Stop eating at night in 4 simple steps
“Don’t eat the cookie!”
You know what you should be doing to lose weight. And you know eating at night isn’t helping. But we both know that just wanting to stop isn’t enough. When you’re stood in the kitchen, however much willpower you have or however much you tell yourself that snacking is going to ruin your weight loss efforts, you still end up eating the cookie (or the packet of cookies).
It’s frustrating and exhausting fighting with yourself every single time. So how do you stop eating at night?
I’m going to show you four simple steps you can take to change your habits and get back in control of the way you eat. With practice and by staying consistent, you’ll find you can break your eating patterns and lose the weight you want to more quickly than you think.
1. Ask yourself: Am I actually hungry?
When you ask yourself this question, do it in a way that’s totally non-judgemental. It should come from a place of curiosity: it’s a question you may not quite know the answer to yet, so be kind to yourself. Take a step back and see if you can work it out.
You might actually be hungry if you skipped a meal today. Maybe you were intentionally depriving yourself of food, keeping portions too small, or trying to reduce your calories. That’s typical dieting behaviour (and we want to get you away from that too, but let’s focus on this first).
If you think you might be hungry, think about what would really nourish you right now (hint: it’s probably not chocolate). Try and put together a nutritious snack – it doesn’t have to be complicated, you could have a sandwich or some slices of apple with some nut butter.
If you don’t think you’re hungry, then…
2. Stay curious - ask more questions
When you’re trying to stop eating at night there’s probably a lot of negative talk going on in your head. Like “I already screwed up, may as well carry on eating!” thoughts you have? Or the “well I’m not doing this again after today, so I may as well enjoy it now” chats you have with yourself? These thoughts come as soon as you start judging your actions. If you can avoid judgement and stay curious, you’re much more likely to start to find solutions and stop eating at night.
How do you do that? I used to have a little cue to start my internal conversations which really helped me. I’d start by saying: “Isn’t it interesting…”
Then you can open up and ask more questions. “Why might I be doing this? What’s going on for me right now?”
You might realise, for example, that the reason you’re eating at night is because you’re actually really tired and your body is looking for the energy to push through as you try and stay on the computer past 11pm for the third night in a row. Maybe you had an argument with your partner earlier in the evening and you’re still hurt and looking for something to make you feel better. Whatever it is, by being open you’ll come up with the answers.
3. Build on that awareness
Maybe you’ve recognized you’re eating at night to fulfill a need that isn’t hunger. You’re comforting yourself, looking for pleasure, trying to avoid feeling something that hurts you or makes you uncomfortable. Right now, you don’t need to try and stop the behaviour. Accept what’s going on.
If you still want to eat, then allow yourself to do that. But when you do, make sure you take that awareness to the food you’re eating. You’re choosing to eat this cookie right now. It’s perfectly ok, and you’re going to enjoy it.
Take your time to eat the food. Really slow down and savour it. Chew it, notice the flavours and the smell of it.
Doing this takes away the power of the food. When you allow yourself to eat the cookie (or whatever your preference is) it’s hard to mindlessly chomp through the entire packet. It’s not off-limits anymore. You’re not doing anything wrong. You can just enjoy that cookie: and when you do, you’ll soon find your urges to overeat start to fade.
4. Write it down
There’s something powerful about writing things down. Journaling can be a great tool to help your awareness of what’s happening unconsciously when you’re eating at night so you can get to the root of the problem. When you understand what the real issue is, then you’ll be able to start working on different ways to solve it.
Personally I like the pen and paper approach, but you can certainly make your notes on a phone or laptop if you prefer. Buy yourself a notepad (any excuse for pretty stationery, right?) and just start writing down whatever it is you’re thinking and feeling when you’ve finish eating. Again, hold the judgement and stay curious and open.
Not sure what to write in your journal? I’ve put a few prompts in this downloadable cheat sheet to help get you started.
I appreciate that practicing these new ways of thinking takes time. I know it’s easier said than done. That said, if you’re looking for results and want to stop eating at night, this will get you there.
It’s not a magic overnight answer, but honestly, there isn’t one. When you’re trying to get rid of habits you’ve built over years it will take time. But you can build on what you’re learning every day and you will start seeing a difference – probably more quickly than you think. If you’re struggling in the meantime, these articles might help: try looking at smarter ways to snack and learn more about how to get back on track after a binge.
If you need a helpful reminder, download the cheat sheet and put it on the inside of the cupboard you keep your snacks in, or pin it to the fridge door. Use it to help guide you next time you go to eat at night and see how over time this will help you change your habits and lose the weight you want.