30 September 2010

Evening binging leads to unhealthy cycle of overeating

For most of us, the evening is our downtime, when we can relax and unwind from the events of the day. Many of us also utilize the evening to get caught up on other responsibilities, such as bill paying, emails, homework, etc. The problem we often run into is that as we multi-task, or even just watch our favorite shows, we are simultaneously eating. This subconscious eating can easily result in a massive intake of calories, which can quickly sabotage even our best efforts from the day.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that many people attempt to restrict caloric intake during the day, for weight loss, by doing things such as skipping breakfast, having a small lunch, or even skipping lunch altogether. Binging in the evening is much more likely to occur when meals have been skipped or severely restricted. In general, people who spread their meals throughout the day seem to be better able to control their eating habits in the evening.

Our digestive fires are the strongest mid day, while the evening is the time when our bodies' janitor, the liver, wants to get to work cleaning and detoxifying. For this reason, it would make sense to eat your heaviest meal at lunch, and to keep dinner fairly light. The liver can't do its best work when energy is being utilized for other digestive processes. Additionally, eating large amounts of food late in the evening can result in indigestion and poor sleep. This leaves a person tired the next day, which often results in food cravings, especially in the form of sugar, as the body seeks a quick energy boost.

Sleep is also a regulator of two hormones that affect appetite, leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is a hormone that signals satiety and suppress food intake, while ghrelin stimulates appetite and fat production. When a person is sleep deprived, the level of leptin drops and the level of ghrelin increases. This of course results in abnormal hunger. And so the combination of late night eating and lack of sleep can add up to a vicious cycle of late night binges, lack of adequate sleep, uncontrolled snacking, late night binges, and so on.

So how can you break free of this cycle? First start by taking steps to become a more conscious eater:

-Create a calm environment, by eating in silence, or play relaxing music; you may even want to light a candle.
-Chew your food slowly, and take time to really taste and enjoy each bite.
-Put your fork down while you chew.
-Consider eating with chopsticks when feasible.
-Turn off the television, and avoid other distractions, such as being on a computer or talking on the phone.

Other ways to avoid late night binging are by planning some diversions for the evening, but make sure that you DON'T include food in these activities. Some suggestions may be reading a book or taking a pet for a walk. It is also beneficial to create a calming evening routine to prepare you for a good night's rest. Turn off your computer at least an hour before bed, and NEVER take work into bed. Your mind needs some time to be still so that you can drift off to sleep free of anxiety and stress.

And here's an added bonus to creating these recommended good habits: According to John Robbins new book, "The New Good Life", people spend an extra $208 annually for every hour of television watched per week. (I can only assume this is largely due to all the food subconsciously swallowed while vegging in front of the TV). That means that conscious eating will not only help you to lose weight, it will help you save money too!

Lori Zito | @LoriZito
Lori is a certified holistic health and nutrition coach, a yoga instructor, and a physical therapist. Learn more at her website Live In The Balance.

Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/alvi2047


  1. I understand this from firsthand experience. I would eat junk food at night then stay up most of the night with tummy troubles. The next morning I would crave sugar and would eat toaster strudels and donuts. This occured on a daily basis until I finally had enuff and stopped the cycle. 150 pounds later I feel fantastic.

  2. Quick question for Lori. If I am hungry at night what do I do? Go go bed hungry? Okay I guess that was two quick questions.

  3. Yes, go to bed hungry. Once you're asleep you won't be hungry anymore!

  4. Lanette, great job!!!

    Garrett, you should really try to finish eating about 2-3 hours before going to bed. It is okay to feel hungry. If you feel REALLY hungry, try sipping on some water, or even some caffeine free herbal tea. Often times hunger is just a sign of dehydration!