You have a firm plan in mind. It looks fabulous on paper, complete with beautiful images of new healthy recipes. We can have all the best intentions, go as far as planning out meals, doing the big shop, clearing out the cupboards, and filling up the fridge. However, it’s consistency that’s truly the most challenging hurdle of all when it comes to healthy eating.
Firstly, getting the basics in play is absolutely essential. But for many, an awkward elephant remains in the room - the elephant pointing out whether or not we will actually follow through with our good intentions day and night. Even among the most dedicated, deep-rooted, unhealthy eating habits which lead to uncontrollable overeating are not uncommon. Especially under the cloak of night and in the privacy of one’s own home, a few treats combined with a stressful day can easily snowball toward a binge. You’re certainly not alone when feelings of stress and anxiety lead to the despairing sight of an entire day’s healthy eating unwind.
It’s time to start talking about the elephant and guide it out of your living room. Here are a few strategies to overcome late night grazing. Consider starting with these top tips.
1. Aim for balanced and structured eating across the day
Often irrational food cravings, and the inability to stop eating despite having all the best intentions, come from true physiological and biochemical drivers. Unbalanced, stressful, and chaotic eating patterns can send feedback messages to our internal appetite regulating circuits. If our brain thinks we're in danger or approaching famine, it lets out a starvation response to ensure we have adequate nutrition on board.
Eating under pressure, eating too quickly, skipping meals, and grazing over the day all have the potential to wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels and elicit a stress response. The first place to start for anyone with unstructured eating patterns is in looking at meal balance and sensible eating patterns.
Take a look back at your day leading up to the episode of uncontrolled eating and see if any of your meals were in any way imbalanced. While everyone will vary on their specific needs, aim to include some whole food sourced protein, healthy fat, and carbs in each meal. A balanced whole food meal should keep you satiated for at least 2 hours. If your meals are leaving you hungry soon after eating, consider adding healthy fat or protein to make the meal more satiating without affecting your blood sugar levels.
2. Keep Hydrated
Skipping some extra snacks will initially feel uncomfortable. It’s not a punishment, so don’t let it feel that way. Drinking enough water is a great place to start. Sometimes when we want to put something in our mouth, it’s really a cue for needing fluids.
Adding in cups of tea can be a lovely ritual to incorporate over the day and into the evening in place of unneeded food. Tea is warming, fills your belly, and can give you something to do with your hands. Look at finding a few tea varieties you can really enjoy. Brew an interesting new tea blend in a pretty pot with a cute mug to match. There’s no shame in being a tea lover.
3. Slow Down. Chew Well.
Eat slowly and mindfully. Protect each mealtime as an opportunity to sit down and pause. It takes time for food to digest and for the body to realize that we’ve eaten a meal. Eating slowly is about allowing the time for your brain and body to connect. It gives your body a chance to acknowledge that you’ve had a satisfying meal.
4. Have Your Last Meal Earlier
Eating a whole food balanced dinner earlier in the evening can help to nip pre-dinner snacking in the bud. The other benefit of eating earlier is in not letting yourself feel starved in the period leading up to a late-night dinner.
Waiting until you’re starving in an attempt to skimp on calories over the day can play against you. If you’re overly hungry, you’re less likely to be adequately satisfied with dinner and more likely to reach for post-dinner snacks or sides.
Use the family-style dinner experience as a tool to acknowledge that your meal is satiating and nourishing. Take your time to enjoy your food and chew properly. This helps to turn on more effective digestion processes leading to better nutrient extraction from your food and promotes satiety.
5. Set An Intention To Close Your Eating Window
Quietening the grazing monster must come as an intentional choice. Without making the firm decision yourself, it can be too easy to talk oneself into just a little mouthful, which can lead to multiple revisits to the kitchen. Choose to stop. Decide on a realistic time that you will not put anything further into your mouth. This a called an eating window.
Aim to seal off your eating window at a similar time each night with a ritualistic practice such as cleaning your teeth or brewing a pot of tea. The key is being purposeful about your choice to not snack on anything beyond this point.
It’s not easy to totally change strongly ingrained eating habits. Mindful eating is not a technique or skill, it’s a process of learning to engage with what your body really needs.
Set realistic goals and celebrate achievements. Mark the days on a calendar that you managed to conquer late night binge eating. Celebrate your progress as you go and challenge yourself to see how many consecutive days you can achieve on your mindful eating mission.
Health is your individual journey. It’s about giving each little thing a go and seeing what’s helpful and what is not so helpful for your unique body. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable, dark place, speak up and ask for help.