Late Night Snacking & Bingeing:
Why You Do It & How to Stop
Full transcription available at the bottom of this post
This is a problem . . .
It's 9:00 at night, the kids are finally in bed, and you're DONE. Mentally, physically, and emotionally cooked. And this is about the time that you head back to the fridge for something to munch on. You grab that snack, plop down on the couch, turn on the TV and zone out. The one snack turns into more, and more until it's starts to feel like a binge.
WHY do you keep doing this? And even more important HOW do you stop?
The truth is, your late night snacking and bingeing is a result of all of your decisions and actions throughout the day, NOT just the choice you make in the moment you're standing in front of the fridge. How much you ate, what you ate, how you managed your emotions, and stressors (or didn't) ALL contribute to that pivotal moment at night where you mindlessly grab for the carton of ice cream because it'll make you feel better.
If you're going to overcome this, we need to attack the problem from both MIND and BODY. You need to eat such a way during the day that you don't need more food late at night. And you some mental, emotional, and behavioral strategies so you don't feel the need to calm yourself with food.
In this episode I'll give you some of my best strategies for overcoming late night snacking and bingeing and I'll also give you some of the ways that I personally have overcome these things. Send me a DM on Instagram if you give them a try or have questions!
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Show Notes & Transcript:
Imagine this, it's nine o'clock at night, the kids are finally in bed, you are mentally and emotionally done. You grab that bowl of ice cream, you plop down on the couch, because you just want to zone out. But that ice cream has gone way too fast, and it did not calm you down enough. So you get up and get some more ice cream. And this time you grab a couple cookies as well, you still don't feel calm, the cycle repeats until you feel like crap because you overeat again, you didn't want to. You didn't stick to your diet. Now you feel like a failure. And that is how you go to bed. If late night snacking is a problem for you, listen up, your diet is not going to fix it. Your willpower is not going to fix it. But I have some strategies for you today that might help you fix that late night snacking. So let's go
Welcome back to the no nonsense wellness podcast, the place for women who are trying to do all the things and stay healthy, sane and actually enjoy life in the process. Hey, I'm Tara, a trained therapist, a life coach, a nutrition coach and a fitness instructor. And I’m on a mission to help you take back control of your mind, health and life. Each week, I'll be cutting through the nonsense and getting real with you. I'll bring you the insight and information you need to take control of your weight and health, find food freedom, and finally break free from the thoughts that are sabotaging you and holding you back. You, my friend, are powerful, and the world needs you to start showing up in a bigger way. It's time to get unstuck and start moving forward. So let's pop in those earbuds, tie up those shoes, let's walk and talk.
So I want to be super clear here that sometimes eating at night is not always a problem, for example, an athlete or a teenager. And yes, if you're a mom who goes to the gym and works out, I consider you an athlete, maybe you're a teenager, maybe you're a pregnant woman or nursing, you might really need some food after your dinner meal. There was a time for me personally, when I was having a lot of blood sugar issues that were related to my autoimmune thyroid condition. And because of that I was waking up at night because my blood sugar would drop too far. And so I was eating a little bit of protein right before bed, and it really helps me sleep better. So I was eating at night before I went to bed. So I'm not talking about situations like that. I'm not talking about a situation where you genuinely need a little bit of food and the food you choose is not a binge, it's not an overeat, it is a healthy food choice that keeps you on line with your goals. That's not the kind of late night eating that I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is the problematic eating. And you know, if it's problematic, I don't have to delineate that for you, you already know for yourself whether or not it's problematic. It looks like a binge, it looks like an overeat, it looks like a very specific food that you are craving that you have to have, or that you're habitually eating every single night. That's the kind of late night snacking that I'm talking about. The kind that's problematic, the kind that you know, is an issue and you know, you need to stop doing it. But you just don't really know how.
I want to talk first about this myth of eating at night making you fat, because that's not necessarily true. Now, I told you before, there was a time where for my own health and so that I could sleep I was eating a little bit of food before I went to bed. So it's not just so simple as, Oh, don't eat before you go to bed, it'll make you fat. The real question is, how much are you eating? And what are you eating before bed, if you're eating three bowls of ice cream, that's clearly a problem. Or if you're eating a few bites of turkey so that you have a little protein to carry you through the night, that's probably not going to be a problem. The difference if you're eating in such a way that it's keeping you up at night, like you're having a lot of carbs or a lot of sugar right before bed, that might be a problem. If you're focusing on a little bit of fat and a little bit of protein, you're probably going to sleep better. So I just want to make sure that we are super clear on the idea that if for your health, you do have to eat a little bit of food before you go to bed. It's gonna be okay. As long as that little bit of food included in all the food you ate throughout the day is not too much food. Okay? It's really as simple as that.
But what we're talking about here is not that what we're talking about here is that kind of binge at night is really honestly what it looks like a lot that habitual eating. So why do we do this? Why is this such a thing for us? Listen, your brain at the end of the night is tired. There's literally something called decision fatigue, where your brain has made so many decisions throughout the day that it is tired of making decisions. It's literally just tired of working, and it wants to turn off. And it already knows that food is a really good way to do that. Because it's done a lot. Why is your brain tired? Well, usually for us because it's because of stress. We don't know how to relax during the day, we are making too many decisions that we don't really need to make during the day. That's one of the things that we also talked about and healthy mind healthy body is how to reduce your decision fatigue. And there's a lot of strategies for that. So the first thing you need to understand about yourself and your brain is your state of mind at the end of the night. Are you in decision fatigue? Is your brain completely done. And you need to look at your day and understand why is that I shouldn't feel like that at night, you shouldn't get to nine and 930 at night and feel like you can't think about one more thing, or you can't deal with one more thing or one more tiny thing is going to send you over the edge. That's not how we're supposed to be living our lives. That's not what this is meant to be like. Now I get it like I've had little kids like, you know, days or hard days or long work is long. We all got a lot of stuff going on during the day. But there really are effective strategies that you can put in place to manage that all day long, so that when you get to the end of your day, you don't feel so completely done. Okay, so that's the first thing I want you to think about.
The second thing about why we are doing this late night snacking, is that we might actually be hungry. And so that's the other thing we have to figure out is are you emotionally hungry? Or are you physically hungry? Sometimes we are physically hungry. And their usual cause for that is that you restricted food throughout the day, right, you're on some kind of calorie reduction diet, you're counting your calories, you're trying to stick to your points, right, you're trying to you know, stay in the lines of all this stuff. And then you get to the end of the night and you're like I have not had enough food today, I am hungry. And the problem then becomes you are genuinely physically hungry, but your brain is so exhausted, it does not want to cook a healthy meal, it does not want to make a decision about what would be a good food choice for me. It wants you to stuff in your face, whatever is close, a bag of chips, a stack of cookies, a glass of wine, a bowl of to have ice cream, like when we get to that point, we might be genuinely hungry. That's my that might be how this starts. But the food that we're choosing is poor choices for us in terms of trying to reach our health goals. Because our brain is tired of making choices, you see how these two things go hand in hand, you might be actually hungry, but your brain is sabotaging you. Or you might not actually be hungry at all, and your brain is sabotaging you. Okay? So you kind of need to figure out for you what's going on. Now, I hope you notice the theme here, that you're setting yourself up for this your entire day. And whatever you did and thought and ate during that day is setting you up for this situation at night either for success or for failure. So what are we going to do about that?
The first strategy is dealing with that physiological side. What's happening in your body? Are you actually hungry? Obviously, the first thing we're going to make sure we're doing is eating enough during the day. I can't tell you how many women I talked to that are like, oh, so busy, I didn't eat lunch or I forgot dinner or, you know, it's nine o'clock at night and I haven't eaten since noon. Like I hear that so often. And I just want you to hear me with the love that is in my heart for you. Sister, you cannot keep doing this. You are setting yourself up for failure every single night and then you wonder why did I binge tonight? Why did I eat so much I feel so full I feel sick. Now. I can't sleep for hours like your entire day, set you up, eat some food, eat some food during the day, you have to pay attention to what you're eating. One other thing that I hear women say a lot is that they didn't really eat a meal during the day. They just like sort of ate all day. They sort of snacked all day. Like they ate the leftovers off their kids plates, and then they grabbed some and they grabbed some apples and almonds over here thinking they're doing a good job right and they just sort of munched all day long but never actually sat down and ate a meal. There are several problems with this. And this has to do all with how your body works. Now we talk about this a lot in the Healthy Mind Healthy Body program, but one of the things that I teach you to do is a 24 Our food plan.
If you have not listened to that episode, it's episode 47 And it tells you all about the 20 For a food plan and how and why you would want to do that, but the basic idea is that if you pre plan your food during the day, so that means I'm getting up in the morning, I'm deciding today I'm going to eat this for breakfast, this for lunch, this for dinner, and this for a snack if I need it. The point of doing there's a lot of points of doing that. But the strategy we're talking about right now, is that you can then go back, so if you're hungry at nine o'clock at night, you can go back at that food plan, and you can be like, Wow, okay, well, I ate this. And then I ate this. And I didn't feel satisfied after that. And I was kind of hungry still. But I just waited till the next one. And this was enough food. For me this day was not enough food for me, you can go back and really assess like, if you feel hungry at nine o'clock at night. But when you should be kind of winding down and going to bed, you can assess your day and know why that happened. It is incredibly useful. The other really important thing that that 24 hour food plan does is reduce your decision fatigue. So all day long, if you're figuring out and you're trying to do you know mental math about how many calories this is, and I gotta log this and is this a good choice? And is that a good choice? And I don't know if I'm allowed to eat this? And am I supposed to eat that? Or am I not supposed to eat that right, your brains done, it doesn't want to make all those decisions. So if you plan your food in the morning, you don't have to make all those decisions all day. And so you'll get to nine o'clock at night, and you'll still have some capacity to make a better choice if you need to make sense. So that was episode 47. After this, go back and listen to that, it'll be very helpful for you.
The other thing that you need to know about during the day is if you are eating to balance your blood sugar. Now, this is another one that I see a lot. For most Americans, your blood sugar is spiking, and then it's dropping drastically. And then we eat and it spikes again. And then it drops drastically. Your blood sugar, if you looked on it, if you looked at it like on a graph, it should be like a nice gentle wave up and down, up and down. It drops down a little bit we eat it comes back up drops down a little bit we eat it comes back up. And that's what it should look like all day long. But most of us don't have a nice gentle curve, most of us have a spike and drop. So now the problem is not how much you're eating during the day. But the problem is what you're eating during the day, your food choices might be setting you up for late night failure. So what I'm talking about is if you're choosing poor foods throughout the day that are spiking your blood sugar. So let's say you ate dinner at like, six 630 your blood sugar spiked, because the food choices you made. Now at nine o'clock your blood sugar has tanked. So not only is your brain completely tired, and you're emotionally tired, just because of your day, but also now your blood sugar has dropped. So you have lost all capacity to make rational decisions about what food you're putting in your mouth. When you're in that situation. That's called hangry. And you're just going to shove stuff in your mouth. So if these are a problem for you, it is going to set you up for failure at night. So you have to learn to eat to have a balanced blood sugar. Again, like a broken record. That's something that we teach in the Healthy Mind Healthy Body program. Because you have to know how food is affecting you. If we can begin to avoid the physical cravings that we're having late at night, that physical need for food, we are way ahead of the game. So there's a lot you can do during your day to manage how you are physically feeling. And if you are physically hungry, at the end of the night. Make sense?
Strategy number two, you need to understand your emotional triggers for food and how to overcome them. You have to start to create an understanding of your own behaviors, and the thoughts and emotions that are leading to them. So that kind of binge eating stuff at night or really anytime you need to start creating an understanding for yourself about why that's happening, you cannot change what you do not see. Okay, you have to see what's going on before you can make a change to your behavior pattern. So my most simple suggestion here is just to start a little nighttime journal. So when you find yourself performing that problematic eating at night, so you're grabbing the cookies and the ice cream and the chips and whatever else is your thing. When you find yourself doing that you're gonna stop doing that because you've noticed now that you're doing it, and then you're gonna sit down, you're gonna be like, Okay, what just happened? Right? Just get real curious and assess yourself. What the heck just happened here. And you're gonna ask yourself some questions like, What were you doing right before you did that eating behavior? Who were you with? What were you thinking? How are you feeling? You're gonna want to really start to tap in and create some understanding around all this so that when you see those things happening when you see that situation, when you feel those feelings when you think those thoughts, instead of then automatically going to that binge behavior, you will be able to stop yourself and be like, whoa, whoa, I know what this is, I know what's going on here.
If you want more guidance around this, I created a whole free workbook for you just go to tarafaulmann.com. It's right on the homepage. It's called overcoming stress eating. And this is going to give you some worksheets and some insights about this part of the binge eating, and the stress eating the emotional eating, it's going to help you really kind of tap in and create an understanding for yourself about what's going on. And what is triggering this for you. Cool, okay, so go there and grab that workbook, you're definitely going to want to check that out. Okay.
Strategy number three, then is, in order to break this, one of the things you might need to break is the habit of it, the pattern of that behavior. So like I've said before, our brain is really lazy like, it wants a break, it wants the easiest possible path, it wants to do the least amount of work possible. So your brain is really, really good at creating patterns. It's good at noticing patterns in the world. And it's good at creating patterns for itself. Because if it can create a behavior pattern for itself, or a thought pattern for itself, it can just turn on autopilot. And it doesn't have to really think about it. Does that make sense? So when you have created a habit of eating at night after dinner, then your brain is just going to keep performing that habit on autopilot unless you interrupt that pattern. So what your brain understands is that it's late, I feel stressed, I feel overwhelmed, I feel burned out. I would like to fix this, I don't want to feel this way. I know last time we ate ice cream, and that made me feel better. So it's not even a choice. Your autopilot your brain is like, I feel like this, let's do this. Right? I feel stressed, I want ice cream that makes me feel better. Your brain is not even making a conscious decision at that point. It's just autopilot behavior.
So if we want to change that behavior, we have to break up the patterns of that behavior. So for example, instead of sitting on the couch, where you're eating happens, go take a walk, take a shower, sit somewhere else sit in a different chair. If I always sit in this spot and eat ice cream, then I am not going to sit in that spot because that spot number one is a situational trigger that I want ice cream. And that spot number two is an autopilot trigger of this is where I eat ice cream at night. Okay? So don't sit in that spot. Don't give yourself that trigger that pattern instead of turning on the TV, because that's what you do. You sit down, you turn on the TV, you eat the ice cream, don't turn on the TV, pick up a book, go do something else. Instead of having a half a carton of ice cream at night or just sitting there with a curtain on your lap, put some actual ice cream in a bowl and sit down in a different spot and eat just the ice cream that's in the bowl. Right? Like you have to break up the pattern somehow. So there's a lot of ways that you can do that.
I'll give you a real life example. For me. I was having a cookie situation for a while. Like I wanted a cookie after dinner, I was not hungry. I did not need a cookie. Physiologically I just wanted a cookie, it made me feel better. I kept saying like, I want something sweet. I want something sweet. So I'd have a cookie. But I knew that this cookie was number one a bad habit. And number two, not something that was serving me. And number three, I didn't need it. It wasn't part of my healthy goals for myself. Now, am I telling you that one cookie is oh my gosh, you need to stop eating that one cookie? No, certainly I am not because here's the problem. The one cookie would taste really good. And then if the one cookie was good and made my brain happy, then two cookies is better. And three cookies is probably better. So instead of just going and eating the one cookie, I would go back to the pantry and grab another one. And I will go back to the pantry and grab another one. I will go back to the entry grab another one. Have you ever been here before, that's where it became problematic. So here's what I did to break up the pattern. I took the cookies, and I put them out in the freezer in the garage. Now notice, I did not deprive myself of the cookies because that's our first goal. She was like, Oh, I can't stop eating these cookies. I'm just not going to have any cookies anymore. Get them out of the house, throw them in the garbage, whatever you're going to do. But as soon as you create that, like hard line like that, what do you do? All you can think about is how much you want cookies and then you're going to find anything else that's a cookie substitute. Right? I'm going to find this that sweet and this that sweet. I'm gonna read candy and I'm gonna find all the things. Instead you could have just given yourself the one cookie Okay, so back to the story, the cookies are now in the freezer in the garage. So if I want the cookie after dinner, I have to go to the garage, get it out, bring it back into the house, put it on the counter because I can't eat that cookie frozen. I have to wait for it to defrost. And by that time by the time the cookie is ready to eat whatever was happening in my brain that was telling me I needed it so badly has dissipated. And now I can either eat the cookie or not eat the cookie. Now my brain is not in a position where I have to have it now and I will have multiple. Now because I figured out a way to make myself Wait just a little bit, my brain has calmed down on its own, and I can eat the one cookie. And it's not a problem, I don't have to go back for more, or I cannot eat the cookie. Sometimes the cookie has just sat there. And I realized the next morning like, oh, I never came back and ate that. I am telling you up, figuring that out was like the best thing ever, because I realized I can break this if I want to. And so can you. It’s not magic, right? There's nothing mysterious about it, I just made it harder for me to perform that behavior. I broke the pattern. And that's all it took. So maybe for you, that's all it will take.
And so a bonus strategy, then that I want you to think about is figuring out new ways to relax, because what's happening at night? Is that why you're doing this with them, one of the biggest reasons is that you are trying to calm your brain. Now this is the problem with food is because it works. When we eat food, we actually do calm our brain, because we digest better when we are calm. And so food naturally calms our brain. It's physiological. That's how it's supposed to work, that unfortunately, a lot of times works against us, because food works to calm us down. You know, it also works, alcohol, alcohol works to calm us down. That's why we keep doing it because it's working. And I'm not trying to encourage you to go have a glass of wine every night, certainly not. But I just want you to understand that it's not like you're so awful. And you're such a failure. And you can't figure this out, like your body is kind of working against you on this one. Because when you eat you calm down, and that was what you were trying to do in the first place. So what I want you to think about now is ways to break up this pattern of behavior, ways to break up these patterns of thoughts, ways to relax and calm down that are not food or drinks. So I'll give you another personal example. I have a lot of these.
So there was a time during “that time”. And maybe some of you guys went through this as well, but during lockdown, and I found myself having a glass of wine every night. And you know, it started out as like a calming thing. And then it became just sort of a habit. And it wasn't like a binge drink at night. Like it was a glass of wine. But it was happening almost every day. And at some point I realized like, whoa, wait a second. This is happening a lot. This is happening more than it should be for my health. And I'm sleeping poorly because of it. This is not coping right? Having this glass of wine at night thinking that it's helping me calm down. This is not good coping skills and is not working long term. So I decided that I needed to come up with a different coping skill. The easiest thing I could think of was also to have a drink at night, just a non alcoholic drink. So what I did was I started drinking, you know, the calm magnesium powder. It's literally that's the brand calm, not affiliated with calm. I just like their product. Calm the magnesium powder. So I started mixing that with a Lacroix and a little extra water and ice and I had this delicious sort of icy mocktail, and I would drink that instead of the wine. But here's the key. Here's the key to that. It's not what I was having. That's the key. It's what I was telling myself while I was having it. That was key. My thoughts were the key to this. Okay, so pay attention to what I was telling myself while I was drinking that little mocktail elixir was, this is so good for me. I feel better already. I'm going to sleep so well tonight, because I drink this. I could have said, this sucks. I hate it. I'd rather have wine. And I'd be stuck right where I was. Or I could do what I did. And I made my thoughts: I love this. What a treat. It tastes so good. I'm going to sleep so good tonight, this is so good for my body. I really needed this magnesium like, I mean, I just you know go overboard of like how excited I am and how happy I am that I'm doing this for myself. And it worked for me on every single level. So physiologically, the magnesium actually does help calm you down. So that was great. On the psychological level and on the emotional level, I was telling myself how much better I felt you've heard of the placebo effect before right? People take a drug that's not actually a drug. It's just like water or whatever, but they think that it's helping them. And because their thoughts are that they're getting better, they actually get better. I was totally placebo affecting myself. Makes sense. And you can do it too. So if there's a problematic behavior that you would like to change, pick a different behavior and then while you're forming that behavior, you're telling yourself, how great it is that you're doing this and how great you feel because you're doing this. Does that make sense? It is all about the thoughts that you are having, well, you do it, you don't need the ice cream to have those thoughts. You don't need the cookies to have those thoughts. You don't need the wind to have those thoughts. You could have calming, relaxing, proud of yourself thoughts. With a lot of other things that would be a lot more helpful to you. Cool.
I hope that was super helpful. I know it's such a problem, because we're all so busy and our lives are so crazy. And so many times at the end of the night, we are just so cooked that it's so hard to make good choices for ourselves. If you are genuinely hungry at night, I would encourage you to choose just a little bit of food that is a protein or fat or maybe a mix of both. Stay away from the carbs, stay away from the sugar, the protein and the fat is gonna last a little bit longer as you sleep. But here's the truth: you are meant to not eat while you sleep like you were meant to not eat for like a long period of time while you sleep. So physiologically, your body should be able to do that. And if you can't do that, then you need to figure out what the problem is. And likely, like I said, it's because of what's going on throughout the entire day. So if this was helpful, share this with a friend posted in your Instagram stories and tag me forward this email to a friend if you're on the email list for this podcast link to a friend. And share this with them if that's the problem that they're having.
And I also want you guys to know really quick that on the website, I updated and expanded all of the workbooks. There are three free workbooks at tarafaulmann.com. The first one is five shifts to jumpstart your health. The second is overcoming stress eating. And then the third is make it happen goal setting done right, my personal program for how to set goals so you'll actually achieve them because most of us have been taught to set goals the wrong way. So if you have not got your hands on all three of those workbooks, I highly recommend that you go to tarafaulmann.com. And grab those, if you like them, send your friends to terraform a.com. So they can grab them to there is a lot of really good information in there. It's all free. And then I expand on all that information here in the podcast. So keep tuning in, we can make a lot of progress together here, just through the free stuff that I offer. But while you're there at tarafaulmann.com Check out the Healthy Mind Healthy Body program. Because if you are ready to get off the diet rollercoaster if you are ready to deal with your emotional and stress eating, if you are ready to take back control of your relationship with food to understand how food works in your body to understand how your body works, so that you don't have to go on stupid diets that you hate anymore. I'm waiting for you. I'm waiting for you to hop in that program. It is self paced, and you get coaching all the way through. I really want you to be a part of that. But only if you're ready to commit to you. Okay, there's nothing in there that's crazy or hard. But it takes a commitment from you. And so if you're sick of where you're at, then it's time for you to check that out. Okay, my friends, until we talk again, BE WELL.
Thanks so much for being here. If you found value in today's episode, will you do me a favor and head over to iTunes? Find the no nonsense wellness podcast and subscribe and leave me a review. It would mean the world to me and help other people find the show. And I'd love to connect with you more. So find me on Instagram. I'm at @tarafaulmann. Take a screenshot of this episode and share it in your stories and tag me. I'll see you over there.