Monday, December 1, 2008

Habit-A-Week Challenge, Week 9: Curb Nighttime Eating

It's week 9 of the Habit-A-Week Challenge. If you've been keeping up with your one simple habit each week, your life is changing for the better! Are you ready for another healthy change?

For those of you who started late and want to take a look at the other weeks, you can see links to weeks 1 through 5 here. Then we had:

6. Eat Healthy Fats
7. Watch Your Portions
8. Love Yourself

This week, we will work on eliminating unhealthy nighttime eating. Now, there is nothing bad about eating at night as opposed to eating at any other time of the day. At least that's what a lot of studies show. If you eat 1500 calories per day, it's the same whether you eat them in the morning or at night. It's still 1500 calories. However, how much you eat and when can alter your energy levels. That's why most doctors and nutritionists recommend eating a big, healthy breakfast: to give you energy to start your day. If you eat a ton of food at night, you don't get to burn it off before going to sleep.

The real problem with nighttime eating is that usually, it ends up increasing your total calories for the day. What I mean is this. You have a healthy day. You eat enough calories to run your body and satisfy you all day long. Then it's time to wind down after dinner. Unless you're going to run a midnight marathon or do 500 push-ups at 2 am, you don't *need* any more calories. You're done.

If you are in the habit of snacking at night, it can really add up. You watch TV and mindlessly eat a bag of chips. How about some cookies? Raid the fridge for pie. Then you go to bed with a full stomach and have to sleep propped up all night to keep your food from oozing back up your throat. (Yeah, I remember those days.)

I was reading an interesting study in which healthy people were admitted to a clinical research unit. Their food intake and timing of eating was monitored closely. About a third of the people were "nighttime eaters" and it was found that they ate about 15% of their calories at night. And more significantly, they ate MORE calories than non-nighttime eaters. Over the time they were followed, the nighttime eaters gained far more weight than the others. The study concluded that nighttime eating is a predictor of weight gain.

If you're eating at night to cope with anxiety or stress, the likelihood of weight gain is even higher. Night Eating Syndrome affects about 27% of obese people , and is linked to depression and other serious health problems.

But for most of us, not eating at night is just a good way to cut back on the amount of food we eat in a day. When I get in the habit of having evening snacks, I usually consume about 200-300 calories per evening on food I do not need. It really is just a habit. Once you stop, you feel better, and your body has more time to process your dinner. I sleep much better on a stomach that's not stuffed to the brim with food. According to Dr. Sears, "Going to bed with a full stomach does not, for most people, promote a restful night's sleep. While you may fall asleep faster, all the intestinal work required to digest a big meal is likely to cause frequent waking and a poorer quality of sleep. Eat your evening meal early. Heed the sleep wisdom: 'Don't dine after nine.'"

For me, I try not to eat after dinner. We eat dinner around 6pm and finish by 6:30. Occasionally I'll have a little something sweet: a couple of chocolate-covered Altoids, a hard candy, a sugar-free Jello or pudding cup. Even a bit of fruit. Then I am done for the night.

Here's my main strategy for not eating after dinner: I go straight from the dinner table to the bathroom and brush my teeth. I floss and use mouthwash. This is my signal to my body and brain that I am DONE EATING. This really works for me.

But what if you get hungry... truly HUNGRY in the evening? Well, it does happen sometimes. If I am done eating at 6:30, that means I have about 4 hours, maybe more, before I am in bed. Occasionally I will get a stomach growl in the evening. When this happens, I give my body a bit of protein. I choose from one of the following:
6 almonds
string cheese
2 oz of chicken or turkey
half bottle of K2O Protein Water
cup of decaf or herbal tea with 1/4c milk added

That's about it. Usually a small snack like one of those will quell the hunger pangs until bedtime. And you know what? Going to bed and having a little grumble in the stomach is NOT the end of the world. It isn't even terrible. I used to think that *hunger* was an emergency. It isn't, unless you have diabetes or some other disorder or unless you skipped your last scheduled meal. It is OKAY to feel hungry. And while I try to avoid hunger during the day (because after awhile I get crazy and want to binge), I am really OK with hunger at night. Not a searing, painful hunger... I always will have a snack if it gets uncomfortable... but a little bit of stomach grumbling when I go to bed makes me smile. It reminds me that I controlled myself that evening. It means I didn't overeat that night. It feels nice to not have heartburn or acid reflux and to know I am treating myself right.

So this week, find your happy balance. Take note of how much you eat after dinnertime. How many of those calories are out of boredom, or habit? Are you even hungry at all? Can you get by with less?

This is the last month you will ever have in 2008. Make it a good one.


new*me said...

I try to eat dinner pretty early..........5 or 5:30 so now and then I do get hungry at night. Tea with milk usually does it for me. My plan is to stay away from the holiday cookies I am stashing in the deep freeze in the garage as I bake them. I used to drink egg nog and eat cookies every day and evening in December. I remember how gross I felt through the holidays. This WILL NOT happen this year :)!

Thanks for these challenges Lyn :)

Vickie said...

I so agree with the tea - I think the 'hotness' of it helps fill and soothe.

TNelson said...


Thanks for the link to the earlier weekly challenges. I have been having a big glass of water before having my morning diet coke - I don't drink coffee. I did really well yesterday. I decided to sign up for WW (once again). I've got to loose some of this weight or endure knee replacement surgery in a few years (another good reason for taking it off when you're younger - believe me you don't want to deal with knee issues...). I had fat-free hot chocolate last night with a tiny squirt of Redi-Whip before I quit eating for the night. It took care of the chocolate craving quite nicely and just a few calories. Sorry you're feeling cruddy - I have a scratchy throat and nice hacky cough - ugh - everybody's getting this stuff going around. Hope you feel better today.


Steve and Jamie said...

This is totally my problem. Thanks for the link!

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed at that article--that is so ME! I am the stereotypical night eater. Wow. Didn't even know there was such a disorder. I very rarely eat before about 3:30 or 4 and then I don't stop! I definitely need to adopt this healthy habit...

xtrainer said...

This is the first time I've seen your habit-a-week challenge. Superb idea! I must say, you're doing a lot of great things. Keep it up.

Lyn said...


Unfortunately it's too late for me to prevent knee problems! That's one of the reasons I began this journey. At 38, being told I would need a total knee replacement was a shocker. I could barely walk though. I have severe degenerative arthritis in both knees, with hardly a shred of cartilage left. Also bone spurs in both knees, and a torn meniscus. Losing weight has helped, but nothing's gonna fix this except surgery down the road.

I am so glad the challenges are helpful for you! Every little change counts.

Dinah Soar said...

This is a problem for me. Usually because I don't eat enough during the day and the hunger catches up with me after supper. Then if I'm not careful I overindulge.

Because of this, I started planning on a snack after supper because we eat at 5pm and I'm up until midnight--7 hours. I try to make the snack milk based because it has protein and it seems to help me sleep. I have to be careful though not to pull out the cookies or chocolate chips or crackers. You can wrack up a lot of calories scarfing those down.

The thing I find most interesting though is how I can go to bed so hungry and then wake up with no appetite, versus going to bed not hungry and waking up starved. What gives with that?

I try to remember that, telling myself the hunger will go away, that's it not real hunger. But...if it is real hunger I will wake up in the middle of the night unable to sleep. Sigh...I have to really be careful to discern the difference between a genuine need of calories and just wanting to eat because it tastes good.

Sheri said...

I definitely have a problem with eating at night. I haven't been able to figure out what the anxiety is all about. I have removed munchies from the house and practically set everything to 'have to cook to eat'. Yet I still find something. I know I don't want it, but its the only thing to subside the anxiety even a little. This habit and the 'can't go to bed until I am practically falling on my face exhausted' are my major evening downfalls. I know the sleep issue is as a result of childhood sexual abuse, and maybe that's part of the eating issue, because whenever I think about the fact that I'm tired it gets worse.

Pubsgal said...

That's my problem, too. Picking at the dinner leftovers as I'm putting them away especially. Having a couple of sugar free mints helps flip the "off" switch for me, then I like to follow kitchen clean-up with the tooth routine. (Doesn't always happen, but Lyn's tip really works well for me when it does.)

Broth also works well if you want something more savory in the evening. I found that helpful when I was getting used to smaller dinner portions.

Losing Waist! said...

I was insane at night with eating. It seems to be a reaction that comes along with the sunset. Before I started to work on things I would start bingeing around 6ish, then have dinner, then binge again... It does terrible things to a body! My sleeping was messed up!

Now that I am working on the food stuff, I have to be extra careful and really aware of what I am doing at night. Even though I am not bingeing, I find myself going on grazes and eating snacks after dinner because of boredom or mindless TV. It sucks because it is the worst part of the day for me and is the hardest to control.

Thanks for the info!

moonduster said...

This will be a difficult one for me.

I am very much a nighttime eater. (I have to force myself to eat something for breakfast.)

Anonymous said...

I've always thought those suggestions about not eating past 7 pm were silly and impractical, but now they make more sense. Still impractical, but not so silly. My life is just not set up to really ever eat dinner before 8 pm, but I rarely go to sleep before midnight, so it's probably okay. If I do eat things other than dinner at night, it's fruit or veggies, chocolate milk or popcorn. I'm okay with that. If I do have a really late dinner, I'm not hungry for breakfast, may just eat an early lunch. It seems to balance out in the end, as long as I don't try to force anything