I’ve been there myself. I understand how painful it is to have a goal of losing weight, wanting to make daily progress, but then finding yourself undoing all of your progress and hard work at night.
There are often two reasons people struggle with the problem of compulsive night eating:
1.) Lacking good foundational eating behaviors. Foundational eating behaviors are daily routines like eating regularly and prioritizing sitting down and eating off of a plate. They can include making sure your calories and macronutrients goals are covered, such as getting in enough fiber and protein.
In our hectic lives, we are on the go so much it’s easy to skip a meal or not have the right types of foods easily available (foods that actually satiate your hunger). When we skip meals or don’t eat things that support our goals, we, not unsurprisingly, often turn to some form of compensatory eating later.
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff extensively covers the concept of compensatory eating in his book The Diet Fix, which I have frequently mentioned on the Half Size Me show. I would encourage you to read this book to help yourself establish some good eating foundations.
2.) A negative relationship with treats and fun food. You may think you need to be strict with food while on a diet. You might even believe you shouldn’t have any fun foods, so you wind up being at one extreme or the other.
Either you want to lose weight and force yourself to eat healthy food all the time, or you decide to give up losing weight and eat all the foods you want, without any self-regulation.
But what if you could reject these two extremes? What would happen if you learned to find a balance between eating treats and nutritious, filling foods?
When you tell yourself “forget it—I don’t care about weight loss and I’ll just eat all the food I want,” you create a cycle of beliefs and judgments about your actions.
This struggle happens with nighttime eating: you have a small treat and feel you’ve done something wrong. Then you give yourself permission to continue eating more treats. You might tell yourself, “I messed up today and will start over tomorrow.” However, you won’t really start over because you spiral back into the same cycle again and again and again.
This cycle is what keeps you stuck. Instead of learning how to balance fun food with nutritious food, you keep fun foods out of your life when trying to lose weight. That is until you cave in and give up.
How might this pattern change if you planned to eat certain treats every day? What if you gave yourself permission to have a treat?
What I learned was that as long as I thought certain foods were forbidden or “bad”, I’d eventually eat them. Then I’d feel bad about myself, but I wouldn’t stop.
This belief cycle was not helping me.
This process helped change my relationship with treats over time. Eventually I realized I wasn’t eating treats all day long, like I used to. Just like I don’t spend money on fun purchases all day long, I couldn’t spend my calories on fun food all the time. But that didn’t mean I could “never” enjoy treats either.
To me, the cycle of making certain foods “off limits” and then eating out of control was, in fact, a type of prison. And I couldn’t figure out how to pull myself out. I asked myself, “How can I be so prepared—have all my food planned and prepared—then feel so out of control later on in the day?”
I slowly climbed out of this cycle by establishing healthy boundaries for myself.
I had to learn how to balance treats while losing weight. And now, I do it while maintaining my weight loss.
I found I was much more successful at reaching my goals when I allowed myself to have treats every day. I had established healthy boundaries around my eating. I gave myself permission to eat treats and a time frame within which to eat them.
If this is something you struggle with too, then I want to help you do it with my Escape the Food Prison coaching cast.
In Escape the Food Prison, I will walk you through the process of creating the healthy food foundations and learning the process of delayed gratification so you can also stop this cycle.
If you’d like to hear me discussing this coaching cast and more about nighttime and compulsive eating, please listen to Half Size Me: Ask Coach Heather Session 40: Getting Control Over Nighttime and Compulsive Eating.
I’m looking forward to going on this journey with you and really working on helping you find the balance you need to reach your goals.