today
Who was I with
How did I feel when I got home from work or before dinner
What emotions am I feeling right now
These questions will not be easy and might be uncomfortable – lean into that and dig a little deeper (gently). This is where a lot of answers lie.
If you start to piece together that when you feel lonely, inadequate, or burnt out, you reach for something in the evenings, you can then work backwards to help manage and process these emotions earlier in the day so they don’t all hit you at once in the evenings.
Honestly, this process is often very hard to do alone, so I recommend enlisting a counselor to help you through this journey.
A great book on this process would be “Permission to Feel” by Marc Brackett where he discusses a process to getting to this root cause he calls RULER:
Recognize the emotions
Understand the emotions
Label the emotions
Express the emotions
Regulate the emotions
This is HARD WORK but it is often where a lot of healing lies not only for emotional nighttime eating, but also for other health issues as well including gut and hormone imbalances.
So when you put it all together, the simplest way to address nighttime eating is to bring awareness to your life and what’s going on and emotions. When we bring awareness to the areas I discussed, we can start to build a plan. Remember, often this requires extra help. This is what I work on with clients and can also help in conjunction with a counselor to help you really sort through and do the hard work. It may be hard, but it’s worth it in the end when it comes to your health!
If you would like to set up a 15 minute free consult to discuss this or any other health issue with me, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the contact tab on the blog.