Do you eat in the evening – and eat and eat? If so, you are not alone! Here is a sampling of the many posts about this in the forum:
“Night eating has been my number one curse. When I initiated that terrible habit then the pounds really started a rampant escalation. I have found that this is the time of night I’m fatigued, anxious, lonely and bored. Sadly to say, that an infusion of sugars actually temporarily reduces the anxiousness I feel.”
“Evenings have always been my time to graze, binge, overeat and numb out. There isn’t one simple reason for it with me, it happens for a variety of reasons but one of the primary reasons is that at the end of the day I feel “empty” and I am seeking something to fill the void with.”
“One of my issued is I am a perfectionist and would do well all day and then in the evening eat everything sweet in sight because “I was not perfect today” so I’ll eat as much as I can and surely tomorrow I will be perfect. Never happened.”
“I’ve been fine each morning and early afternoon, but once evening hits, so does my eating. I eat from early evening until I go to bed. I don’t know why, and I’m not sure how to stop it, but I need to.”
“Evenings make me anxious because of their frustrating, ambivalent nature. Is it my time of rest and relaxation, or is it the time to be productive around home, after the whole day of being productive at work? If I sit and relax, I feel guilty at the housework piling up. If I apply myself to housework, I feel resentful. The push to munch serves the purpose of dodging the issue.”
You can break out of this! Here’s how.
Why People Eat in the Evening
People have different reasons for eating in the evening, as the above quotes demonstrate. But one element is fairly universal. You’re tired, you’re tense, and your mind is filled with the stresses and problems of the day. You may have had to put up with a lot of crap with no outlet for your frustration. You may not have had a chance to sit quietly and relax all day. You’ve put out a lot of energy and effort and you need something back.
Food is a perfect solution- or at first, anyway. It’s an easy source of pleasure, and if you’re eating something carby (which is typical with emotional eating), it stimulates release of seritonin in your brain and relaxes you. When you’re feeling empty and spent, eating fills you up – symbolically and literally. It’s a way to give to yourself after giving to others all day long.
So is it any wonder that you do it?
But then there is the dark side. Your waist line expands and that’s bad enough, but your body doesn’t feel good in other ways. People choose junk food for emotional eating – processed foods filled with sugar, salt, and fat that make your body feel terrible. You end up feeling bloated and uncomfortable, and long-term, your health suffers. You end up feeling worse rather than better – and I’m not even counting the self-flagellation.
The trouble is, the immediate effect of emotional eating is reinforcing – it tastes good, feels good to eat. The bad feelings only come later.
Change Your Thinking to Change Your Actions
The way you become able to stop emotional eating is to change how you think about what you’re doing.
For starters, stop yelling at yourself for overeating in the evening. You have an emotional need and you’re filling it the only way you currently know how. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, when you’re mad at yourself, you only eat more. Treat the urge to eat as a message from your soul that you need something, and ask yourself gently and kindly what it is.
Then find other ways to meet your need – genuine ways. The only need that food truly can fill is the body’s need for fuel. If your need is emotional, a food band-aid is a temporary fix at best, and something else will work better. You just need to uncover the true need so you know what action to take. Simply knowing you feel bad is not enough.
What’s Really Bothering You?
Emotional eating serves two purposes: comfort, and distraction from uncomfortable feelings. Once you act on an emotional eating urge, it’s very hard to figure out what you’re comforting and distracting yourself from because you’re already distracted.
So pause. Don’t act on the urge right away. Pause and sit with the uncomfortable feelings for a little while, and see what comes up. Wait at least 15 minutes. You can do anything for 15 minutes! You may still end up eating, but those 15 minutes are 15 minutes of recovery. You have to be able to pause before you can stop.
During the pause, sit quietly and think – don’t watch TV or do something else distracting. Just sit. All kinds of thoughts will leap into your mind, and if you’re paying attention, you will discover what you really need. From my book, Normal Eating® for Normal Weight:
“Often people eat in the evening after a long day of work. If this is your pattern, then you may simply need to relax and do something that feels good. In that case, a comfort activity like a warm bath could be an effective action. But if you’re eating in the evening because you feel lonely coming home to an empty house, or you’re mad at your husband for not helping with children and dinner, then a warm bath is not going to fix the problem. Nor will a warm bath help if you’re unhappy in your job. You don’t have to up and quit, but you can at least look through job listings. If you have no time to yourself, you can work on ways to make time. What’s important is that the action address the unmet need. It has to do more than just soothe.”
Years ago when I worked at a bank, I used to come home and automatically start eating. I realized that eating was serving as a transition ritual for me – marking the end of the work day and the beginning of the part of the day that was mine. So instead of eating, I started marking the end of the workday by taking off my work clothes and going outside for a walk in my civvies. Moving let me work out some tension, and as it became a habit, it started to serve the function of an end-of-work ritual – moving me out of the work mindset. Plus walking is pleasant.
Sometimes, just letting what’s bothering you into awareness is enough to dissolve the craving. But with evening eating, you’ll probably need to take some sort of action to address the true need. You may not completely solve the problem – probably you won’t – but just taking the action can have a remarkable effect on compulsive eating urges.
Something to Try…
The next time you have an urge to emotionally eat in the evening, pause for 15 minutes before acting on the urge. You may end up eating anyway (this time), but that’s okay. The 15 minutes you pause are 15 minutes of recovery. You have to be able to pause before you can stop.
Spend the 15 minutes sitting quietly and doing nothing. Don’t listen to music, don’t watch TV, don’t read a book. Just sit and be, allow whatever thoughts are banging around in your head to surface into consciousness. You will probably discover what you really need. If you’re not hungry, it isn’t food.
And then take an action towards solving the real problem – a small action, something that takes you less than 15 minutes. You probably won’t completely solve it, but taking the action will remove feelings of powerlessness and can shift your outlook dramatically.
And then report back! How did it go? Please post your experience.