night eating

How to Stop Night Eating

How to Stop Night Eating


How to Stop Night Eating

How to Stop Night Eating

Do you ever feel like you can’t go to sleep unless you eat a ton of food even if you’ve had a balance dinner? Do you lie awake thinking about food, unable to relax until your belly is so full that you pass out into a food coma?  Do you find yourself up late at night grazing through cupboards, or even waking up in the middle of the night and finding that you can’t go back to sleep without eating something? If so, you’re not alone.

Night Eating Syndrome (NES) affects millions of people in this country. Although it can be similar to binge eating- it can also differ in that there is not always a gigantic binge, but several episodes of grazing throughout the night. NES often corresponds with anxiety and insomnia. There are theories that for people with NES,  serotonin levels decrease in the evening causing snacking on heavily carbohydrate laden foods to help the body relax and get ready for bed.

Though it’s challenging, the following steps can help train your brain on how to stop night eating:

1. The first thing I ask people when I know that they are struggling with night eating is “are you getting enough food throughout the day?” and “Are you struggling with trying to be good during the day only to “ruin” all your “good work” from the day with an evening binge? If so, your daytime strategies of morally pure eating might be contributing to your binges. When you loosen the reins during the day and allow yourself to eat what your body wants and needs, you are less likely to binge at night when the guards are tired and asleep at the gate.

                       Make sure that you are getting at least three, hearty and healthy meals each day with snacks                          when you need them.  

                      Definitely make sure to eat breakfast.  This can help to establish healthy daytime eating                                 patterns to ensure that blood sugar and serotonin levels remain steady throughout the day.

Generally, many people with NES are afraid to eat normally during the day since they get most of their calories at night. The irony is however, that if you eat during the day, you might find that you need less food in the evenings. Just ensuring that you are getting appropriate and proper nutrition during the day can help you stop night eating. 

2.Consider a high fat, high protein snack such as full-fat Greek yogurt or a glass of whole milk in the evening to quell sugar cravings and increase tryptophan levels.  My favorite it Coconut Cream Chocolate Pudding. This has a good mixture of fat and carbohydrates that will stave off sugar cravings and lull you into a nice sleep. To make this put coconut cream into a blender with 3-4 medjool dates and a tablespoon of sugar free cocoa. Blend it all together for 2-3 minutes. You’ll have a nourishing desert that will also prevent binges. 

3. Keep a journal next to your bed and each night, before you go to sleep, write in it.  Write about your day, your fears, anxiety, anger, sadness, joy, excitement, whatever, just write and move your emotions through you.

4. Relax in a hot bath with Epsom salts for about 20 minutes prior to bed. Hot water is good medicine and the epsom salts will relax your muscles to ensure restful sleep. 

5. If you wake up in the middle of the night, before you get out of bed, grab for your journal and write in it. You might write your dreams, your thoughts, your anxiety… whatever it is, just get it out and then lay back down. 

6. When you go to sleep at night, turn off all the lights and television. Sleep with a sleeping mask and earplugs in order to ensure deep sleep.

7. Put a piece of  duct tape across your bedroom door so that you don’t unconsciously get up and walk to the kitchen. The tape will snap you out of your trance so that you can bring some consciousness to the choice to get up and go eat.

8. Put a large BREATHE sign on or in your refrigerator so that you can remember to stop, take a breath and think about what you’re doing, think about whether you are hungry or just doing this out of habit. 

9. If it makes you feel safer, consider a lock or timer on your refrigerator or cupboards. This is not to restrict you, it’s to help you feel safe- if you know that you don’t have access to food, you might just stay in bed and get the sleep you need rather than spending time rummaging through the refrigerator or cupboards for food.  If it feels restrictive or punishing, don’t do it. This is not to punish you, this is to help you find safety in your house. 

11. Talk to your doctor, acupuncturist or Naturopath about taking a supplement such as Magnesium Gluconate, LOW DOSE melatonin, tryptophan5-HTP, Relora or GABA at night to increase calm, decrease night eating behaviors and help with sleep.

12. Try this guided meditation for insomnia. 

Learning to stop night eating is challenging because it is so unconscious, but helping your body and mind relax while increasing consciousness  of the behavior can help quell it.

Sleep, Food, & Mood.

Do you ever do that thing, where it’s the night, but you’re somehow afraid to go to sleep? You’re kind of dreading it? You get up and go to the refrigerator, sit on the couch with your computer in your lap, looking at facebook, watching television, half-heartedly reading blogs, half-heartedly watching television, and eventually,  you’ve gotten up and eaten a bunch of food that you weren’t hungry for and your body didn’t need, and it’s past 2am, and you’re so exhausted that you just kind of stumble into bed with a full, uncomfortable belly, feeling like crap. Do you do some kind of variation on it?

Sleep, food, and mood go together. When your sleep is off, your food is off, when your sleep and food are off, your mood is off. When your mood is off, your sleep and food are usually off.

One of the ways to begin to bring your life back to healthy is to start with your sleep.    Go out and buy a nice, comfortable set of sheets and a new comforter and lots of fluffy pillows. Make your bed someplace that is inviting and luxurious. If you can’t afford new sheets right now, wash your current sheets and bedding and fluff it up, spray it with some lavender and try to give it a little bit of new life. At night, an hour before you think you should go to sleep, get into bed. Let’s say you want to be asleep at 11, get into bed at 10. Don’t turn your TV on, don’t bring your computer into bed with you. Bring a book, or a magazine, or your iPod. Listen to some relaxing music with your eyes closed or listen to a guided visualization, and just begin to let yourself relax. This isn’t about sleep, this is about relaxing your body. Sleep is a natural biological process that your body can do once you begin to relax your body and your mind. You might also want to get into the bath about 90 minutes before you want to be asleep. A hot bath with Epson Salts is a great way to relax your muscles and calm your mind and warm your body up for sleep. Try to think of a nice bedtime routine that you can do every night that will help you fall into a restful sleep. You might draw for 1/2 hour before you get into bed, you might bathe, you might write in your journal, but find something that works for you and do it nightly.

If you find that sleep is impossible, there are lots of natural sleep solutions like herbal sleep aids out there such as valerian, chamomile and skullcap as well as amino acids like 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan or a synthetic hormone of melatonin that you can ask your doctor or Naturopath about for help with sleep. There are also over the counter solutions as well as prescription solutions that your doctor can help you sort through. There’s no shame in finding something to help you sleep. Being sleep deprived leads to poor decision making, especially around food choices. It also leaves you looking for more energy and many people use caffeine and sugar to achieve this.

Think about the Gestalt of it, you need a healthy body, mind, and spirit. You can’t have one without the other. Even if you find that you’re just not able to get your food on track, just start with your sleep. You will find, that once your sleep is better, that it will be much easier to deal with food.

Friday Q & A – I binge at night – Help!

This question, from Alex was submitted through the comments section in response to a question about binge eating at night. 


I do have this same problem. I actually use to weigh 280 pounds with a size 48 waist. Then I started taking MMA (mixed martial arts) and got my diet and weight lifting down to a science with one of my great friends who is also a nutritionist. I dieted and worked out perfectly for about 2 years. I ended up getting down to 178 pounds and had a 32 size waist, abs and all. I loved it and i was so happy. Then I tried to take a break from the dieting part but still continued to exercise. I didn’t even diet that poorly and about 3 months or so later I weighed 212 pounds! So i hit the dieting again hard and got back down to where I am at now, about 180 pounds and 32 waist again. But now, its way harder for me to stick to my diet at night. I eat literally only turkey and vegetables all day every 3 hours and keep my calories under control, low carbs, and very high protein. I feel great all day and not lacking any energy even though my workouts take about 4 hours out of my day and they are high intense (lifting plus still taking MMA) But I CANT SLEEP UNLESS I EAT SOMETHING. not just anything, it has to be sweet and completely bad for me. Also anytime through the night I am up and eating or I will literally just lay there and toss and turn. I wake up in the morning feeling like crap. This is EVERY night and easily at least 1000 calories worth of junk throughout the night. I still do have calorie difference though. But working out 4 or 5 hours a day for such small losses of weight is killing me and I know its because of my night eating. It is definitely holding me back and I could really use some help on my problem. PLEASE!


Alex, do see the post below this, I can’t stop eating carbs.  Your situation is so similar to this one. You once lost a whole lot of weight using a very low carbohydrate diet, and now you keep trying to get back on it.  There was an experiment some years ago, with rats. I don’t have a link to the study, but the gist of it was: They gave the rats a shock along with a piece of cheese. Then, after a few days, they gave the rats a shock without the cheese. The rats continued to go back for the cheese, but only got the shock. They never received the cheese again, but continued to risk the shock because of the memory of something they once had.   Now this behavior is incredibly human. People get something once or inconsistently and then spend the rest of their lives trying to get it back. This is where addiction models begin, and not just to a substance, but to a feeling, a process, an outcome, a person… It happens a lot with people. Someone treats someone horribly most of the time, but really wonderfully once in a while. The person clings to the once in a while and continues to go back for the possibility of being treated well.  An extremely low carb or restrictive diet is like an abusive relationship with an inconsistent person. There’s a honeymoon period with it. It works incredibly well at first, then you find that you’re never able to recreate those first results. Yet, you keep going back to it because you remember that time when you were able to lose all that weight. You think, “I am at fault here, if only I were able to eat just turkey and spinach and nothing else, I’d be where I wanted to be, I’m going to do it. I’m going to start tomorrow…”

But if you are exercising 4-5 hours a day, your body needs complex carbohydrates. It will be so hard to sleep at night unless you give yourself those carbs, but because your body is starving for them, you wind up bingeing on them. Your body is otherwise eating itself. You say that you are working out more to compensate for more food. But if you worked out less, you would need less food. This cycle seems so hard. Is it challenging to find time outside of your workouts or space inside of your mind that aren’t thoughts about food or resisting food?

You don’t need to binge on carbs every night, and you don’t certainly don’t need to start eating a high carbohydrate low protein diet. It’s not an either or prospect. However, you could be integrating lots more whole carbohydrates into your day. Turkey and vegetables won’t swing it in the long term, and you’ll probably continue to binge. I know that you did it for two years, but your body probably doesn’t want to go back there which is why you find yourself up at night eating.  You might find that you’re able to go back for a week or even a month, but your body will keep on coming back to bingeing as a way to compensate for the lack of calories and carbohydrates. A way to integrate good for your foods is to be having things like sweet potatoes, yams, fruit (lots of fruit), and starchy vegetables during the day. You need to balance your diet out. More carbohydrates during the day means less carbohydrates at night. And, as I said below, no one ever got fat by eating a yam. Or even a baked potato.

1.)Integrate whole carbohydrates during the day. If you are worried about processed foods, shop in the produce aisle. You can have plenty of foods that will help rebuild your body. Think yams, potatoes, mangoes, apples, bananas, peaches, apricots, nuts, beans.

2.)Try to wind down at night. There are things that you can do, such as meditate or take a bath that will calm your body down enough to help you get to sleep. You might want to try a guided visualization to keep you on your game with food.  You might also do something like soak in Epson Salt bath to relax both body and mind.

3.)Stop weighing and measuring yourself and use your milestones with MMA to monitor your progress.

4.)Try to work out less. Unless you are training professionally and have a staff to help take care of your body (physical therapist, sports med doctor, etc.) you might be overdoing it and your body will be begging for more fuel.

5.)Be kind to yourself. It sounds like you’re really harsh with yourself, and at night, when you’re tired and your defenses are down, that part of you that is like a Drill Sergeant, so disciplined and constantly self flagellating, is not on his game, so the part of you that needs to be taken care of and to be treated kindly sneaks out and binges. Try to create some moderation and evenness. Bring more levity and fun into your life. Do things that are fun but meaningless in the long term (like reading a mindless book or magazine). Integrate some kindness and some breaks for yourself into your day. I understand that you love MMA and have been really enjoying your new lifestyle, but I’d encourage you to do other fun things and allow yourself to enjoy your life! Bringing a bit of joy can really reduce stress and just make you overall happier and lighter.

I do hope that this has answered your question a bit and you’ve found this helpful.


Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.

Binge Eating When You’re Tired

i always binge when i'm tiredWe are a chronically sleep deprived society. And with sleep deprivation often comes binge eating. For several reasons. First off, our defenses are down, so we can’t think about what we need, so we grab at the thing that always nurtures us immediately and consistently. Another reason is that we are so spent that we are looking for quick energy and we hope that food will do that for us. Another reason is that people tend to be more anxious or depressed when they are sleep deprived, so those who use food to manage emotions will find comfort in binge eating.

Next time you find yourself going toward food in the afternoon, check in with yourself. Is it food you need, or a nap? Even resting your head on your desk for 15 minutes of sleep will help you immensely. And making an effort to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night will be rewarding in all aspects of your life. You will have more energy, more focus, more motivation, and more physical strength as well as improved immunity and physical health.