How to Manage Overeating at Night

You can manage your eating in the evening.

You can manage your eating in the evening.

Summer’s here and many women have decided to start on a new healthy eating plan! Monday comes, you start the day strong. Lunch is a breeze and you are feeling proud. You look at your friend’s French fries and you say, not interested.  And you mean it! Mind blown.

You get all the way through dinner, eating your planned healthy food. Then, dinner’s over, the dishes are cleaned up.

You start to feel antsy and you find yourself reaching for more food; even while you are telling yourself you don’t want to overeat tonight. Even though you are not physically hungry.

Or, you make it through the day eating on track and you put your key in the doorway when you arrive home and head directly to the snacks; even while you are telling yourself you don’t want to snack tonight. Even though you have a great, nutritious and tasty meal planned.

Willpower is fantastic but it is exactly what will not work to change a deeply ingrained and highly rewarded habit, especially after a long day of making decisions and doing tasks for others. 

Willpower is fantastic but it is exactly what will not work to change a deeply ingrained and highly rewarded habit, especially after a long day of making decisions and doing tasks for others. 

Most important here is to understand that your overeating may be driven by a habit.  Habits are driven by your unconscious thoughts. 

In my experience working with hundreds of women who lose weight, willpower is the wrong tool to pull out to get to your unconscious thoughts that repeatedly cause your habits and cravings.

How can we make the desired change so we can get through a whole day and night, eating on plan, losing weight and feeling better in our bodies and about ourselves?

How do you create new habits? Ladies, first thing you need to do is to look at your mind.  Look at your evenings with wonder instead of beating yourself up or worrying.

Starting with wonder in your brain, here are 3 steps you can take to support your goals and counterbalance your desires and habits of overeating in the evening.

Step 1. Become Aware of your current evening activities, thoughts and feelings.

Step 2. Ask powerful questions about what kind of evening you would like to have and what it would take to make it happen.

Step 3. Create, write and follow a written Evening Plan for 90 days.

Step 1. Awareness of cues and thoughts and feelings.

The good news is that after 60 years of living, you are very familiar with what happens to you each week night for the past 12 months. If your job was to document what happens over the course of 7 days – becoming incredibly aware, can you do that?

Even if you can’t seem to control your behavior, in order to understand the cause of your behavior and change something, you have to have awareness first.

Habits are driven by cues.  Researchers have studied the brain of heroin addicts and they find that there is excitement (a shot of the neurotransmitter, dopamine) when the addict thinks of scoring the next hit.  Each step of the way to scoring the drug provides the brain with another hit of dopamine building to the final reward. 

When you identify the cues that are part of the habit of overeating in the evenings, you can then see the cause and make adjustments.

Document your current evening patterns.

Here are some sample questions to answer:

  1.  Do you start worrying about your evening or what happened in the day in the late afternoon?
  2. When do you first notice a feeling of anxiety? Is it in the car on the way home? When you open the door to your home, condo or apartment?
  3. Document your language. Are you dramatizing your problems by endowing food with magical powers? (In Episode 23 of It’s Never Too Late To Lose Weight, I taught you about the mindset of math vs. drama.)  Are you building up drama with your language around food (It’s a monster waiting to get me) or are you seeking the math (I have and urge that I am not used to allowing)?
  4. Document your negative thought patters you have leading up to the evening. 

Not surprising, it was my thoughts and emotions that were the drivers of my evening overeating.  For example, I did really well when I was scheduled during the day.  When I had free time, I always wondered, “Am I doing enough?” That thought made me feel anxious.  Other evenings I would mull over a conversation that happened during the day and berate myself for saying the wrong thing.  “Why didn’t I just keep my mouth shut!” “How could I have said that to him?” “You are such an idiot.” These thoughts resulted in more emotions that fed into habitual thoughts I had about myself over the course of my life time. “Don’t expect to change, fat, poor, ugly looser.”. WOW! My past joined in and hijacked my evenings.  All unconsciously. 

What are your thoughts?

Step 2 - Ask Powerful Questions

Ask yourself powerful, open-ended questions to get your brain into solution mode.  (In Episode 24, of It’s Never Too Late to Lose Weight Podcast, I teach more about this.) Here are some possible questions to get your evenings to be successful and on track:

  1. What does your ideal evening look like?
  2. What emotions are you feeling when you are imagining your ideal evening?
  3. What thoughts are you believing?
  4. What actions are you taking to get the results you want?

For me, an ideal evening includes finishing up my work for the day; preparing and cleaning up after dinner.  Having conversation with my husband. Sitting and reading or watching TV. Reviewing my calendar for the next day. Preparing any food for the next day. Calling friends to quickly catch up. Getting into bed with a good book by 10:00pm.

The emotions I want to feel are accomplished, proud and competent.

The thoughts I am believing are:

  • I have given my all today. 
  • I have done the best I can.
  • I have learned a thing or two.
  • I am grateful for the opportunities today.

There was a time when my evenings were spent in pursuit of eating yet another cookie. In hiding. Hiding the anxiety, the eating and the shame of disappointment in myself for yet again not being able to change.

Learning to feel done. Accepting the feeling of accomplished and allowing myself to learn what done and accomplished feels like (both unfamiliar feelings) took some practice. I had to exchange the dopamine hit of that cookie followed by total disappointment with myself with a slower discomfort of a bit of serotonin, followed by low grade well-being.

Step 3 – Create, Write and Tweak an Evening Plan.

A sample evening plan might include:

A.  Daily Review of the Day – Write it in a journal or on a walk

In the journal, identify your cues from earlier in the day in a quick bullet point list:

  1. Difficult conversations you had.
  2. Problems that came up in your relationships.
  3. News articles that were upsetting.
  4. Reactions or emotions that you had but needed to hide in public.
  5. Thoughts that came when you drove past certain markets.
  6. Fantasies you had about how good it will feel after you eat.
  7. Worrying about how the evening will go with food.

B.   Create a list of de-stressing, feel-good evening activities.

Sample feel-good actions:

  1. Drive directly to a park and go for a walk.
  2. Go to the library and read a book or a magazine.
  3. Call a friend for a quick check in.
  4. Sign up for a class or a team sport.
  5. Subscribe to a new podcast and listen as you walk after work.
  6. Spend time (even 5 minutes) in quiet meditation.
  7. Use aromatherapy to relax and recharge.
  8. Remind yourself that your problems are not going to be solved tonight.
  9. Schedule time to work on each of your problems that is other than this evening.

C.    Have a written Plan for your evening.

Sample evening plan:

  1. Drive home by a different route.
  2. I will have a simple dinner already cooked or prepped for cooking.
  3. I will wash up the dishes and listen to a podcast while I am doing it.
  4. I will drink a cup of tea and sit and write a summary of my day.
  5. I will write up a plan for tomorrow’s meals.
  6. Choose items from your Simple feel-good action List (#B. Above)

Figure out what works and what doesn't. Keep what works. Forget what doesn't.

If you practice these steps each day for 90 days, you will change your emotional and mental state. Your brain will develop a new habit and it will become easier to choose the long-term feel good actions.

This is applying neuroscience to your daily routine and adding to your wisdom.

Love your brain. Love your evenings. Love your life.