My client asked me point blank: I know I’m not hungry – so why am I overeating at night? She felt confused and frustrated with her behavior. Very often, she’d fall asleep uncomfortable. As her eyes closed after these late night eating episodes, she’d promise herself “I am NEVER doing this again.” But like clockwork, she’d find herself in the same position after a few nights. The cycle went on and on. She didn’t know how to keep her promise to herself.
Using my No Guilt Framework, I helped my client pinpoint why she was overeating at night. Getting clarity about her night time eating behaviors gave her clarity. She finally was able to keep good on her promise to herself: she no longer binges. She just needed the process to get there.
This post will help you explore some reasons why you keep overeating at night, and then offer a free guide to help you get out of this binge cycle you find yourself in! Before we start talking about what to do, I want to tell you this: you are not alone int his experience and it can be overcome.
reason 1 you overeat at night: not eating enough
Diet programs and calorie trackers may have told you to stick to 1200 calories per day in order to reach your weight loss goals. What is not well communicated by the dieting industry is that following this calorie level for long periods of time – especially when you are simultaneously following exercise programs – can activate primal hunger, or, your body’s way of overriding your attempts to starve it.
Why am I equating dieting to starving? Because 1200 calories is about enough to feed a toddler. And a toddler is much smaller than you.
Eventually your body will stop you from what it perceives as starvation. If you experience loss of control eating at night, you first need to answer this question: am I eating enough?
I coach my clients to create plans that support them in eating enough earlier on in the day. Very often this step is enough to stop loss of control eating binges at night.
reason 2 you overeat at night: mental restriction
Clients often tell me “I eat plenty during the day”. When I listen to their habits, I sometimes find this self-assessment to be true. (But not always, dieting can give you a very warped sense of what it means to eat enough!)
If you find you are eating enough to fuel your body, and you still lose control around food at night, it’s time to consider mental restriction.
Food rules like “no sweets except on the weekends” can cause you to feel deprived. This mindset places certain food on a forbidden pedestal. Now let’s say you see a cookie, or, you notice you have a craving for one. Your food rule puts you in a tough spot. You’ll tell yourself “you can’t have cookies today”. And what does this response do? It makes you feel deprived. You now have to work to cope with the disappointment you feel.
Do you know how this story ends? Eventually when you do “give in” to eat the cookie a rebellious voice emerges: “well, we already blew it, so might as well keep going.” Why bother listening to your fullness? If tonight’s the last night you’ll allow yourself cookies – you better live it up!
A simple solution to this type of overeating trigger is to allow all foods into your diet. Give yourself permission to eat anything you want, whenever you want, at any time you want — without beating yourself up. I help my clients do this using mindset skills that support them through fears of weight gain and concerns for their health as they break mental restrictions around food.
reason 3 you overeat at night: processing emotions
Think about how you spend your day. For many of us, we jump right out of bed and spend 8+ hours per day in the dynamic world of our computer. We navigate hundreds of inputs per day from our technology: and with each message we receive, emotions follow. Except we don’t really have time to address them in the moment.
Not to mention how we can sometimes talk to ourselves. Repetitive negative inner talk is common, with an estimated 19.1% of folks experiencing anxiety disorders in the United States alone. This statistic goes further to say 31.1% of U.S. adults experience any anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. Negative thinking may show up in your mind with intrusive thoughts like:
- I’m failing as a parent
- No one appreciates the work I’m doing
- I have no willpower around food
From internal and external triggers, stress can grow higher and higher through the day. Without strong coping and mindfulness skills, it makes sense that those feelings would start to feel SUPER heavy by night fall. As I’ve said in past blogs: it is normal and valid to choose food to cope. It’s accessible and effective.
We all want to feel better, and you can choose food when you want to. However, if emotional eating leaves you feeling WORSE than before you started, it’s time to expand your emotional tool kit. This skill is a core component of my work with clients hoping to find better ways of experiencing emotion beyond food.
Which reason do you think you are overeating at night?
Truth be told, my clients often find eating at night to be driven by all three of these reasons! When we work together, I help them move through their triggers step by step, make a plan, and use skills of resiliency to revise that plan so they can learn what works. Overcoming overeating at night is a highly tailored process. It is important to remember that new habits can take 3 or more months to start to reverse, which is why my programs are set to 3 month intervals. With dedicated support and feedback from myself and the No More Guilt community – they are able to feel hopeful as they learn to turn overeating at night around.
This post includes a few of the many skills I offer through my No Guilt Framework. Each individual will find different skills helpful at different times, and this post is by no means an exhaustive list of how to stop overeating at night.
I offer group and private coaching programs that help you create a plan and practice these skills with the focus and consistency you need to FINALLY be okay with your body. Apply for coaching and I’ll meet with you to describe how you can go from feeling completely stuck in negative body image to feeling free and peaceful around food, just like my clients do.