99.9% Have This Problem


I am going to go ahead and say that 99.9% of us have a night-time snacking problem. That number is not backed up by research, I’m just being dramatic! I just find that most people, myself included, tend to lose control of will-power throughout the day until night comes and all-bets-are-off.


What is it about sitting down after dinner and eating whatever you want in front of the TV that feels so good and comforting? Why aren’t we able to have self-control?


As you can imagine in my line of work, and as a person with my own fitness goals, I spend A LOT of time pondering this question. After all, 99.9% of American’s have this problem!!! So, here are my 3 theories on why we have this problem of eating at night!


Problem #1


Over the years, my main theory was that nighttime eating is a form of emotional eating.


I normally explain emotional eating as: eating outside of the necessity for survival. We all emotionally eat in some form. Whether it’s for pleasure with friends Friday night having pizza and wings, boredom at home grazing on hard pretzels or feeling overwhelmed and going on a food binge. You shouldn’t judge yourself for it, after all, if we didn’t learn to enjoy eating, we would’ve all died off thousands of years ago. It’s very common for people to come home from a stressful day at work and eat to feel better!


The way I normally tell people to handle this problem is to have a good understanding of who you are. You can either go along with the emotional eating and choose foods you can eat a little more of (like popcorn or salad). Or, if you know that you would still get carried away and reach for something else to eat after the popcorn, you can choose to pull yourself out of the environment so you are more conscious of your decisions.


For instance, after dinner, you can take the dog for a walk, put a load of laundry in or try knitting. Walking away from the problem or bad habit allows you to rethink instead of act emotionally.


Problem #2


Speaking of thousands of years ago, this brings me to my second point of over eating at night. Hormones! When we overeat or have crazy cravings, we tend to blame it on our willpower. Although it can be willpower and it can be emotional, sometimes it is a quiet but powerful signal from our body. There are several hormones that control what foods we go for and how much of them we eat. These hormones were created for survival through evolution. Picture us thousands of years ago, starving, cold and tired. If we didn’t have a nagging voice that told us to hunt for food we would’ve went to sleep instead of seeking food, and eventually starved.


The best thing you can do to keep your hunger hormones at bay is to eat consistently throughout the day. Eating something small every 3-4 hours controls your hormones and doesn’t allow your brain to believe there is a risk of starving.


It doesn’t even need to be much! Think of your food groups—try low fat yogurt or cottage cheese, fruit, ¼ cup of nuts, hard boiled eggs, granola bar, etc. I’m not saying that eating every 3 hours keeps you from overeating at night, but certainly not starving will give you more self-control at night.


Problem #3


Willpower is the last one I want to talk about and I think it ties into emotions but is worth having its own discussion. I recently read in the book, The ONE Thing, that willpower is like the battery on a cell phone. You may start out the day with 100%, but as your day goes on and you make decisions, you wear out that battery.


We make decisions about what to eat for breakfast, what we should wear, which way we should take to work to beat the traffic, whether we want tea or water, if we should check our email or voicemail first, and the list goes on. So finally, by the end of the day you reach for the bag of Doritos because you don’t feel like thinking about. It’s hard to make the right decisions all the time, but I have two strategies to help with this.


First, understanding smaller problems you may have and turning them into a good habit will keep you from having to use up your “battery.” When we create habits, we don’t have to make decisions. For instance, if you know that every day you come from work and raid the cabinet, make it a habit to come home and reach for either yogurt with fruit, or a small bowl of cereal. After time, you won’t have to try—these will become habits and you will have energy for other decisions.


Second, you can try different things that may give you some “battery” back. I know it’s not always feasible to take a nap in the middle of the day, but you can try meditating for 5-10 minutes or taking a walk through the park to clear your mind.


The best thing you can do to help yourself achieve your goals is to be honest and assess the situation. That way, you CAN come up with a real solution. You may fit into all these categories, or just one. Either way, take small steps towards adjusting your habits and you will gain more control.


Although we are always seeking improvement, don’t seek perfection, because then you are setting yourself up for failure. After all, I’ve been working on my nighttime eating for 12 years now, and I not even close to perfect, but I’m better than I was 12 years ago!



Jillian Foley is a registered dietitian, but more importantly a mom to 3 awesome kids. She is putting herself through college while trying to be a good mom and work a part-time job, so she understands the struggles of adulthood. But, she thinks it’s those struggles that give us character and she wouldn’t change a thing about her path.