Tell me if this describes you:
It's a typical Monday, and after a weekend of less-than-stellar nutritional choices (maybe too much wine and cake at a wedding, or some pizza at the tailgate), you decide to buckle down. Breakfast is an egg white omelet, lunch is a green salad with grilled chicken breast and barely-there dressing, dinner is fish, veggies and a modest scoop of brown rice. And then...
...the nighttime snacking begins.
Before you realize it, you've worked your way through a hefty bag of trail mix, three pieces of fruit, a bowl of cereal with milk, and 2, 4, 6, 8 squares of chocolate, and you've polished off the leftovers you were planning to take for lunch tomorrow. You head to bed uncomfortably full. Even if the snacks weren't all "bad" foods, you know you had too much. You think, "Well, I blew it. I guess there's always tomorrow".
Does any of this sound familiar?
If so, you're not alone. Not even close.
Anyone who's tried to lose body fat knows what it's like to screw up your best laid eating plans. They know how it feels to be caught in a cycle of good intentions and disappointments. What I want to do in this post is help you understand why. If you want help, I have some tools for breaking the cycle and helping you finally lose body fat - for good.
Why at Night?
Night is a special time for all animals, including humans. When we sleep, our brains and bodies go through a series of hormonal changes that are only really possible during that window. It's the time we recover from the stresses of the day (workouts too!), and the "thinking" portion of our brains goes relatively off line. In order to get ready for sleep, the executive function of the brain - the one that makes conscious decisions, and generally the part of you in charge of smart nutrition - starts to weaken.
So think about it. If the part of your brain responsible for staying on track naturally goes OFF track in the couple hours before bed, it's no surprise you could be left vulnerable to the allures of food and quantities you wouldn't say yes to earlier in the day. In fact, when the snacking starts, you may not even realize what you're doing until you've already gone nuts. Or you DO realize it, but you don't care the way you'd care at noon.
Why so much?
The simple answer here is that when your executive function brain cedes, your more primitive brain assumes control. That primitive "animal" part of your brain is the one that governs URGES. Stuff that's essential for survival. Any kind of fight-or-flight reaction, libido (reproduction!), and not starving. NOT STARVING. So if you're somewhat of a restrictive dieter, who's been conscious and in-control all day, not only is your Will Power brain naturally tired, your Animal brain responds to the hunger cues you've been sending it all day. And it tries to set things back in balance.
But your Animal brain doesn't care about your leanness or appropriate stopping points. AND your Animal brain is mightily rewarded by certain nutrients (namely fat and sugar). Essentially, your brain is signaling itself to keep going! By the time you're done night eating, you have more than compensated for the deficit of earlier in the day. Not only do people who struggle with this habit have a hard time losing body fat, some even GAIN body fat over time, despite herculean efforts at dieting the rest of the day.
Do I have a serious problem?
Not necessarily. But you do have a bad habit that will be tough to break, especially if you've been doing it for years. For some people, this habit resonates as actually getting up in the middle of the night to eat. This could be part of a more complicated sleep disorder, or not. For some people, the behavior grows into a pattern of extreme binging and possibly purging. While "clinical" diagnoses can be made, I have found that the most effective techniques for overcoming these habits, no matter how deeply ingrained or destructive, are similar.
If nighttime eating is something you deal with, and it's sabotaging your hard work, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's see what we can accomplish together. It is a breakable habit.