Most people who have struggled with their weight agree: Evening is dangerous. Keeping portions under control and eating healthful foods is easy during the day but come nighttime all bets are off. Why is it so easy to overeat at night?
There are several reasons that people overeat in the evening:
Most people skimp on calories during the day, loading up at night. One study found that people who consume more than 35 percent of their calories in the evening, while eating less than 25 percent of energy by noon, have double the risk of obesity compared with those who front load calories in the morning and eat light at dinner.
Most people are busy from the moment they wake up until they get home and start thinking about dinner. With increased opportunity to eat in the evening, it can easily turn into a binge with no stop until you hit the sack.
People with higher cortisol levels tend to eat more at night. The reason may be emotional (eating is pleasurable and reduces feelings of tension) or physiological (the raw materials that make the stress hormone cortisol and related neurotransmitters are replenished through food).
For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, evening hunger may be an evolutionary adaptation that ensured a continual drive to find the calories and nutrients to keep us alive.
In the obese, hunger hormones are elevated during the evening whereas satiety hormones that tell the brain we are full are lower. This effect is amplified in response to stress.
It’s easy to push away difficult emotions when you’re busy during the day but for a lot of us, at night, the only thing between boredom, loneliness, and stress is food. We get in the habit of coping with these feelings by eating, and often too much.
Here are suggestions to stop overeating at night:
Practice Time Restricted Eating
Known as TRF, time-restricted feeding, has you eat during a 10- to 12-hour window daily. Try having your first meal at 7 am and your last one at 6 pm, completing your eating by 7 pm. Simply setting limits to your eating may allow you to get it under control.
Try to get 50 percent of your calories in by noon, favoring meals designed around high-quality protein to set your satiety hormones up for the day. Studies show that eating this way raises leptin, the appetite suppressing hormone, while lowering ghrelin, the hunger hormone.
Practice Stress Management During The Day
Instead of letting it build up, take actions to diffuse stress as the day goes by. Deep breathing, meditation, and exercise are all proven stress reducers. Whether it’s through social time, laughing with friends, or walking the dog, it’s essential you separate coping with stress from eating.
Have An Eating Curfew
If the structure of TRF doesn’t work for you, have an eating curfew at which you stop eating. It’s easy to rationalize bingeing at night, especially when you’re in the habit of telling yourself that you’ll “start fresh tomorrow.” Shut down the habit by starting your evening fast by 8 pm.
Plan Meals In Advance
Without a nutrition plan, you’re more likely to make indulgent food choices and justify excessive portions. Planning meals in advance ensures healthy options that prioritize satiating foods like protein and vegetables.
Don’t Keep Junk Food In The House
Studies consistently show it’s easy to go off the rails at night with junk food. Set yourself up for success by removing tempting foods from the house.