Today’s question is a pretty common one:
My problem is that I do awesome all day, I don’t binge at all and I eat three solid meals and I exercise moderately, I’m not restricting, I’m not dieting… none of that. Night times suck though. I’ve finished eating, I’m not hungry at all, I sit down and put on Netflix and before I know it, I’m at the refrigerator. First it’s a piece of cake or some ice cream or a bowl of cereal, and then I’m up again. I’m up and down about ten times and I can’t stop myself. Before I know it, it’s after 10, I’m totally full, I’m nauseous and I go to sleep depressed. What am I going to do? Can you help me?
-Karen from New Orleans
You are not alone. This evening eating is definitely a tough one for many people who have binge eating issues. There are a few different ways to go about it. First off, we have to consider what is going on at night.
1. There are some theories that for some people, serotonin dips at night and so they binge eat to help them raise their serotonin levels. Eating high carbohydrate foods increases serotonin levels because it makes tryptophan more readily available which is an amino acid which is a pre-cursor to serotonin. Other ways to naturally increase serotonin levels are to eat tryptophan rich foods– which would be a glass of (full fat) milk, pumpkin seeds, mozzarella cheese or turkey. Here is a list of high tryptophan foods.
Another possibility is to talk to your health care provider about taking a supplement such as 5-HTP or Tryptophan which are both amino acids that are precursors to serotonin. These can help you relax in the evening when you have that anxious need to binge. Definitely check with your doctor before taking these, especially if you are already on an anti-depressant or other medication.
2. Your pattern seems habitual also. In the evenings you have a routine. You have become habituated to bingeing at night to help you get to sleep. So in some sense, you have to let yourself be uncomfortable for a while as you break that habit. Ways to break habits including interrupting your routine. And for that, you need to make a plan and put effort into it. For instance, if you want to start a new habit of going to the gym every morning, it’s much easier to do that if you put your gym clothes out at night and pack your gym bag before you go to sleep. Then in the morning, it’s much easier to follow the breadcrumbs of getting up and going. So, think about other ways to break up your routine after diner. For instance, instead of sitting on the couch watching Netflix, perhaps you can get into a bath with epsom salts (this is my very favorite thing to do at night) or lay down in your room and read a book. Make sure that’s all set up for you– that’s how you can follow the breadcrumbs– put the epsom salts in the bathroom, put the book on your bed. Or, you can make plans ahead of time to meet someone after dinner or have a phone/Skype date planned. You definitely want to something that breaks up the routine of the things that you had previously been doing. You also want to make sure that you have the plan in place ahead of time, otherwise you’re more likely to follow the path (routine) that you’re used to.
3. Look underneath the habit and think about what it is that you are trying to gain by bingeing. Are you actually hungry? Did you not eat enough that day? Are you trying to calm down your body and mind? Are you trying to quell anxiety? The truth of the matter is that most addictive behaviors are used to try to manage anxiety. So think about other ways that you can let go of anxiety in the present. Because eating is a sensory experience, doing things that involve moving your body reduce anxiety and urges to binge. There are a few yoga poses that are easy and release anxiety.
The first is child’s pose which is super calming for both your mind and for your digestion:
And then there is Viparita Karani (legs up on the wall) as simple as it sounds which good for reducing anxiety, depression and insomnia:
I also recommend checking out 10 Ways To Shut Down at Night without Binge Eating. Try some of these things out and let me know how you’re doing. If things don’t improve, email me again and we’ll brainstorm.
I hope that this response was helpful for you. Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating? 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. Are you interested in online therapy or coaching to deal with your eating disorder? Please contact me to discuss getting started.