Last week I discussed why all calories may not be equal. Those that eat at night or have a night eating disorder may process calories in a way that negatively impacts their weight. Overcoming night eating is an important step for those looking to establish a healthier relationship with food and benefit from the resulting weight loss.
A night eating disorder is defined as taking in 25% or more of the daily caloric intake after supper or getting up in the middle of the night at least twice a week to eat. This disrupts our circadian rhythm, so important to maintaining balance and causes a cascade of events to occur. This results in a scenario where calories are turned directly into stored fat at a higher rate.
In most cases our food choices are not as healthy the later we eat. Typically in this country the type of food we choose tends to become higher calorie and less nutritious as the day progresses.
So what’s the answer?
Sleep, and sleep regular hours
Sleeping is clearly related to weight gain. Just getting 7-9 hours of sleep every night, in and of itself, will result in weight loss. And sleeping the same 7-9 hours every night will add to that number. A restful, good nights sleep is also a sure way to prevent nighttime trips to the refrigerator.
Rule out underlying issues
There may be other concerns contributing to the desire to binge at night. It may be physiological concerns that increase your need to seek out late night snacks, such as hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), hypoglycemia (low sugar levels), medications, diabetes and even your menstrual cycle, which impacts hormonal levels.
Medications play a role
If some medications cause increase hunger, others can help to decrease it. I’m not talking about amphetamines like Phentermine, but ones like serotonin re- uptake inhibitors orSSRI’s – Prozac and other options. Talk to your provider.
Stress and anxiety can kick up hunger cues
Do you eat out of stress or anxiety? Nothing seems to bring on the munchies or cravings for comfort foods like when we can’t turn off the day’s issues. They are often the culprit for late night binging. Dealing with underlying concerns will help to tame this beast.
Seek help from the experts
Talk to a nutritionist or specialist who can help sort through the days habits and work in new, healthier ones. Or keep a food diary that shows exactly what is eaten, when and in what quantities. Sometimes seeing the stark realty can help us to acknowledge the truth and that awareness can be the impetus that drives us to change.
For many, following a healthy diet is easier when we are busy staying productive. But at night, when there’s nothing to distract us, food becomes the focus. Practicing mindful eating promotes awareness of the triggers that overwhelm our ability to resist late night eating. Disrupting these patterns is key to stopping this cycle.
Eat throughout the day so you won’t feel hungry or deprived of food at night. Remember my G.R.A.D.E. diet? Graze, graze, graze, graze all day long by eating every couple of hours. A huge assortment of foods can be eaten in large quantities with minimal caloric impact. They will fill you up and satisfy hunger pangs. Increasing intake throughout the day will increase satiety and decrease the possibility of rebounding.
Eat earlier than later
If grazing isn’t an option, get the majority of your calories early. That way they won’t be susceptible to the issues associated with late night eating. If you just have to eat after dinner keep it to 100-200 calories and stop at least 4 hours before sleep. This will also diminish indigestion concerns that can contribute to hunger and food intake as well.
Limit what tempting food is around
Don’t keep junk food around. It can’t be an option if isn’t available. Have nutritionally healthy, pre- apportioned snacks prepared in bags so indulging in nighttime raids is limited in content and size.
Calm your mind
Awake, hungry and heading to the refrigerator? Try meditation or hypnosis instead. Both will aid in getting back to sleep and can positively impact any weight loss program.
Eat whole foods
Make sure you satisfy your nutritional needs through out the day. When deficient the body will search them out, regardless of the time. No matter your desire to stick with a diet, if your brain perceives a need for food it’ll override any well meaning attempts to the contrary. And by late night that voice yelling to appease your desires will seek out any remedy, healthy or not, to find what it is lacking.
Avoid processed foods
Stop eating processed foods. According to a study published in BMJ Open, they make up almost 60% of our daily calories and 90% of the added sugar we consume. They not only promote addiction by stimulating the same neurobiological reward response in the brain as that of drug addiction, they contain unwanted chemicals and high levels of fat and sugar. Next time you pop that apple slice into your mouth remember this- all that distortion destroys any possible benefit.
Nothing works overnight. Change requires slow, careful, well thought-out steps to succeed. Entrenched habits are altered by chipping away at the trench and inputting new, healthier ones in their place. It may feel like two steps forward and sliding one step back but that’s still progress.