Do you go all day long eating small portions of healthy food and moving your body as much as possible only to find yourself raiding the refrigerator at night? If so, you are not alone. So many people tell me that they are “so good” all day long, only to find themselves glued to the refrigerator from dinner until bedtime. Does the scenario of over-indulging at night, going to bed feeling bloated and disgusted, only to wake up feeling regretful and remorseful, seem all too familiar?
Sometimes you may feel hopeless when it comes to correcting this self-sabotaging habit, yet baffled as to how you can run other areas of your life so successfully.
If you frequently fall victim to nighttime bingeing, realize that there are two main reasons why this is likely to be occurring—either you are physically or emotionally hungry—and neither is a reflection of your intelligence or innate value. This may seem obvious, but if you truly believed it then you wouldn’t add insult to injury by beating yourself up for the mistakes that you’ve made and continue to make. Until you understand the root cause driving your unwanted behavior and then correct it, you can expect to repeat the same actions that are causing you so much inner pain.
One reason why people overeat at night is physiological. Are you eating enough during the day or are you running around frantically only to realize when you finally get home that you are starving? If you find yourself devouring food right out of the refrigerator, eating from containers instead of at the table from a plate, if you plunge into your food with your hands as opposed to using utensils, then it’s very likely that you are simply hungry—physically hungry.
Your body needs a certain amount of calories each day to operate, and your brain needs a steady supply of nutrients to maintain optimal functioning. One way or another, your body is going to force you to give it the nutrition it deserves.
It’s time to start caring for your body. Many people take better care of their pets or their cars than they do of themselves.
Your body needs a steady intake of balanced meals throughout the day. A balanced meal consists of protein (for many people this must be animal protein to end hunger), complex carbohydrates such as root vegetables or whole grains, and vegetables. Simply put, you must eat regularly throughout the day and include healthy snacks.
Some healthy snack ideas to keep your blood sugar steady are:
• Peanut butter and celery
• Almond butter and carrots
• A slice of fresh turkey or roast beef with romaine lettuce
• Tuna fish on a whole grain cracker
The second far more common reason why people overeat at night is based on the innate human drive we all have to fill our emotional needs. If we are feeling unfulfilled, with unresolved emotional issues lurking inside, we are likely to turn to food in a futile attempt to meet these inner desires. It is natural for each of us to want to fill our needs for love, companionship, safety, control, and relaxation; unfortunately, there is no amount of food that can fill these very real requirements.
I once worked with a man named Bill who couldn’t stop his night bingeing. It didn’t matter what was in the house—raisins, chips, ice cream—he would sit in front of the TV at night and eat. Using self-hypnosis, he came to discover that stimulation was what he was really seeking. He realized that he was slightly bored and unfulfilled with life, and at night he would turn on an action movie and want to keep eating as a way to keep himself stimulated.
To provide that excitement directly, Bill bought a treadmill and began waking up earlier and running every morning. He created a CD of some of his favorite music and used the recording as a way to completely lose himself in the activity and, as a result, began looking forward to this special time of day. Eventually, Bill began challenging himself to run with others, enjoying the comradery, competition, and the opportunity to be outdoors when the weather permitted. Soon he found himself skipping the late night movies and the binge eating because he just didn’t like the way it made him feel. Bill looked forward to waking up in the morning, feeling light and energized from a good night’s sleep, his stomach empty and ready for his morning exercise routine.
Once discovering what our underlying needs really are, we no longer need to turn to food in a vain attempt to meet them.
Just take a moment and imagine yourself at home at the end of the day. Picture yourself on a typical evening where in the past you may have been tempted to binge. Then ask yourself, “What is it that I need?” Are you physically hungry? Did you eat enough during the day? Or were you running around taking care of other people’s needs or scrambling to meet the demands of your job, without stopping to care for yourself?
If so, offer yourself compassion and make a decision to begin eating right during the day. Get into the positive habit of planning your meals and taking healthy snacks with you if you know that you will be in a situation where you might not have access to healthy, balanced food choices. Do not let yourself get too hungry because it will increase the likelihood of a binge later in the evening.
If you feel that your physical needs for nutrition are in fact being met, ask yourself if there are unfulfilled emotional needs you may be harboring.
Maybe you have some pent up anger that can be released by writing in a journal. Perhaps your stress level is high at the end of the day, and maybe you need to take 15 minutes of alone time and practice some deep, abdominal breathing, allowing the oxygen to go way down into the bottom of your lungs. Deep belly breathing, using positive affirmations such as telling yourself, “breathing in, I breathe in peace….breathing out, I breathe out calm,” is a wonderful way to release some of the day’s tension.
Before your evening meal, be sure to check in to see what you truly need. Select the foods that will nourish you, satisfy your physical hunger, and comprise a balanced meal. Whenever possible, eat natural, unprocessed water-rich foods, and then identify your emotional needs and fill them directly.
Like Bill, if you’re bored or frustrated, physical exercise could be the very remedy you are seeking. If you require more love or relaxation, cuddle up with a special person or a pet, or spend quality time with yourself. Thrill all your senses by soaking in a warm aromatherapy bath. Take up a practice such as meditation, journaling, yoga, or self-hypnosis.
Create your nighttime routine to become a special ritual that you cherish—a time when you can pamper and love yourself and unwind from any stresses of the day. Each time you make a constructive choice, you are installing a new habit and creating positive momentum to turn your life around.
Rena Greenberg is the author of The Right Weigh: Six Steps to Permanent Weight Loss used by over 100,000 People (Hay House Publishing) and The Craving Cure: Break the Hold Carbs and Sweets Have on Your Life (McGraw-Hill). Rena has a private hypnosis practice in Sarasota and can be reached through her Web site at www.EasyWillpower.com