Do you struggle with nighttime snacking?
If yes, you’re not alone.
Many people find themselves rummaging through their fridge or cupboards an hour or two after dinner in search of something to nosh on.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating at any time of day or night, it’s helpful to pause and check your intentions so you can ensure your needs are truly being met.
What Are You Really Hungry For?
We rarely snack at night because we’re physically hungry. If you are, by all means, eat whatever your body needs!
There are always exquisitely good reasons for eating. Although it may not seem like it, nighttime snacking is a way of taking care of ourselves. More often than not, we’re trying to nourish a psychological or emotional hunger.
Rather than chocolate, ice cream, cookies or chips (let’s face it, very few of us snack on an apple or carrots at 9 p.m.), here are some things we might really be hungry for:
Pleasure: Food, especially sweets, provides a quick hit of pleasure, something we crave when we don’t experience enough pleasure during our daytime hours (e.g., unfulfilling work).
Relief: Most of us move through our days pretty wound up. Eating offers a temporary respite from the stressors of our daily lives. Creamy foods, in particular, ease anxiety, which is one reason why ice cream is such a popular nighttime treat.
Grounding: Our busy lives can leave us feeling overextended and overwhelmed. The act of eating is very grounding; it's a way to center ourselves when we feel scattered.
Companionship: Although we’re more connected than ever before thanks to technology, many of us feel quite lonely. When loneliness creeps in at night, we can always rely on food to hang out with us and distract us from our uncomfortable feelings.
Energy: Because we operate in overdrive throughout our day, most of us are completely wiped out and depleted come nightfall. Food, especially sugar, is a fast and easy way to boost our energy.
Satisfaction: When we don’t get much satisfaction from our meals, perhaps because we’ve eliminated foods we enjoy, eat while multitasking, or rush through a meal, we will naturally seek more food later in an attempt to satisfy our taste buds.
Me Time: Whether at work or home, many of us spend our days taking care of other people’s needs. Enjoying a nighttime snack, once everyone else is tucked in or logged off, is something special we do just for ourselves.
What Will Truly Meet Your Needs?
If you want to bring more mindfulness to your late-night noshing habits, understanding why you do what you do is the first step.
With compassion and curiosity, ask yourself:
What need am I trying to meet with this food?
Will this food truly meet this need?
If not, how might I better fulfill this need?
For example, say you reach for chocolate throughout the night because you’re pleasure deficient. How can you bring more pleasure into your life? Is it as small as reading a good book or taking a post-dinner walk with a pal or as big as changing careers?
Or, perhaps you dive into a bag of chips because you feel overtaxed and burned out. How can you simplify your life? Can you hire a housecleaner, set work boundaries like not checking email after 6 p.m., or say “no” to others and opportunities more often? (Remember, saying “no” often means saying “yes” to yourself.)
Maybe you’ve identified that you’re seeking an energy boost, something to alleviate your depleted state. If this is the case, you’ll likely benefit more from hitting the hay than raiding the cookie jar.
If your day includes depriving yourself of what you really want to eat (e.g., ordering a light salad instead of a hearty sandwich) and/or restricting the amount and type of food you eat (e.g., counting calories, cutting carbs), your urge to snack all night is not due to a lack of willpower or discipline.
It’s a compensatory reaction; your body’s natural response to physical and psychological deprivation. The more you ignore your body’s needs and desires, the bigger the backlash and binge.
When you allow yourself to eat what and however much you want throughout your day, you’ll likely feel less compelled to snack the night away.
Please Keep in Mind…
It’s perfectly okay to eat when you’re not hungry, including for emotional reasons. Sometimes, a bowl of ice cream is exactly what you need.