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Controlling Nighttime Eating


(Note: This article was submitted to me for publication on my blog, and while it does not precisely mirror my teaching, I think it is a worthwhile contribution. My inclusion of it here should not be taken as an endorsement of all that it suggests. – William Anderson, LMHC )

by Sandra Bankers

Many people often find themselves snacking at night, even if they are not feeling particularly hungry. Although we’ve mentioned in a previous TAM post that it doesn’t matter what time of the day you eat, eating late at night can still be problematic. More often than not, it can lead to you consuming more calories than you actually need.

Furthermore, Healthline specified that eating at night is connected with certain eating disorders. With that in mind, it’s easier to understand why it’s imperative to control your bedtime eating habits.

You need to remember is that there is often an underlying reason why you have an urge to eat even if you’re not hungry. Experience Life identified some common causes which include depriving yourself of food throughout the day; not having a set meal plan; or being used to eating at that time. The latter may also be stress-induced, or brought about by special instances such as family dinners.

In addition, lack of sleep and boredom may also trigger you to eat at odd times of the day, including late in the evening. The good news is that there’s a corresponding solution in line with the cause.

For most people, eating at night is something they’ve gotten used to over the years. Overeating is usually caused by developed habits so you will need to change your routine to get around this. Look for activities that you can do at this specific time instead of munching on food. For instance, you can read a book or watch a movie during the usual period where you eat to keep yourself distracted. Changing your behavior and mindset is at the heart of The Anderson Method and doing so will help you keep yourself from returning to your late-night eating habit, eventually helping you lose and/or maintain weight. Distracting yourself is also a good strategy if you find yourself snacking at night due to boredom or restlessness.

Likewise, if night-time eating is your way of bonding with your loved ones, you can simply look for other ways to have fun. For instance, you can spend the night bowling or playing miniature golf.

On the other hand, eating a lot because you deprived yourself of food during the day can easily be remedied by eating properly planned meals during the day. Fitness Magazine quotes Milton Strokes, the spokesperson of the American Dietetic Association, who clarified that “by shifting calories to the morning hours, you will ensure that your night-time cravings don’t have as much of a pull.” It’s a good idea to make a meal plan on what you will need throughout the day so you can be sure you are getting enough nutrients and sustenance.

Similarly, craving for food late at night because of lack of sleep can easily be remedied by getting at least 6 or 7 hours of sleep per day. According to Psychology Today, depriving yourself of sleep can trigger overeating, especially of fatty and high-calorie foods, so make sure you get sufficient sleep to avoid this from happening. It’s worth mentioning as well that there are also certain types of food and nutrients that can help you doze off. The better sleep guide on Leesa featured a list of elements which includes food rich in magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. They have various effects on the body such as for relaxing muscles and nerves or inducing the release of the sleep hormone Melatonin. However, make sure to regulate the amount that you eat. Otherwise, you run the risk of gaining more weight.

Finally, if the reason for your eating at night is stress-related, one effective solution is to increase the amount of fiber and protein that you have at dinner. MedicineNet.com specified their benefits: the former helps you feel full, while the latter helps keep you from feeling hunger pangs even late at night.

Exercising is also a good option for you to combat stress. You can work out before heading home once you leave the office. This strategy can also help you tire yourself out so you can fall asleep more easily.

How to Break Through Weight Loss Plateaus

If you are a young person and have not yet discovered weight loss “plateaus”, you need to learn about them so they do not sabotage your weight loss success. They are inevitable, incredibly infuriating, and can destroy a happy successful weight loss effort. However, I can teach you how to deal with them. They can be beaten when you know how.

What is a weight loss plateau?

Weight loss plateaus are periods of time, sometimes weeks on end, where you stop losing weight after weeks of great success, sometimes losing 10 pounds or more in a few weeks. In the first month or so of any legitimate weight loss regimen, the scale will reward you regularly for a few weeks and then it usually comes to a screeching halt. It stops moving and just stays there, even though you are doing what you are supposed to. It’s horrible. Plateaus happen while you are working as hard or even harder than you did in the beginning of the effort, and they happen regularly when you are engaged in a weight loss regimen. They can be incredibly frustrating if you don’t know how to handle them. The usual reaction is to throw up your hands and say “the heck with it —this isn’t working” and go back to overeating with a vengeance.

As a behavior therapist specializing in weight loss, I have developed a method to deal with plateaus (and the scale) so that they cease to be an impediment to weight loss success. My method, a collection of behavioral and cognitive behavioral techniques, helped me lose 140 pounds after 25 years of diet and weight loss failure, and I’ve kept it off for 30 years. I’ve been teaching these methods to clients and other therapists since, and my ideas are used by clients, readers and weight loss programs all over the world. The way of dealing with plateaus is one of the most important.

What can I do when I hit a plateau?

First, prior to even starting on any effort, you have to change the way you think about weight loss and the scale. This is work using principles from both cognitive behavior therapy and behavior therapy.

Our objective needs to be behavior management, not scale management. We know that if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you’ll burn fat that day. Go to www.calculator.net to find out how many calories you’ll burn at the weight you want to be. Any day you eat less than that (the “to maintain” number) you’ll burn off some excess fat. When you know how many calories you’ve had every day, you’ll know exactly where you stand. You don’t really need a scale to tell how you are doing. Keeping track of the calories you eat will let you win every day! Sometimes you win big when the calories are low, sometimes you’ll just be holding your own when it’s near your maintenance level. If you eat fewer calories than the maintenance level, you can win every day!

You’d need to eat 3500 calories over and above your maintenance level to gain a pound, so when the scale says you’ve gained 5 pounds on a day when you didn’t overeat, you know the scale is lying, the Devil! Even if you overate a bit, you can’t gain 5 pounds in a weekend. That would take eating over 17,000 calories over and above your maintenance levels! (3500 x 5)

Keeping track of your caloric intake and remembering what it really means can immunize you from the destruction the scale can do when you take it seriously as a measure of your work. Doing a great day’s work and then getting on the scale and believing you gained weight because the scale says so would be like working hard all day and getting fined, punished for it, instead of getting paid. Who would keep doing that? Instead, count up the caloric deficit for the day, the amount of fat you burned off.

The scale lies!

We need to adjust our thinking about what the scale measures. When I was young, I was told “the scale doesn’t lie”, but they were wrong telling me that the scale was a true measure of my progress.

The scale measures all the matter that’s contained in your skin —muscle, organs, fat, blood, bone, the contents of your bowel and bladder —but all we care about is reducing the fat. The scale can’t measure that. Since we are composed mainly of water, the scale measures mainly the amount of water we are carrying today, which depends on a lot of factors. If you are retaining fluids because of the time of month or because you ate some salty food, the scale will go up, maybe as much as 5 pounds. If your calorie intake was lower than your maintenance level, you should feel accomplished, not like a failure!

Looking at the scale as the measure of your progress is a big mistake. After all, drink a big glass of water and you’ll gain a pound. Seriously, should you see that as a sign that you did badly? If you have a big bowel movement, should you be proud of that because the scale went down?

Look at your behavior every day to measure how you are doing, not the scale. If you consistently eat fewer calories than you burn, and you don’t bump it up when you reach your goal, you will lose weight until you are skeletal. This is irrefutably reliable science. It cannot fail.

Talk to yourself the right way

Talking to yourself is a technique of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) that incorporates a bit of self-hypnosis. We’ve found that the things you say to yourself have power (to help or hurt), and speaking them out loud gives form to your thoughts and better conscious control of them. When you hit a plateau tell yourself “I know that when I eat fewer than 1800 calories (an example), I burn a chunk of fat off my body that very day. I only ate 1000 today, so I know I burned off a chunk the size of a stick of butter today (a quarter of a pound of fat, 3500/4 = 875) and if I do that tomorrow, I’ll burn another one off. Eventually it will show up on the scale, when my body decides to release the water it’s holding.”

Whatever you do, stop saying things to yourself like “This isn’t working! I might as well go back to overeating.” Before I learned how to succeed, I used to say things like that when I hit a plateau. I would discourage myself and quit working on my weight loss. It’s using CBT and self-hypnosis to hurt yourself.

Telling yourself, “This isn’t working”, when you have eaten fewer calories than you burn is a lie. If you don’t eat the maintenance level, you have to get the fuel from your stored fat. It’s no more possible to live without burning those calories than it is to drive around without burning gas. Don’t say these dishonest things.

I used to say “No matter what I do, I gain weight.” It would discourage me, but it was totally untrue, of course. If I actually ate less than I burned, I’d lose weight, guaranteed. But the foolish lies sabotaged me until I quit saying them. I quit doing things the wrong way and started doing things the right way. I solved my weight problem and you can too. Follow me.