Strategies to stop late-night binge eating
December 3, 2017 12:50 AM   Subscribe

I have struggled with my weight for years, losing and gaining the same 30-40 kg (~66-88 pounds) over and over again, and am at my absolute wits' end. My main problem is night-time binge eating. I would appreciate any advice on how to combat this behaviour!

I have a therapist, and we have determined that the best way for me to deal with urges to binge is via distraction. This works well during the day, when I can engage in a variety of activities (going for a walk, playing a video game, writing, etc), but I predominantly get the urge to binge when I'm in bed and winding down for the evening (usually while Netflixing or something similar). I'm not sure how to distract myself during these times.

I suffer from generalised anxiety, so I was wondering if maybe doing some guided meditation or deep breathing exercises for 5-10 minutes might be a good start? Any other suggestions (not limited to distraction techniques) would be greatly appreciated!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
For me, an awareness of calories and nutritional content has helped a lot. Like the amount of worthless carbs in junk food has really put me off. Plus equating that to exercise - if an hours run burns 500 calories then I can choose what food to spend it on, and a couple of doughnuts then doesn't seem worth it.

More recently I've been trying to mostly eat high protein food and that seems to naturally coincide with healthier choices.

Weight wise, I used to have a target weight and use the scales daily and adjust my food intake to match. Good luck anyways.
posted by JonB at 1:03 AM on December 3, 2017

Guided meditation is a great idea. Personally, I find Meditation Oasis works for me, but there are lots of other good sources available on youtube. I just put my ipad on and let it go all night if necessary (I also suffer from insomnia and the meditation helps with that too).

There's something about watching Netflix that makes me want to mindlessly eat. If you're the same way, you might want to consider addressing habits like that first. Try to not watch Netflix or tv at all in bed. Make yourself watch it in a separate room and try not to eat while watching. It's a hard habit to break, but once I did, that really helped me to keep from snacking.

Speaking of snacking, if you can't conquer the urge to snack or eat at night, make sure you have lots of prepared, non-processed zero calorie foods in your fridge. I find that having a bowlful of plain chopped lettuce or celery or cucumbers (veggies that are mainly water) really helps reduce my tension and anxiety at the end of the day. It gives me something to chew on, which i like, without adding unnecessary calories to my diet. I also enjoy bone broth with some chopped onion in a mug; it feels very satiating and gives me the feeling of having eaten.

Avoid salty and sweet foods, especially at night, because they stimulate your appetite and you'll end up going back for more and different things to eat.

Try to make your last meal of the day low carb and go to bed before the feeling of fullness wears off (if you can). I eat low carb all day long, but I still find that if I stay up too late or can't sleep, I'll want to eat. I fight this feeling by doing something immersive and distracting, like playing my guitar or drawing. Watching tv or even Netflix is the worst because you're constantly bombarded by people eating delicious looking food.

Every time you want to eat late at night, make a rule that you have to do 20 minutes of High Intensity Interval Training first or something unpleasant you've been putting off, like scrubbing the baseboards. You'll either think, "nah, I'll just go to bed" or by the time you're finished and take a shower, you'll be too tired to eat.

Good luck! I know it's hard, but if you work to find out why you want to binge eat at night, it's easier to overcome those urges.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 1:27 AM on December 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Are you eating enough during the day? Are you getting enough tasty, healthy and *satisfying* food - in terms of quantity, variety and texture? For me, binges happen much less frequently, if at all, after I started paying more attention to healthy AND tasty meals, and to texture. I need crunchy, I need healthy-sweet, I need fresh, I need chewy, I need hot, but most of all, I am trying to feel satisfied.

During my previous weight loss attempts, I was always shopping for healthy food that would help me lose weight. Now I am asking myself - what healthy food would I most *enjoy* eating today and tomorrow? I do have some "healthy comfort foods" that I really enjoy such as carrots and celery and kohlrabi but there is also food that I can only enjoy now and then such as apples or melons and I just don't buy these unless I am in the mood.

I also always eat something filling before bed. I do need some carbs to feel full and when I need carbs, I just have the damn carbs. So I make myself a cheese sandwich with two slices of tomato, pat myself on the back, and go to bed.

I have lost over 20 pounds since July so it seems to be working for me - and most importantly, I do not feel deprived.
I also have an ice cream cone when I feel like I could really enjoy one. I take my time savoring every bit and I don't "make up for it" in any way. I just figure my body needed one, and I go on as if nothing happened. Because realistically, I am not going to deprive myself my whole life anyway, and I'd rather get to a healthy weight more slowly and keep it there.
Best of luck.
posted by M. at 2:10 AM on December 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

The ONLY thing that has worked for me in this regard (and I have had the most serious binge eating problem you can imagine -- binge-eating nearly every single day, gaining 60 lbs in a year on a short female frame ) is intermittent fasting. I *highly* urge you to check it out -- it's completely eliminated my urge to binge. I do a 16:8 (fasting/eating) or 18:6 (fasting/eating) window, don't even restrict calories very seriously, and I barely ever want to eat anymore.

I'm the least disciplined person I know and I'm managing to pull this off, somehow. I think it comes down to regulating your blood sugar -- contrary to popular belief (fueled by bad science), eating multiple times a day does not rev up your metabolism, and stokes the hunger of people like you and me. It also stimulate the release of human growth hormone and encourages the preservation of muscle mass.

I've been cleared by a physician, btw, who is a big fan of this way of eating. There's a lot of science emerging that suggests intermittent fasting has the potential for life extension, too, so this is not an unsubstantianted fad thing, either (I'm a scientist myself so I did a bit of research before diving in).
posted by shaudi at 2:38 AM on December 3, 2017 [17 favorites]

Practice Progressive muscle relaxation.
Instead of watching Netflix write in a journal.
Go to sleep one hour earlier.
Read about night time eating syndrome and see if that fits.
posted by SyraCarol at 4:59 AM on December 3, 2017

This is a minor solution, but perhaps it could be effective if used with some of the above suggestions—
When I am trying to cut down on mindless eating at night I find it helps if I brush my teeth/floss right after dinner. It somehow helps me convince myself that I’m done eating for the day.
posted by bookmammal at 5:10 AM on December 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Intermittent fasting is the only thing that has worked for me also. I do 5:2 which means I eat normally 5 days a week and fast for 2 - but fasting on this eating plan means I still get to eat 500 calories on those days. Eating normally doesn't mean stuffing myself all day every day but it does mean I don't have to be too careful. For example tonight I'm having pizza and ice cream! But I won't eat massive portions of either because I won't feel the need to. Once the emotional aspects of eating including guilt and a desire to eat as much as I can while I can were gone I found I didn't want to overeat anymore. I really only need willpower two days a week now and I'm steadily losing 1 - 1.5lbs a week. I plan to keep eating this way for the foreseeable future as I feel much happier on this plan than on the cycle of eating and guilt I was on before.
posted by hazyjane at 5:50 AM on December 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also doing intermittent fasting, but I go 13 hours a day without eating. So I stop eating at 7 pm and eat breakfast at 8 am. I’m chiming in to emphasize that there are a lot of ways to do this. It was hard for about a week, but now it’s just what I do.

One of the main reasons for me is that I’ve had cancer and it seems to reduce the risk of recurrence. I chose 13 hours because that’s what studies have shown is beneficial and my work situation makes it hard to go longer. A side benefit is that I fall asleep much more easily. Also, when eating after 7 pm is just off the table, it feels like I have a lot more time in the evenings to do other things.
posted by FencingGal at 7:21 AM on December 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I recently have been trying this technique for managing my own addictions/triggers. Once I become aware that I am desiring to engage in the problem behavior, I take 3 conscious breaths (this just means bring in g my attention to my breath: the full inhale, the space between, the full exhale.) Then for a few moments I bring my attention to my body (usually I am feeling sad/desperate/anxious). Next, three more conscious breaths. That's it. It doesn't necessarily stop me every time, but its often enough to get me back on track and brings a new level of awareness to my internal state as it relates to bad patterns. 3 conscious breaths, body awareness, 3 conscious breaths, move on with your day.
posted by hannahelastic at 7:38 AM on December 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Similar to bookmammal's suggestion, but different timing: teeth brushing at night, when you would otherwise be at risk of binging? That way you a) have a thing to do (distraction) and b) have that toothpaste taste in your mouth for a bit longer.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:13 AM on December 3, 2017

I do something with my hands while I'm TV-bingeing to avoid food-bingeing. So late-night Netflix is usually accompanied by some mindless mobile phone games, or coloring, or some sort of housecleaning or straightening-up chore. I literally can't eat while I'm doing those things, and some of them have the bonus of being productive.

Alternately, I'll sometimes opt to play a video game (a relaxing but engaging one) instead of watching TV. Again, my hands are occupied and eating is not possible.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:44 AM on December 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Keep your hands busy while you're watching T.V. Binge eating can be mindless muscle memory, the lifting of your hand from the plate or bowl or bag. Try some sort of handicraft like knitting or crocheting that can become just as automatic, where you'll only have to glance down occasionally to check your progress. (If you're in the habit of only keeping half an eye on the T.V., try jigsaw or crossword puzzles, model kits, Lego, or handicrafts that require more attention.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:43 PM on December 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Instead of tv in bed, try a podcast. Put in ear buds, put on one of those sleeping masks. You want to be completely immersed in the podcast. Find something with a really engaging topic that you have to concentrate a bit to follow, and without much banter between the hosts or peppy musical interludes. It usually does the trick of focusing my mind enough that all of the random chatter in my brain goes away, and whatever random aches, pains, or twinges I have fade to background noise.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:31 PM on December 3, 2017

Sleep deprivation can reduce willpower and increase cravings for junk food, so be sure you have good sleep hygeine as well.
posted by crunchy potato at 9:45 AM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is mostly a thing I do during the day, but I have found that it helps me a ton with snacking. I chew gum pretty much constantly. The minty flavor makes snacks taste gross, so I don't eat them, and the chewing helps I think helps trick my brain into thinking that we're getting some calories. Gum also makes soda/sugary drinks taste bad, so I drink mostly water to go along with it. If you don't want to brush your teeth or maybe don't have a toothbrush with you, it is a good alternative.
posted by possibilityleft at 10:27 AM on December 4, 2017

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