Do you find yourself reaching for food before bed or snacking at night? Do you feel like you can't control your late-night cravings and end up binging before bed?
Perhaps snacking at night or full-blown binge eating feels like a well-deserved treat, but it’s making you feel guilty and disappointed in the long term.
As a Nutritional Therapist, who works with disordered eating, one of the most common questions I get is “How to Stop Nighttime Binge Eating?” so I've decided to share some of the most useful approaches I’ve learnt to help you stop binging at night.
So, if you’re ready to ditch those late-night cravings and finally get some restful sleep, let's get started.
Statistics on Night Eating and Snacking at Night
Let’s find out what some research says about snacking at night in the wider population:
- According to the Food Insights 2021 survey, more than 1 in 3 Americans under 35 have late-night cravings and snacks after 11 pm.
- A study on the health impacts of nighttime eating found that while smaller snacks do not affect weight management, nighttime eating of bigger meals negatively affects weight loss efforts. Similarly, another recent study showed that nighttime eating increases waketime hunger and increases the risk of obesity long-term.
- It is estimated that 1.5% of the population has the Night Eating Syndrome (NES) or Night Eating Disorder (more on that later).
Is there a Night Eating Disorder?
Night Eating Disorder or Night Eating Syndrome (NES), is an eating disorder that is characterised by late-night eating habits that aren't linked to hunger.
Similarly to Binge Eating Disorder (BED), NES is more than just occasional late-night snacking. Usually a person with NES consumes a substantial portion of their daily caloric intake after dinner and often wakes up at night to eat.
These nocturnal eating episodes often lead to guilt, distress, and sleep disturbances, as well as physical health issues.
Do you find yourself continuously snacking at night or experiencing full-blown binge eating episodes when you're not hungry? Are they followed by guilt and regret?
If so, it could be beneficial to speak with a healthcare professional or a binge-eating therapist. You would figure out if you are indeed experiencing Night Eating Disorder. You would also find out how to stop nighttime binge-eating and take back the control of your health and sleep.
Understanding the Problem: Late-Night Cravings and Snacking at Night
Understanding the root causes behind late-night cravings and snacking at night can be an integral first step in managing and overcoming these behaviours. So let's look at several factors that could be at play:
- Hormonal Imbalances: Hormones like leptin and ghrelin regulate our hunger and satiety cues. Any imbalances can lead to increased cravings and irregular eating patterns. Additionally, blood glucose imbalances throughout the day can lead to snacking at night.
- Stress and Emotional Eating: Stressful situations or unresolved emotional issues can often trigger overeating or binge eating as a form of coping mechanism. Check in with yourself whether evenings tend to be a time of complete letting go of the day's worries. Or perhaps there is more overthinking or worrying that happens at night.
- Lack of Adequate Nutrition: If your body doesn't receive proper nutrition during the day, you may experience intense cravings at night as your body tries to compensate for the nutrient deficit. This could be not enough food, erratic and irregular meals or meals that lack macronutrient balance.
- Disrupted Sleep Patterns: Lack of quality sleep or irregular sleep patterns can disrupt our body’s hunger and fullness hormones. This can lead to increased hunger and late-night snacking. This may be especially noticeable in late-night and shift workers.
Understanding the patterns and influences that may trigger late-night cravings and binge eating is key to eliminating unwanted food behaviours. However, it's important to take action and to make improvements in your habits and routines to help your body rebalance.
How to Stop Nighttime Binge Eating: 5 Effective Strategies
Ditching late-night cravings may take time and is an individual process for everyone. Here are some of the most effective strategies that helped my clients stop snacking at night for good.
1. Balance Blood Glucose Levels in the Day
Balancing your blood glucose levels throughout the day is an essential strategy for curbing nighttime binge eating. When your blood glucose levels are stable, it prevents sudden spikes and crashes that can trigger intense cravings. This including late-night cravings.
Aim to eat balanced meals and snacks regularly during the day to maintain steady blood glucose levels. Include a mix of complete proteins, beneficial fats, and complex carbohydrates in your meals. These macronutrients are digested at different rates, helping ensure a slow and steady release of energy.
Focus on having at least 1/4-1/2 of your plate vegetables, with a palm-size portion of protein, and another palm-size portion of complex carbs and add around a 1-2 thumb-worth amount of beneficial fats to your meals.
Avoiding high-sugar foods in isolation or excess can be beneficial, as you might avoid a rapid spike and crash in blood sugar. Additionally, this will prevent the surge of hunger and cravings later in the day.
For snacks, aim for foods higher in protein or beneficial fats. Such include nuts or seeds with a piece of fruit, hummus with vegetable sticks or hard-boiled eggs. These can help keep you full for longer.
By managing your blood glucose levels effectively during the day, you set the stage for a binge-free night and restful sleep.
2. Reduce or Cut Out Stimulants
Stimulants, such as caffeine in coffee, tea and energy drinks, can disrupt your sleep patterns and lead to late-night cravings. It stimulates your nervous system and can keep you awake for much longer than you would like. This can pushing back your normal sleep time. Plus, the extra awake time can lead to increased hunger.
Additionally, caffeine can cause an energy crash after it wears off. And that can lead to feelings of tiredness and triggering the body's desire for quick energy. Thus often increases late-night cravings for sugary or processed foods. While 1/2 the caffeine may take 4-6h to clear out of the body, in some cases it takes up to 12h. And this can contribute to increased anxiety, digestive issues, in addition to cravings.
Start by reducing caffeine to a maximum of 2 cups a day. Have your last one around lunchtime, or completely eliminate caffeinated drinks. This can help maintain balanced energy levels and reduce snacking at night.
3. Establish a Bedtime Routine
Don’t underestimate the power of establishing a consistent bedtime routine as an essential strategy for curbing nighttime binge eating. When the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or the circadian rhythm, is in balance, sleep quality and overall health is significantly improved. This also helps manage late-night cravings and reducing snacking at night becomes effortless.
A practical way to create a bedtime routine is to engage in calming activities about one to two hours before sleep (depending on your levels of stress and activity). Make time for a hot bath with Epsom salts, read a relaxing or engaging book, or practice relaxation exercises like deep breathing, mindfulness or yoga.
Remember to switch off electronic devices and unplug at least one hour before bed. They can increase your exposure to blue light, which suppresses the release of melatonin, a hormone responsible for sleep.
That way, you are more likely to get quality sleep and less likely to get caught out with late-night cravings. By establishing a regular sleep routine, you can strengthen your body’s natural eating and sleeping patterns. And this way you can learn how to stop nighttime binge eating naturally.
4. Ditch the Evening Drink
Do you like to have a glass of wine in the evening or a couple of beers to relax? Having alcohol in the evening can be problematic as alcohol can stimulate your appetite. This can lead to overeating, and disrupted your sleep patterns, making you more likely to turn to snacking at night.
It may also negatively impact your sleep quality as it may prevent you from reaching the deeper, restorative stages of sleep. The lack of quality sleep can lead to increased hunger and cravings the next day. And so the vicious cycle of poor sleep, overeating and nighttime binging continues.
Aim to replace an alcoholic drink in the evening with a calming herbal tea, like chamomile or peppermint. It can help you relax and de-stress and prepare your body for sleep. If needed, keep yourself busy with self-care and soothing activities that bring you joy while you’re on the road to ditching the evening drink
5. Work with a Binge-Eating Therapist
You may find that many people indeed eat and snack at night and it's not a big deal. Yet, deep down you may recognise that you're unable to stop the nighttime binge eating episodes. You feel completely out of control around food in the night. Perhaps it's also followed by intense feelings of guilt and shame every time.
If your nighttime food habits are making you feel hopeless and miserable, then it's a really great idea to get support from a professional. While your doctor may be able to direct you to Binge Eating Specialists, often help is classed by diagnosed eating disorders and waiting lists (especially since the Covid pandemic) often have months or years of waiting.
In that case, it can be useful to seek private Binge Eating Therapists. Seek people, who specialise in exclusively working with disordered eating patterns. Such include nighttime binge eating and as well as a diagnosed Night Eating Disorder.
Working with a Binge Eating counsellor or psychotherapist can be crucial in learning how to stop nighttime binge eating. However, working with psychological support as well as nutritional support, might make the progress faster, due to psychological and nutritional bases being covered. Nutritional professionals include nutritional therapists, nutritionists or dieticians.
A nutritional professional can support you in finding a balanced diet, establishing eating habits that are personalised to you and help equip you with practical tools and techniques to stop binge eating at night.
Final Thoughts on How to Stop Nighttime Binge Eating
It doesn't matter if nighttime binge eating, snacking at night or a Night eating disorder has been part of your life for months or decades. It's good to know that recovery is possible and support is available to you. With the right help, you can learn to manage and ditch binge eating at night for good.
It's also important to remember that the journey to recovery takes time. This is especially true if it's something that has been with you for years (or decades). And while the first step to seeking help usually feels daunting, it's also the hardest!
With patience and with the right support, you can learn to manage late-night cravings and stop nighttime binge eating. Remember: You are in control of your recovery journey - take it one step at a time. Also, be mindful of progress and celebrate every victory along the way. Good luck! 💪🏻👍🏼