Are You A Nighttime Eater? 8 Ways to Combat Night Eating

July 13, 2013

Nighttime Eating: Is This You?

Can you go all day, sticking to your healthy eating plan and exercise routine, but when the sun goes down you head for the kitchen? Do you find that your attitude towards your healthy eating habits suddenly change at night? Do you tell yourself “I’ll start over tomorrow morning”?

For many of us, during the day we can be just fine, cruising along with a positive attitude, eating on track and “in control”.  After the routine of the day is over, the urge to eat sets in. Even though we can be focused and committed to our healthy habits during the day, nighttime can set us up to sabotage our best efforts and we creep into the mindset of “a little won’t hurt”, or “I deserve it” at night.

Be Aware of Why You Are Eating at Night

It is important to become aware of the reasons why nighttime eating is occurring. At night, are you bored? Are you emotionally eating as a decompression from the day? If so, find more satisfying ways to fill your evenings and relieve your pressure from the day. Some options would be to take a walk or go for a swim (by yourself, meet friends or with your family, take an evening class or become involved in a favorite hobby (preferably one that keeps your hands busy!). Watching television may be a favorite way to end your day, but it also can be a set-up for you to indulge in nighttime eating than doing something that requires movement and activity.

Another consideration might be that you are eating dinner too early? Try eating the last meal of the day a little later to see if this reduces the problem of nighttime eating and after-dinner cravings.

If nighttime eating is a habit, this is the time to exchange habits – nighttime eating for another healthy habit. To break the habit of nighttime eating may take some time, especially if it is a long-term habit you’ve had.

8 Ways to Combat Night Eating

1.  Log your food. If it goes in your mouth, log it. Before you eat that unplanned snack, review your food log for the day. If you do this simple step, it allows you a moment of pause from the autopilot of “going for it” and view nighttime eating from a rational standpoint rather than an emotional one.

2.  Write it out. This is different than keeping a food log. Write down your emotions and what is bothering you. Many times if you can get in touch with your emotions and what’s “weighing” on you, you find the reason why you want to eat. Through writing, you become aware of your emotions and what is driving you to eat. As ALL of us know, food isn’t going to solve any problems or soothe emotions. Usually when you discover what is behind your desire (or urge) to emotionally eat, that will decrease or eliminate your drive for nighttime cravings. The simple act of pinpointing what is bother you can be all that you need.

3.  Engage your senses.  Bypass your taste buds and stimulate your other senses. Immerse yourself in a warm bubble bath or a tub that you’ve added relaxing essential oils. Another trick is to brush your teeth with peppermint toothpaste to give your mouth a clean, fresh taste and help reduce your nighttime eating.

4.  Exercise.  If you aren’t someone that likes to exercise in the morning, consider becoming an evening exerciser. By saving your exercise for the evening, it could be a great way to avoid nighttime emotional eating, which could lead into a binge. Also, exercise gets your mind off of food and focused back on to the goals that you want to accomplish. The increased oxygen to your brain is energizing, and you release those “feel-good” endorphins during exercise. Another benefit is that after exercising, you feel more motivated and focused on your healthy goals.

5.  Relaxation. Instead of abusing food in an attempt to relax, turn your attention to activities that will not sabotage your weight loss and maintenance. Ask yourself what brings you joy and causes you to be relaxed. Do you like to dive into a good book, garden, dance, play with your kids or pets, talk to a friend, watch birds in your backyard, or play a game? Make a list of activities that you enjoy and find relaxing.

6.  Don’t allow boredom. Boredom can be a big trigger to nighttime eating. You’re busy during the day and feel bored at night. When you feel bored, throw up a red flag so you can get ahead of nighttime eating cravings. Think about what you enjoy doing most. Also consider what you enjoyed doing when you were a child? What interested you back then? If possible, do that now! Beat boredom before it sends you into the kitchen for eating as something to do. Get involved in distractions as something else that is non-food to fill your time.

7.  The kitchen is closed. Food establishments have regular operating hours. They close and end their day at a certain time. You can do the same with your kitchen when it comes to nighttime eating. Set up a “The Kitchen Is Closed” time and observe it!

8.  Bed.  Go there! When all else fails and you still want to eat when you aren’t hungry, go to bed. It helps if you are tired, but if not, listen to relaxing music. Being tired can also be a cause for eating to be triggered.

Don't let nighttime eating hijack your best efforts during the day. Make sure you aren’t skimping on your food intake during the day because that will make you more vulnerable to nighttime eating. Food is used for all sorts of emotional reasons at the end of a workday (as a relaxant, as entertainment, as a distraction). For most of us, nighttime is a long-term behavior we’ve had so give it some time. Remember that you follow your healthy eating habits during the day so you can do the same at night too. Be patient, be consistent and persistent in conquering nighttime eating.

You can change your nighttime eating from a continuous meal (getting home from work and eating until bedtime), to a healthier habit and a different evening routine. Give these suggestions a try. Fill your evenings with more fulfilling and healthier ways than eating your nights away.

cathy wilson


Cathy Wilson, PCC, BCC, had RNY surgery in 2001 and lost 147 pounds. Cathy is a regular contributor to the OH Blog and authored the "Mind Matters" column in ObesityHelp Magazine. Cathy is a licensed pilot and loves flying. She is a member of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) and the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC).

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