Why do we overeat at night?

Something I hear over and over again is that people have no trouble eating well during the day, but lose their minds at night and eat everything in sight.

I used to be one such person. I felt like I had two completely separate personalities -- the controlled, responsible daytime version, and the rebellious, impulsive nighttime version. During the day it was fruit and salads and nuts and water, and at night it was basically anything I could get my hands on...for hours, and hours. I truly felt like Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde.

I woke up feeling guilty and awful every morning. I would lie in bed and berate myself, then make a plan for how to redeem myself. My daytime restriction eventually became a necessary compensation for the nighttime binges--the less I ate during the day, the more I ate at night...or, was it the more I ate at night, the less I ate during the day? A succinct self-perpetuating cycle.

Learning why that pattern dominated my adult life has been truly liberating. Check out these three reasons for nighttime bingeing, and see if you can start to understand your own patterns.

1. You don't eat enough during the day

This one is straightforward--you don't get enough calories during the day, and you're ravenous by the time you get home. Instincts (ravenous hunger--need to survive) overwhelm your thoughts and feelings, and you embark on an eating extravaganza that is hard to stop. Maybe guilt feeds this process, and you continue with "What the hell" eating since you already blew your good day.

2. You are stuck in diet mentality

If you still have a dieting mindset, you have rules about what you should be doing and should be eating. You may generally find it easier to stick to the script during the day.  You have more structure during the day and there are people watching, so it's easier to do the "right thing." You can abide by the rules during the day because there are external influences guiding you. But at night, at home, by yourself or with people you're very comfortable with, the wheels come off. You literally and figuratively unbutton your pants, and let loose. This is how you finally get some freedom from the rules.

3. You don't have any other coping strategies

Everyone wants and needs to unwind at the end of the day. It's perfectly normal to want a release when you get home--something to look forward to, and that will give you instant comfort. If you consistently choose food for this purpose, you have established a reliable pattern for yourself. Nothing else seems like it will be as satisfying or comforting as overindulging in food. 

The million-dollar question, of course: What can you do about it?

Check out this cheat sheet for some quick tips on how to get started.

Teddey HicksComment