When I used to binge eat at night, it always happened after a “good day of eating” while trying to lose weight. I would lie in bed, feeling like I had successfully outsmarted my hunger, when suddenly I became overwhelmed by the desire to eat late at night.
After struggling with my late-night cravings, I would somehow end up in the kitchen (without wanting to be in the kitchen) shoveling rice cakes in my mouth (without wanting to shovel rice cakes in my mouth). My behavior was compulsive, and as much as I wanted to stop, I just kept going…
This is the vicious cycle of night eating, and I wasn’t able to stop until I addressed the psychological reasons for overeating. Specifically, I had to learn how my daytime restriction triggered night eating, and how to correctly channel my willpower.
Next, I’ll further explain the psychological reasons for night eating. Then, I’ll show you how to stop night eating using methods from Psycho-Spiritual Wellness, my holistic approach to stop compulsive eating.
Psychological Reasons for Night Eating
Night eating is often a sign that you’re restricting your diet too much during the day.
For example, you might be counting calories, cutting macros like carbs, or following a specific diet. The restriction looks different for everyone.
This restriction is causing the night eating, because there’s a universal law when it comes to compulsive eating: for every restriction, there is an equal and opposite binge.
Despite our best intentions, restricting our diet results in the opposite effect: eating lots of food, often at night.
Night eating is particularly compulsive because our willpower is the lowest by the end of the day. We have fought our urges all day long, and we are most likely to break down at night.
Also, there are no distractions from cravings once we’re in bed. There is no work, friends, or family to distract us from the beckoning of food…
While most of us can white knuckle our cravings during the day, we tend to lose the battle once nighttime rolls around.
This daytime restriction is one of the main psychological causes of night eating. Next, I’ll show you how to overcome this pattern.
How to Stop Night Eating
Since restriction causes night eating, we can reverse engineer the situation to find the cure.
The opposite of restriction is permission, and I know this might seem crazy for anyone that’s trying to lose weight, so please bear with me.
In order to stop night eating, it’s critical to eat what your body wants when you’re hungry, especially during the day. You need to fuel your body and satisfy it. That way, you’re not wasting willpower trying to resist your cravings.
This will make the night eating stop because you’re addressing the psychological trigger instead of just trying to white-knuckle it.
And if you’re afraid that eating what your body wants will make you gain weight, I’ll address that part soon. But first, take a step back and look at the patterns.
If every diet — however long, and however successful — results in a binge phase where we gain back all the weight, then surely diets don’t work. (Here’s a video on that.)
Your body already knows how to be its natural weight. Your intuition is already trying to tell you what and when to eat, but the mind-stuff gets in the way, and we end up night eating as a consequence.
Fortunately, there’s a way to help your weight stabilize when you start eating what your body wants: the Psycho-Spiritual Wellness eating guidelines.
They are the next step towards overcoming night eating.
The eating guidelines encourage you to stop restricting your diet, so that you can stop night eating, while also letting your weight stabilize itself.
The Psycho-Spiritual Wellness eating guidelines are:
- Eat exactly what appeals to you when you’re hungry
- Stop when you’re full
- Feel your feelings when you want to eat when you’re not hungry
By eating exactly what appeals to you, the restriction is gone, and this removes the cravings late at night because you’re satisfied.
You never needed to restrict your diet to begin with. Your body already knows how to be its natural weight. When you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, you’ll naturally get there.
Of course, stopping when you’re full is the hard part for most of us. I get it!
To help you get there, we need to redirect your willpower.
Effectively Using Willpower to Stop Night Eating
Night eating is the result of misused willpower.
For example, if you’re trying eat low-carb, but your body craves a Subway sandwich for lunch, then you’ll expend a large amount of willpower forcing yourself to eat something else — something low-carb that your body doesn’t really want.
Unfortunately, without giving yourself permission to have what your body wants, you must continue to exert willpower all throughout the day. And we know what happens next: night eating.
You might succeed at eating low-carb during the day, but once you’re in bed, the desire for carbs will overwhelm you, and you’ll end up binge eating at night.
Also, if you think that you just need to keep dieting and build your willpower that way, you’ve got it all wrong. I believe that most people that struggle with night eating actually have tons of willpower already — you’re just channeling it the wrong way.
Here’s a video that explains how to channel your willpower differently to stop binge eating:
Next, we’ll talk about how you can use the willpower you already have to stop night eating. (Hint: this is the “feelings” part, and arguably the most important piece.)
The Most Important Skill to Stop Night Eating
To learn how to stop night eating, you need to focus your energy and willpower where it will actually make a difference: developing emotional tolerance.
Emotional tolerance is the ability to be uncomfortable without compulsively trying to buffer yourself with food (or anything else numbing, like alcohol).
To develop emotional tolerance, you can use a popular Psycho-Spiritual Wellness tool to stop binge eating: the Stop, Drop, and Feel. It requires you to tune into your emotions whenever you want to eat when you’re not hungry.
Here’s a video that explains how the Stop, Drop, and Feel works:
By tuning into the emotions that drive compulsive eating, and training in staying with those feelings instead of running from them (by turning to food as a buffer), you’ll stop feeling compelled to eat when you’re not hungry.
It really does work that way. When you make space for the feeling that you want to numb, and let it be instead of wishing it away, suddenly the feeling loses its power. And so do the cravings late at night.
Getting Over Night Eating
Overall, the formula to stop night eating involves two simple-but-challenging steps:
- Listening to your body during the day so that you don’t exhaust your willpower
- Channeling your left-over willpower on developing emotional tolerance
When you follow these two steps, it will take the compulsion away from the desire to binge eat at night.
It won’t make the desire to overeat go away completely, but it will reduce the gravitational pull to get out of bed and eat. You’ll have more access to free will, which will give you the space to honor your body.
This is a process and a practice, and it will take time to master. But this is how I stopped night eating for good, and I hope it helps you too.
Also, I completely skimmed over the shame-aspect of night eating, because that’s its own massive topic; but you can find information on that in my new book, Daily Reminders.
Have questions? Leave them for me in the comments below!