It can be a tough habit to break. Quick tips, like brushing your teeth right after dinner, can certainly be helpful, but they don’t really cut to the core.
What’s in your head matters most. So first off, congratulate yourself that you’ve recognized the problem, and that it is in fact a biggie.
“Looking back, I realize now that nighttime munching was the single biggest reason I gained all the weight I did,” shares Johnny R, a recent guest at the Pritikin Center. Scientists estimate that eating an extra 100 calories a day can put on about 10 pounds in one year. “After dinner, I was taking in FIVE times that,” said Johnny.
Since starting Pritikin, he’s made a lot of changes in his life, but the one that had “the biggest impact on my health and weight” was cutting out the nighttime forays through the fridge and pantry.
“If you can beat it,” Johnny encourages, “you will have ‘broken the beast,’ and everything else will be much easier.”
Here are five key strategies for conquering the “I eat too much at night” beast:
1. Keep telling yourself: Eating is not a hobby.
We often eat out of habit, barely conscious of what we’re doing. “We make about 200 mindless food decisions a day,” says Dr. Coral Arvon, Director of Behavioral Health and Wellness at the Pritikin Longevity Center.
Habits, especially pleasurable ones, can have a real pull on us in the evening, the only time of the day when many of us can really relax. All the frenzy and fury of the day is finally done. It’s time to plop down on the sofa. Time to reward ourselves. Time for our favorite hobby – eating!
It’s time to change this habit – much easier said than done, of course, but totally possible.
First, put your brakes on. Tell yourself, “This hobby horse is turning me into a horse.” Keep your breaks on for 10 FULL MINUTES. “To help you get in the habit of putting these cravings on ‘pause,’ try using a timer,” suggests Dr. Arvon.
The instant the urge sets in to grab a handful of the kids’ cereal or scoop out a second dish of frozen yogurt (you’d already had one for dessert), set your timer for 10 minutes and GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN. Resist the urge to jump in the car for a trip to Ben & Jerry’s. It’s just 10 minutes, “but you’ll be amazed at the results,” encourages Dr. Arvon. Within 10 minutes, many people find that cravings pass.
In your 10-minute pause, distract yourself. Find other pleasures. Make these pleasures your new hobbies. Call a good friend. See what’s up with buddies on Facebook or Twitter. Settle down to a great book. Or head outside with your music player for a 15-minute walk, your favorite tunes in your ear.
Create, in short, an entirely new nighttime ritual. Suggests Johnny: “Maybe you could take a long bath (hard to eat in the tub), or indulge your creative side by sitting down to write a blog or that novel you’ve always wanted to write.” Just make it anything other than munching. Johnny’s new rituals “worked like a charm” not only with eating but with sleep issues he was struggling with. “I sleep like a baby now.”
2. Talk to yourself.
Make every effort to erase the negative out-of-control thoughts (“I’ve gotta finish off the leftovers” or “I’m crazy for chocolate ice cream with sprinkles…where are my car keys?!”).
Replace these nasty nudges with positive, masterful thinking: “It’s only an urge, and although I want the ice cream, I can live without it. I may like the ice cream, but I LOVE the benefits I have gained from eating wisely and well.”
3. Ask yourself, “What am I really hungry for?”
In your 10-minute breakaway, try to figure out WHY you’re feeling the need to nighttime nosh.
Are you tired? If so, make yourself a nice cup of herbal tea or no-sugar cocoa, and simply wind down. Fall off to much-deserved sleep.
Are you bored? Quit whatever you’re doing (watching a dumb TV show, reading a book you’re not really enjoying, surfing the internet for nothing in particular) and indulge yourself with an activity you really do enjoy.
Lonely? If you live with a spouse or partner, chat. Cuddle. If you live alone, call a good friend or family member. Or find an evening class or activity that gives you joy and good company. Yoga. Book readings at your local library. Dance lessons. A film club. “If alone, give yourself a big hug! And love those pets!” says Dr. Arvon.
4. Rethink TV.
Are you a remote-in-one-hand and chips-in-the-other TV watcher? Talk about a tough habit to break! For some, the one and only solution is turning off the TV at night, every night.
Others (this writer included) have found great success using a DVR to record favorite shows. That way, when I do sit down for my favorites (I have many!), I speed right through the pizza and ice cream commercials and everything else that eats away at will power. An added bonus: I find myself enjoying my shows more because I can now focus just on the shows, not on the images of Dominos and Dove Bars that used to nag me.
If you don’t have a DVR, get up from the sofa at the commercials, turn your back to the TV, and hit the floor for a few sit-ups (yes, you’ll burn a few calories too). Or leave the room for two minutes of light housekeeping. The trick is keeping your eyes OFF the TV. We may not be hungry, we may not even like greasy cheesy pizzas, but there’s something about those golden, buttery scenes that can turn a full stomach into a crazy hungry one. Don’t let these scenes control you or your waistline.
5. Be patient.
Research indicates that it takes about 21 days for a new habit to take hold. So be patient. Take it one day at a time. And take heart knowing that every day gets you one step closer to a new attitude and a new you.