For many of us back in lockdown again, mindless snacking, often at night time seems to have become a regular feature in our daily routine. It seems to be one of those things that is happening more and more frequently as we spend longer staying in our homes, working from the kitchen table close to the fridge, trying to fill the long hours which can sometimes feel very long.
Please know for anyone that struggles with mindless nighttime snacking that you aren’t alone, whether you are in lockdown or not. This is a very common practice that hits both men and women alike – no gender bias here! There is nothing wrong with you, you aren’t broken, it’s just about figuring out what’s going on in your world that results in you seeking comfort in food.
Food can be a great boredom buster, a great way to fill a void of loneliness, emptiness or sadness, a great way to fill time, a great way to connect with others, a great way to distract from life, to name just a few. Food is often there for you when no one else is – free from judgement, can you make you feel good even if it is only fleeting and you don’t need to explain yourself.
However, if this is something you deal with daily and have body and health goals that you are struggling to reach due to mindless snacking and overeating then here are 5 tips to help you in stopping the cycle.
1. Make sure you have eaten enough nourishing proteins and healthy fats during the day. If you are restricting calorie intake for long periods, you will want to snack in the evening – if you are skipping breakfast you may want to snack in the evening. Add breakfast in and see how this feels.
2. Know that this is actually not about the food. The food is the symptom not the problem. This is about your why. Why are you using food at this time? What is the real purpose of the food. These are questions to ask yourself as you work through this as the key to breaking this behaviour is understanding why you turn to food, what’s the purpose of the snacking? Eg for comfort, distraction, a coping mechanism, loneliness?
3. Consider when you’re using food in that way that it’s because you are trying to fill an internal void. Maybe you aren’t feeling how you want to feel? Maybe you’re not doing what you want to do? Maybe you aren’t living the life you want to live. Look at where you aren’t fulfilled in life because more often than not we fill up with food as a result of not being fulfilled in our life in some way. Food won’t fulfil you.
4. Generally this kind of comfort snacking can often become a habit, especially at nighttime after dinner or in the afternoon when you may feel a decrease in energy and feel like you need a pick me up (often in the form of sugar). It can become almost like an auto response, not a lot of thought, a mindless action that we aren’t paying attention to. We need to break this auto response. This means having something that wakes your brain up – that can bring you back into awareness, eg – a note in your space that reminds you you are good, you are well, you are loved.
5. Slow down – if you are a fast eater it is very important you slow your eating speed down. To overcome any form of eating or body challenge, you have to be present. To be present means slow eating. It means pleasurable eating. It means eating mindfully and without distraction. Take it from me – it is very hard to binge when you are eating slowly. Eating slowly helps you to notice fullness, it helps to regulate appetite, it helps to slow your nervous system down so it can fully metabolise the food. Slow eating is the founding practice to build on. And it is a practice. For those that are fast eaters, this will take time.
Here’s how slow eating works: 1. Sit at a table, with no other distractions. No smartphone, no TV, no tablet, no work, no newspaper. Just you and the food. 2. Look at what you’re about to eat. Notice what you’ve chosen. 3. Take a bite of food. Chew slowly. Notice the scent, taste, texture, and temperature. 4. Put your utensils down. Pause. 5. Take a few deep, slow breaths. Consciously relax your body. 6. Take another bite of food. Again, notice the food. 7. Put your utensils down again. Again, take a few deep, slow breaths and relax. 8. Check in again. Notice any physical sensations, emotions, or thoughts that come up. Repeat until your body tells you it’s time to stop.
So, if mindless, uncontrolled nighttime eating is a challenge for you, I ask that you consider thinking about more than just the food. This is an inner challenge; it is an emotional challenge therefore the magic lies in looking deeper into what the challenge is trying to teach you. Take the lessons and grow from them. That’s what life is all about.