Overeating at night is a very common challenge. Night eating can even reach a sub-clinical level of disordered eating called Night Eating Syndrome (NES) and it is often related to:
- Low appetite in the morning
- Feeling stressed or depressed (and this worsening in the evening)
- Feeling like you want to eat everything at night (especially after dinner)
- Problems with sleep, &
- Weight gain
In this video I show you how to successfully address the causes of night eating and help you develop a new evening routine!
I created this video for people just like you.
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- The questions from viewers about “night eating”. [02:16]
- Why binge eating isn’t covered in this episode. [02:59]
- An explanation of Night Eating Syndrome (NES). [03:15]
- Nourishing your body during the day. [04:11]
- On eating breakfast. [04:54]
- Measuring hunger & fullness levels with the Hunger-Fullness Scale. [05:23]
- Night eaters and mood management. [06:19]
- On antidepressant medication for Night Eating Syndrome. [07:29]
- On sleep hygiene and its impact on night eating. [09:02]
- Quick list of sleep hygiene “don’ts”. [09:26]
- Quick list of sleep hygiene “dos”. [09:49]
- The hormones that regulate your hunger and fullness. [10:10]
- The optimal sleep range & why it’s so important. [10:56]
- On sleep medication in relation to night eating. [11:49]
- Creating a new evening routine. [12:21]
- Tapping, hypnosis and Spotify playlists for creating better sleep routines. [13:05]
- A simple hack for better sleep routines. [14:01]
- Parting tips on night eating. [15:32]
Hello, everyone. I’m Glenn Mackintosh, the Weight Psych and today I’m going to show you how to put night eating to bed.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to Thursday Therapy where I answer your questions on the psychology of eating, movement, weight, and body image. It’s been a little while since I’ve seen you, I hope that you are well. We’ve got some exciting stuff coming up with we’re going to bite the bullet and do it, a podcast. I’m just having so many cool conversations with people recently, just awesome health professionals and I’m like, I need to share this with the world! And people are like interviewing me, I’m like, ah, so many more people need to hear these conversations. We’re going to put some of the Thursday Therapies down as podcasts, or at least little bits of them. And I might even include some of the hypno-therapy that I do with clients in session.
So, look forward to that, but if you have anything that you want, anything that you don’t want, we really want to hear anything you have to say about our upcoming podcast, which I’m thinking of calling The Glenn McIntosh Show.
Let’s get to answering today’s questions though, which are about night eating.
Kat asks, “Why do I tend to overeat at night? Is it because I am so tired?”
Marianna asks, “You speak about eating when your body is hungry, but what about in the morning when your body is tired and doesn’t send you any hunger signals. Should you eat as you wake up, or is that just another dieting myth?”
And Debbie says, “My really bad time is after dinner at night. My thoughts are always on what I can snack on.”
Guys, these are excellent questions. And I get versions of these questions all the time from people who feel like they eat more than they would like to in the evening and especially after dinner.
So what we won’t talk about today is binge eating. I’ve got a great question on that that we’re going to cover in next Thursday Therapy, this is for people who feel like they just eat a little bit too much or a lot too much in the evening and especially after dinner.
Now, there is a syndrome that we call Night Eating Syndrome and it’s characterised by firstly morning anorexia, meaning you don’t eat too much in the morning. Evening hyperphagia, psychologists, we love big words, which just means that you get extra hungry and your appetite increases in the evening. And also insomnia.
So, there’s a lot of sort of debate as to whether Night Eating Syndrome actually exists, it’s not a diagnosable syndrome, but I like to talk through it with a lot of my people who eat more than they would like to at night because it does really help put a framework to what might be going on for you. Even if you don’t have the extreme versions of not eating anything in the morning, eating completely out of control the whole evening, and not being able to sleep. So, even if you don’t have those, these principles will really apply to you.
The first thing that we want to make sure of is by that evening time, especially after dinner, that your body is nourished and satisfied and that it’s not hungry. So, this helps us deal with the effects of that morning anorexia where you might not be eating as much in the morning.
And so what we find is that dealing with your psychological craving can be challenging enough, you know the mental craving, the force of habit, but if we combine that psychological craving with a body hunger, then those things will double team you and no strategies will work. So the first thing is that we need to make sure that the body is full and nourished.
Now, the question always comes, “Does that mean then that I have to eat breakfast?” Eating breakfast is a very common recommendation for people who want to be healthier and a very common recommendation for people who are on a weight loss kick. But what we find is that if we make people who are in larger bodies eat breakfast, they don’t tend to eat less during the day, it just kind of adds to their overall energy intake. So what I want you to do is in the morning, and we’ve done this before, I want you to actually check in with yourself on that hunger and fullness scale cause we want to make sure that you’re not ignoring your hunger, we want to make sure that you’re not suppressing it with things like caffeine. And so we really want to just check in and see are you actually hungry?
If it is the case that you’re hungry, then of course you’re going to want to eat and that kind of solves that problem a little bit. If you’re not hungry, we don’t really want to do anything that gets you out of touch with your own body signals. So we don’t want to ignore your hunger or your fullness. So, just wait until you are hungry and then make sure you eat enough throughout the day that come 5:00 or 6:00 and then definitely come after dinner that you’re at least a five or above. You don’t have to be full, but you can’t be hungry.
When I’m working with night eaters, I find it a really important part of the progress to help them manage their emotional well-being. This is because night eaters tend to have a lower mood than people who don’t eat extra at night and also that low mood actually gets worse during the afternoon/evening period. They also sit at a generally higher level of stress than people who don’t overeat at night.
So, it’s really important to take care of your emotional health. Of course, physical activity is my favourite go-to there, it both boosts your mood and reduces your stress, so it helps sort of counteract the affects of two of those big mood issues that we find in night eaters. Then, of course, my next go-to is psychology sessions which can help you solve the underlying problems. And of course, you’ve got your own strategies and your own problem solving techniques and your own people to talk to and everything else that helps you nurture your emotional well-being.
Another option that can help you manage your mood and night eating is antidepressant medication. So, one study of 17 night eaters, they gave them Sertraline, which is a common antidepressant, an SSIR, and you can talk to your general practitioner or your psychiatrist about this. And what they found was of those 17 people, only 11 of them completed 12 weeks of the trial with this medication. And of those 12, eight of them fit the criteria for a response. So eight of those 12 people had a positive reduction in their night eating, and five of those people actually completely reduced their night eating to zero. And those guys actually lost a little bit of weight too, compared to the other guys who continued to gain weight.
So, antidepressant medication did have an affect with reducing any depression, but the effect of that medication actually seemed to work directly on the eating as well. Which fits other research we find in binge eating, which shows that antidepressant medication can reduce binges on top of whether you’re experiencing depression or not.
So, this could be worthwhile as part of your overall sort of approach to taking care of night eating. To go and see your GP or your psychiatrist and explore the use of antidepressant medication.
Of course, night eating is related to your sleep patterns and that’s why Night Eating Syndrome is described as a unique combination of an eating, a mood, and a sleep issue. And some of those issues can be difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and also short sleep times. So, we’re going to want to address those.
Just a few quick don’ts on sleep hygiene, don’t drink too much caffeine close to bed time, don’t drink too much alcohol close to bed time, don’t have too much screen time close to bed time, and don’t have naps for more than about half an hour a day. All of that can really muck with your sleep like cycle.
Just a quick few dos for sleep hygiene, really good to get lots of natural light during the day and darkness at night. And also be very mindful of the temperature and the humidity. Just a couple of degrees difference in temperature or 10% difference in humidity can really affect the quality of your sleep.
It’s also really important that you get enough overall sleep because if you don’t get enough sleep or even if you get too much sleep, it effects the hormones that regulate your hunger and fullness. What we find is, if your sleep is not enough or if it’s too much, your leptin goes down. Now leptin is the hormone in your body that makes you feel full and satisfied, so you don’t want that to go down if you’ve got an issue with overeating at night. And your ghrelin, which we call the hunger hormone, can go up as well. So you get this unique combination of it’s harder to feel full, but I feel hungrier and that happens when we don’t get enough sleep.
So the optimal range of sleep is around seven to eight hours. Of course, people need different amounts of sleep so yours might vary a little bit. But what we do find is that people who get less than that, five to six hours, they are around about 69% more likely to live in larger bodies. And people who get more, around that nine to ten hours, are about 38% more likely to live in larger bodies than if you’re in that kind of sweet spot, that around seven to eight hours.
If you’re still having trouble sleeping, I’d highly recommend you go and visit your healthcare professional, your doctor, and maybe even get a referral to a sleep specialist. There are a lot of sleep conditions like obstructive sleep apnea that can be treated quite effectively and I see so many clients, once they get these sleep conditions treated, that half of our problem just goes away.
Quick warning, if you’re having trouble sleeping, the doctor might recommend sleep medication and I must admit, I haven’t read all of the research on this, but the research I have read has said that that’s not very effective at reducing night eating at all from participants in studies’ reports. So, worthwhile really talking that through with your GP, but definitely look in to get a referral for a sleep study and treating any underlying sleep condition.
However you manage those underlying factors, which you’re probably going to need to do, at the end of it you’re going to need to come up with an alternative evening routine. Now, we’ve talked in a previous Thursday Therapy about developing alternative eating scripts. You’re in a kind of a script that once you, you know, gets 4:00, 5:00, 6:00, you start to eat more, maybe some people it’s after dinner, but you have your own script that you’ll often stick to pretty well. And we’re gonna need to develop a different script.
Now, that’s going to be my challenge for you, my Thursday Therapy homework. And the good news is it can be anything. You’ve just got to find something that works for you. You can do tapping, tapping is a wonderful thing. I use tapping to help cure me of protein bar craving after dinner. You can use hypnosis and we’ll actually provide the links to our tapping programme and my hypnosis CDs, I don’t listen to my own hypnosis CDs at night, that would be weird, but I do listen to Spotify playlists on sleep or relaxation or meditation. And you can even find those on YouTube as well, if you don’t have Spotify.
Some of my clients like to do physical things like have a bath or have a shower or even have a stretch. I really like the idea of a relaxing routine because this kind of tackles the eating issue, the mood issue, and the sleep issue as well because it prepares you for bed. So, that would be my challenge to you.
And speaking of preparing for bed, if you’re one of those people that just stays up, sort of answering emails or stays up watching the fifth episode of whatever it is on Netflix, a really cool little hack that I love to do with all of my clients and I often do this in session, so we’re going to a bit of therapy now, is just encourage them to actually set an alarm, and I’d encourage you to do this now This is what I do with my clients, not to wake up, but set an alarm to go to bed. So think about what time you’ll be answering those emails or what time you’ll be watching that fifth episode of whatever it is and when you would like to have that reminder to just say, “Hey, pop off to bed.”
When you do, some little mini hacks within that hack is give it a nice tone so it kind of, it feels nice that it’s reminding you to go to bed. And also, in a lot of phones these days, a lot smart phones, you can definitely do with iPhones and Samsungs, is you can actually write some texts and even some little emojis in there. And then you can do a little bit of cognitive therapy on yourself so you’re not thinking, “Oh, I’ve got to go to bed now.” You might frame it to yourself like, “Ah, it’s time to get off and have an nice sleep,” or “I want to feel refreshed in the morning,” or whatever it is.
So, that’s my challenge to you to create your own relaxing routine that will become an alternative to night eating.
So, guys, thanks for being with me for another Thursday Therapy. If you are someone who has struggled with overeating in the evening or after dinner, I really want to employ you to try and do your best with this stuff.
I’ve just been thinking through what I’ve given to you today and it is exactly what I do with clients who struggle with night eating in session. It is the template and if you work it, it will definitely help you.
So, first tip, don’t neglect all of the details. So many times I see someone who says, “Oh, I have real trouble sleeping,” and we go through those basic things of sleep hygiene, get a test if need be, and guess what? It solves the problem. The same with the emotions, so much of the time someone struggling with their emotions and we do a few simple things to manage their emotional state and it works.
So, go into the detail of those things. Don’t not do those things and then say, “Oh, I can’t get over my problem.” And the other thing is to create that routine. I really want you to have a play, don’t see it as a chore, just experiment with new scripts and see which ones that really fit for you as a unique individual. And try them on, and then in six months’ time, a year’s time, 18 months’ time, that will be your new script and you’ll do it without even thinking.
If you like this video, let us know. If you have any comments on any of the content or anything about the upcoming podcast, let us know. And of course, if you haven’t already, subscribe and I will see you at our next Thursday Therapy.