There are some lucky people who rarely eat emotionally, and all of the rest of us wish that were our tendency, too. But many of us tend to use food to cope with emotions unless we’re intentional about it. How about you … do you tend to eat really healthily during the day, then feel like the “wheels come off” at night? Do you wake up every morning, recommitted to not over-snacking tonight, and then inevitably, it happens again? Does it feel like it would be nearly impossible to stop late night snacking?
Look, I’ve been there, too. And it can be SUPER frustrating to feel trapped in a cycle of mindless overeating , especially if you have health goals that you’re committed to. From the time I was in college through just a few years ago, I had great ability to stick to my health goals during the day, but if stress hit or I had to work late at night, nothing could tear me away from handful after handful of trail mix, cereal, and chocolate. And because I felt powerless to stop it, the cycle continued for years.
If that sounds familiar, know that it’s not just us. Late-night mindless snacking is more common than you might think. There are many reasons why many of us tend to snack more at night:
- We’ve used our limited “willpower budget” through the whole day … to get ourselves out of bed, get that workout done, do all of our tasks at work, get the kids where they need to be, or whatever else. By the end of the day, we feel depleted and feel less empowered to do the things we’ve committed to doing, even if we know they’re in our best interest.
- We’re further away from our intentions. Many of us wake up and recommit to our goals, whether intentionally through a morning routine (you know I love mine!), or informally by telling ourselves we’re ready to feel better that day. But as the hours pass during the day, we get further and further away from that intention. We don’t forget it, per se, it’s just less top of mind.
- We’re tired! When our body lacks energy, our brain says, “either give me sleep, or give me sugar.” Sugar turns into energy quickest for your brain, so even though it’s completely possible to turn other food sources into usable energy, it asks for what it will receive quickest. Those cravings you feel may actually have a physical root after all!
Even though it’s common, it’s not helping our health goals. In fact, too much snacking at night can lead to the following issues:
- Poor sleep quality if our body has to work too hard at digestion to get adequate rest. By the way, it’s not really true that whatever you eat at night gets automatically stored as fat because our body isn’t consuming as many calories at the exact moment … our metabolisms don’t really work like that. But if your body is having to digest instead of rest, it’s not able to get the quality of sleep it might otherwise.
- Increased likelihood of overeating. Because of our decreased willpower at night, our increased fatigue, our poorer blood sugar regulation, and more, we’re far more likely to overeat at night. Give me a piece of chocolate at 10am, and I’m likely fine with one. But give me a piece of chocolate at 10pm, and I’m craving 8 more.
- Emotional backlash. Many of us have been in the position of waking up and berating ourselves for what we ate the night before. That’s no way to start your day! Feeling proud of how you treated your body, and at the very least accepting that what’s in the past is in the past, is far more emotionally healthy.
But just telling yourself to stop usually doesn’t work. You’re likely snacking for a reason! Have you ever considered how your snacking is serving you? There are many reasons you might be returning to late-night snacking, including:
- You feel like you’re plowing through the day, checking tasks off your list right and left but rarely stopping to enjoy. At the end of the day, that physical pleasure of eating is the only joy you may look forward to all day.
- You forget whatever uncomfortable emotions you’re feeling temporarily, whether they be self-doubt, guilt, loneliness, boredom, sadness, inadequacy, fear, or anything else.
- Your brain is sneakily trying to self-sabotage, because you’re more comfortable feeling knocked down than in control. Just when everything is starting to feel “good,” you sabotage that with snacking.
- You’re simply in the habit of oversnacking, and habits are hard to change!
In order to reduce the power that late-night snacking has over you, it helps to figure out the root cause of your snacking. This is individual for every person, and I work with clients individually to figure out the exact reason why they turn to food. But to give you a headstart on the deeper work, I’ve developed four types of late-night snackers, with tips to help each type. Are you a Friendship Seeker, Overworking Eater, Numbing Ninja, or Black & White Battler? Download the free pdf below to figure out your type and get tips to reverse your nighttime snacking!