You were on your way to a healthier you, and then it happened. Again. Dinner. Dinner and the Dinnertime Monster that keeps possessing your mind and body and compels--even forces!--you to overeat.
You ate an energy-boosting breakfast and a healthy, balanced lunch. To explain, you chose oatmeal and a banana over the chocolate croissant, and a coffee with a little cream instead of the caramel frappuccino. You were thoughtful at the lunch cafeteria and grabbed an apple instead of potato chips to accompany your sandwich, which you even ate with whole wheat bread, believing your new healthy nutrition choices would all add up. You had confidence in yourself and you felt good about establishing your healthy nutrition habits. Heck, you even ate your sandwich and apple mindfully!
Flash forward to 9pm, and the confident, pleased YOU had disappeared. Despite the great start to your nutrition behaviors in the morning and nourishing choices at work for lunchtime, somehow during dinnertime at home, you ate your entire fridge. And it's not the first time this has happened. The dinnertime monster keeps showing up and, in spite of your best intentions to follow balance, variety, and moderation, your dinner plate keeps looking nothing like the MyPlate, and you keep overeating!
If you have a tendency to overeat in the evening, you are not alone. There are some powerful factors common to everyone that make overeating at night so easy! I'm going to explain 3 powerful factors that influence evening overeating, and, from these, I hope you will gain personal understanding and self-compassion towards your tendency to stray from balance, variety, and moderation at night. But I'm not going to just leave you hanging in there-- I will also explain 3 practical strategies to finish dinner without overeating.
1. Natural, healthy hormonal changes in the 24hr circadian rhythm can make our bodies less reliable in the evening to know whether we're hungry or not. Our bodies' endocrine systems are magnificently aligned with the 24-hour day. Melatonin, human growth hormone, and cortisol are some of the powerful hormones our bodies produce and release largely according to our internal clock; they rise and fall at given times surrounding the sleep-wake cycle. Other circadian hormones affect our satiety and hunger--leptin, insulin, and ghrelin, with ghrelin being a hormone of focus when it comes to evening overeating because it isn't produced as much at dinnertime.
Ghrelin is produced by the stomach and communicates with the brain to stimulate appetite. You can think of it as the "hunger hormone". (When I was a student, I remembered GHRelin = "GRRR I'm hungry!!") As you can see, it rises until a meal and falls sharply when you eat. But you should also notice the differences between this drop in ghrelin after breakfast compared to dinner. After dinner, the absence of hunger isn't as strong as earlier in the day. Our body simply isn't as reliable in the evening at telling us whether we're hungry or not!
2. Away from work distractions, we are more prone to emotional eating at dinner. Do you overeat when you're stressed? Worried? Lonely or upset? While during the day our minds might be focused on work, at the end of the day our stress is often more acutely felt. Do you come home exhausted--physically, mentally, emotionally? Eating is a hedonic pleasure that makes you feel better, and, in pursuit of food's pleasure, it's easier to eat more than your body needs.
3. We tend to go too long without food between lunch and dinner, making us especially hungry for dinner, where we overshoot and overeat. Do some simple math: How many hours are between your typical lunch and breakfast? 5ish? Do you eat a snack between breakfast and lunch? If you're like most people, you're less likely to eat an afternoon snack than a mid-morning snack. How many hours then do you go without eating from lunch to dinner? If it's close to the typical 7 or so hours, that's too long! When you notice it on paper, no wonder you're starving come dinnertime!
Maybe some of these common tendencies help explain your evening overeating. What, then, can you do to change?
1. Be aware of your weaker evening hunger/satiety cues, and pay extra care to practice mindfulness. Plate your food with appropriate portions, letting yourself know that, if you are still hungry--actually hungry, not bored or any other distracting feeling--later, you will get more food. And by getting more food, pay attention to what and how much you are getting for seconds. In other words, eating straight out of cartons with the fridge door still propped open doesn't count as mindful eating!
2. Choose another activity besides eating to unwind. Try going for a walk. Or maybe you're one of those people who can unwind doing laundry or house cleaning. (Don't call them-I-mean-ME a weirdo!) Maybe you're into meditation. Or maybe early evening is the perfect time for you to exercise! No matter what you do, find something that is effective for YOU to unwind or emotionally process the day.
3. Reduce the amount of time you go without food before dinner. Eat an afternoon snack, preferably with some protein and fiber. If you tend to eat dinner rather late, try eating a little earlier. Allowing yourself to become very hungry will cause you to respond by eating very much food. Keep your hunger in check, and you will be able to enjoy balance and moderation at dinner.
Concerned about evening overeating? Contact me for individualized strategies for YOU!