4 Common Causes of Nighttime Eating and How to Effectively Manage Them

 
Nighttime Eating Causes and Management
 

Nighttime eating is a major concern for many people who have a conflicted and difficult relationship with food. Nighttime eating typically indicates one of the following imbalances:

1.    Nighttime eating may indicate that you are a chronic dieter. If you significantly restrict calories your body will crave nutrients and calories at the end of the day.

2.    Nighttime eating may indicate that your blood sugar is out of balance. This will cause cravings at the end of the day. 

3.    Nighttime food cravings can indicate that you are an emotional eater. Unstructured time in the evening can trigger emotions and stress that cause uncontrollable emotional food cravings.

4.    Nighttime eating may indicate that you are stuck in a deeply engrained habit pattern of eating at night that can be effectively changed with desire and effort.

If you struggle with nighttime food cravings and nighttime eating, it is most likely a combination of more than one of the above possible reasons. 

Let’s begin by addressing nighttime eating problem number one. Restricting calories during the day and the chronic dieting mentality can cause intense food cravings. Here’s the thing, dieting is not a sustainable form of weight loss—in fact—studies show that chronic dieting causes weight gain! The weight loss industry has based their marketing on the premise that they can make you feel as though you do not know how or what to eat. The dieting industry makes you feel as though you are out of control and in need of someone or something else to be in charge of your food intake. While this may work temporarily (for weight loss, NOT necessarily for health), what happens when the diet is over? (Hint: usually a dangerous cycle of binge eating or overeating after an extended time of feeling deprived.)

If you have been significantly restricting your caloric intake, please know that it is simply not realistic long-term. If you find that you are hungry and unable to resist eating at night when you have restricted your food intake during the day, you are most likely having these strong cravings because you are indeed hungry! You also may be having these strong cravings because your body is trying to communicate to you that you are even malnourished. Your body is most likely craving energy and nourishment and your “self-control” reserves have been depleted and you find yourself eating and most likely in an out of control manner.

The most effective way to remedy this is to STOP DIETING! Start eating real, nutritious whole foods and begin to focus on healing your relationship with food through mindful and intuitive eating practices. Stop restricting and begin focusing on why you want a certain food and if that food serves your health and wellness goals. You can begin to add more nutrition to each meal during the day and notice if that helps reduce your cravings in the evening. Chronic dieting can contribute to blood sugar imbalances as well, which leads us to nighttime eating cause number two!

If your blood sugar is out of balance, it can cause strong food cravings at the end of the day. One cause for this imbalance can be when you start the day with a high amount of carbohydrates and sugars. This will spike your blood sugar early in the day and cause residual cravings all day long. The primary remedy for this is to add protein to your breakfast to help stabilize blood sugar throughout the day. Another way to manage blood sugar imbalance is to minimize taking in excess sugar, processed foods and certain carbohydrates (without being entirely or overly restrictive.) Balancing protein and fiber will help as well—vegetables that are loaded with fiber like leafy greens eaten with a healthy protein source can be very stabilizing and satiating.

Possible cause number three is emotional eating, which is often a major contributor to nighttime eating. Unstructured time in the evening can trigger many feelings. Some of the most common feelings that trigger nighttime eating are: stress, anxiety, boredom and loneliness. The most effective way to begin to manage emotional eating is to have a healthy, non-food-based outlet for your emotions. If you would like more guidance and support surrounding emotional food cravings you can check out my blog on the 5 stages of awareness here to guide you through becoming more emotionally aware. I also have several blogs dedicated to understanding and releasing emotional cravings and emotional awareness and food cravings, you can check out one here.

Emotional eating is complex and may be an area where you could benefit from support by working with a therapist. However, giving yourself an outlet will help to identify the feeling and then make a choice on how to respond to the feeling. Once you can recognize, name and understand the trigger for the emotion you are experiencing, you can create a new outlet for your emotions. Learning to be present with them rather than eating them away and numbing them out with food is essential. This part of the process is definitely not easy. Give yourself time to process your feelings through journaling, talking about them, and/or doing something creative to release them in order to have a place for them to be acknowledged, respected, understood and released.

Now onto scenario number four, nighttime eating as a long-standing habit. If you have had the habit of having a bowl of popcorn and a glass of wine while unwinding in the evening or having dessert every night regardless of whether or not you are hungry, this can indeed be a difficult habit to break. Creating a new habit takes time, effort, discipline and consistency to make happen.

You can begin by identifying the habit you want to change and determine your WHY. Why do you want to change this habit? Make it something that is truly important to you and involves your personal values. It is helpful to remind yourself of your personal WHY continually to remain motivated to maintain this change. Determine what you’d like to do instead of your typical nighttime eating habit. Preplanning an alternative to eating in order to take away the challenge of having to force yourself in the moment will help you to change this habit. Maybe you’d like to have a cup of tea, journal, read, knit—whatever it is—set yourself up for success by having this new evening habit ready to access.

Commit to one month of changing this habit. At the end of the month, take time to reflect on how it goes. What has changed? How did this change impact you? How did it impact your health? How did it impact your self-esteem and your self-image? This is important stuff to notice! Not to sound like a broken record, but I will anyway—if you are truly hungry, allow yourself to eat—just ensure you are not mindlessly eating out of habit, boredom or otherwise.

Nighttime eating is pervasive and many of us struggle with this challenge and yet most people don’t share this struggle with others. Many people feel ashamed and maybe attempt to hide it. Awareness is the first step. If you feel you could benefit from support, reach out! The upcoming Finding Freedom From Emotional Eating Online Group Coaching Course will help support you through challenges such as nighttime eating and emotional eating! You can learn more about this course here.

I hope these methods help to bring more awareness to the why behind any nighttime eating and that these steps will help you begin or continue your journey to make peace with food as well as with yourself.

How Small Steps Can Lead to Big Change

 
steps.jpg
 

When you set out to create change in your life it can be tempting to want to do a complete overhaul. However, these complete overhaul attempts are often met with an inability to sustain for the long-term. The attempts to completely overhaul your life are often too overwhelming, too time-consuming or just completely unrealistic and perpetuate an “all-or-nothing” notion to change. This is why small steps, when taken consistently, can lead to BIG-time change. 

When you set out to create change, there will inevitably be some type of internal resistance. This is why it is so valuable and imperative to arm yourself with a specific goal, action steps and a PLAN to take action. When you create a plan, you set a specific and useful path to move through your resistance. Taking action consistently will help to alleviate fear, resistance and ultimately create the change you desire. 

Begin by considering what it is you want (if you are not sure, you can work through these five questions here) and write it down. Now identify the specifics of what you want and why you want it (you can learn more about determining your WHY here.) What is one thing you can do to move yourself in the direction of the change you desire? If your goal is health and wellness related, such as to “get healthy,” it will be helpful to break it down. What does “get healthy” mean to you? Does this only carry the image of working out for hours and hours and eating only salad and apples? Does it look like scary, like deprivation and struggle? I can tell you, that will not work and definitely will not last.

If your desire is to “get healthy” then why? Is your overriding vision longevity, vitality and the absence of illness throughout your life. If so, what one area of health you can identify that will set your course to create that possibility? What is one goal that will support your vision? An example of a goal that encourages starting small is to eat one leafy green vegetable every day. An example of an action step that supports this goal is to identify leafy green veggies that you actually like. A second example of an action step is to purchase the veggie. A third example of an action step that supports this goal would be to find a recipe to use this green. One last example of an action step that supports this goal is to evaluate how you feel after adding in a leafy green veggie every day.

The way to remain consistent (even if you don’t feel like eating that leafy green vegetable today) is to have a plan. Your plan to ensure that you will take action could be writing down what meal you will eat the leafy green vegetable and how it will be prepared. The plan can also include preparing the leafy greens ahead of meal time so they are ready to go into the recipe. If you are tired and have to wash a bunch of veggies, or even cook them, you may not follow through. This is where your plan holds your power.

This simple, yet wonderfully healthy and powerful change of adding in one leafy green vegetable per day will begin to transform your health by adding in nutrients without having to do a complete overhaul. Once you have met this goal—you are adding in a leafy green every day without having to think about it—then you can consider the next small step you will take. Such as, do you want to incorporate more movement into your day, do you want to decrease the amount of sugar in your daily diet, do you want to add in a mindfulness practice?

Imagine if you took whatever your initial goal may have been and cut it in half, (and then maybe cut it in half again!) you began there at this more doable half of your goal and allowed it to fully integrate into your daily routine? What impact would that one small step have on your life today? What impact will it have in six months from now when you’ve been able to integrate two or three new small steps? What impact will it have on your life it you don’t integrate any change at all?

Often the message we receive from media and otherwise is that we can have it all, do it all, be it all…and yet the reality of your life, schedule and demands are not taken into consideration. When you take charge of the change you desire and move forward one small step at a time you create progress. When you make progress, it feels really good, it is rewarding in and of itself and creates a desire to move forward with another small step.

The all-or-nothing mentality is not healthy and not realistic. Begin by knowing and then breaking down what you want. Identify the areas of your life that will need to adjust and make room for this small change. Ask yourself, what would my life look like in six months if I don’t create this change, am I ok with that? Then begin with your ONE small step, break it down and make it doable to assure that it fits into the structure of your life. Create your plan of action to ensure that you move forward and make the progress you desire.

Re-evaluate your goals and action steps regularly and know that change is most sustainable when created over time with a sense of ease and balance. What is one small change you can add today? Start there and ease into health and wellness over time. If you make a decision about the one small change you can make today to create the life you want, let me know! I’d love to hear how your one small change impacts your life in a BIG way!

Why Diets Don't Work: Creating a Personalized Approach to Wellness

 
Why Diets Don’t Work
 

There is no one-size-fits-all diet, lifestyle, medical treatment, article of clothing…because there is no one-size-fits-all anything! We are all dynamically unique and have different needs in all areas of our lives as individuals. Imagine that there was a survey taken of bike helmet, shoe or other article of clothing sizes. Once an average was determined, helmet, shoe and clothing makers began only making the average size and sold that ONE size to everyone.

While the helmets, shoes or clothes may fit some people just fine, for many others it may be potentially harmful and most definitely uncomfortable! There just is no one-size-fits-all! The same is true with how you care for yourself. If you try to stuff yourself into a theory, exercise routine, meditation practice or even sleep schedule that does not suit you, you will be uncomfortable and it could even be potentially harmful for you.

This same concept is true for nearly everything. However, we are bombarded with messages from media, the medical community and other sources that there is only ONE best way to eat, to live, to love and to be. Not to mention that the headlines surrounding that ONE best way to eat, lose weight, live, love and be etc… changes all the time creating constant confusion about health and wellness.

This is precisely why diets don’t work for long term weight loss and living a healthy lifestyle. Studies show that long-term and yo-yo dieting actually cause weight gain. With a diet there is always an end point, so what happens when it’s over? First there is a sense of relief that you don’t have to starve yourself any longer and your metabolic functions may be out of whack after imposing excessive restriction sending you into an overeating frenzy.

Dietary theories, which are less about being on a diet and more about eating within a specific dietary plan also don’t work long term as they tend to have a higher level of restriction. These theories also often have a dogmatic view of food—such as this food is good, this food is bad—which instills a sense of fear around certain foods and creates extremes and confusion. Living in fear is never a good thing. 

A personalized approach to nutrition and wellness may include choosing to stay away from certain foods, however, you want that decision to be because that is your choice based on how that food makes you feel rather than being fearful of that particular food. When you are free and able to make a choice based on your health and how you want to feel, you create a mindset of empowerment. The more empowered you feel, the more you will begin to develop a healthy relationship with your intuition and your choices will be guided by your ability to truly listen to your body.

So you might be wondering, how do I create a personalized wellness plan? It can be extremely useful to do this in conjunction with a (w)holistic health and wellness coach, especially if you feel confused and overwhelmed by all the conflicting information out there. I recommend finding someone who works from a mindful and intuitive eating approach and encourages YOU to be the expert on YOUR body and a uses a highly individualized perspective.

But really, the thing is, YOU are the expert on YOUR body! You can become your own coach and can learn to tune in, listen and determine for yourself what your body needs, how to feed it, how to move it and how to best care for it. You are the only one who can determine what combination of foods makes you feel your best, what portions, combination of nutrients and timing of eating allows you to feel full, satisfied as well as the ability to maintain energy and overall wellness. Only you can determine what exercise—and really what anything—is best for you because YOU are the expert on YOU!

Becoming intuitively connected to your body by understanding its needs. You will recognize intuitively how food, supplements, medications, exercise plans, meditations and so on make you feel and this will give you valuable feedback that will inform your choices. If it is recommended that you go on a high protein diet and you feel disgusted by having yet another protein whatever, that is valuable information from your body. If it is recommended that you go on a plant-based diet and you are constantly starving and have low energy, that is valuable information from your body as well.

The thing is, some people will feel amazing on a plant-based foods only lifestyle—while others will feel miserable. The same is true that some will feel amazing on a higher protein, lower carbohydrate diet and others will feel horrible. We are all dynamically unique and have needs that are very specific to our own individual make up—mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and energetically.

The process of becoming more in tune with your body is all about mindfulness, self-awareness, emotional awareness and learning to pay close attention. The process is about truly listening to your body which often speaks in soft whispers and subtle messages. Adapting a mindful approach encourages that when you eat, eat—when you drink, drink. Notice the impact of what you are eating and drinking on your body. While you do not want to be restrictive in your dietary choices due to the tendency to over-eat after a period of restricting, understanding the difference between emotional and general food cravings allows you to intuitively check in with how your choices make you feel.

When you are truly intuitive and mindful you will be diligent and practical with your choices. Having your health become your focus will allow you to make empowered decisions. This helps take away the fear of food as well as the feeling of being deprived or restricted. The middle road is really the most sustainable, the most effective and the most realistic. The moderate path, mindful eating and tuning into your intuitive wisdom surrounding your food and lifestyle choices will help you heal your relationship with food as well as with yourself.

If you are interested in immersing yourself in a journey to heal your relationship with food using these practices and principles, Finding Freedom From Emotional Eating is designed just for you. This LIVE course begins on MONDAY February 4th, you can learn more or sign up here!