One issue with which many of my clients struggle is eating at night, after they have had dinner. I hear things like:
“My husband and I watch TV and snack after dinner.”
“I feel mildly hungry around 9-ish, and am afraid that if I don’t eat, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, starving, and won’t be able to sleep.”
I believe there are three main reasons why most people want to eat shortly after they’ve had a reasonable dinner:
They were distracted when they ate dinner, whether with their phone, watching TV or whatever, and therefore did not experience the satisfaction of their meal.
They are tired after a long day, and associate eating food with getting more energy.
Their willpower is totally depleted after having used it up on a variety of other tasks throughout the day, so their resolve is low. This especially contributes to overeating if their willpower was used to avoid eating earlier in the day, which is what usually happens when people go on diets.
There is a lot of controversy among the global medical research community about eating later in the evening. Not surprisingly, there are conflicting studies about whether it is better to eat more later in the day or earlier.
Although I’m not sure what this writer’s credentials are, he makes some interesting points about why eating at night isn’t bad, and cites some research to back it up.
When I visited Spain a few years ago, no one ate dinner until at least 9 p.m. Yes, they had siesta mid-day, but that wasn’t necessarily following their largest meal. And you know what? I didn’t see many fat Spaniards.
Europeans, in general, are known for eating a late dinner, and their obesity rates are lower than in America where people tend to eat earlier.
I’ve read studies that say eating a big breakfast will help you lose weight, and other studies that say if you eat most of your calories in the evening, you’ll lose more fat.
Everyone is different, so forget all of those rules and the so-called conventional wisdom. The important thing is to listen to your body and respond to its needs. Eating at night is only a problem if you eat when you aren’t hungry.
Here are some tips for dealing with eating at night if you want to lose weight and keep it off:
Are You Hungry?Are you actually hungry or is something else causing you to want to eat? Maybe it’s your habit. Learning to understand this difference is crucial. If you aren’t hungry, don’t eat. Remember, the non-hunger urge to eat is just a thought in your brain.
It will pass pretty quickly, just like your other thoughts, if you don’t respond to it. If you aren’t sure, think about whether you would feel satisfied with a salad or a cup of yogurt. If you only want to eat chips or cookies, it probably isn’t true hunger.
Late Night Eating and SleepIf eating before bedtime disturbs your sleep, avoid it. Sleep deprivation is also associated with weight gain, so aim to get enough sleep, and don’t let your sleep be disturbed by your digestion. If you’re actually hungry at bedtime, eat a banana, which contains compounds that help you sleep.
Eating Without DistractionsCall me naïve, but I still find it alarming that people actually eat their dinner while watching television. People who eat with distractions don’t taste much of their food and tend to overeat. Essentially, they don’t experience their meal, they aren’t satisfied and crave snacks afterwards.
Learn how to eat without distractions, with the exception of whomever you are dining with. This means keeping your smart phone or other devices away from where you eat, and not eating in front of the TV.