Eating late at night.
Many of us are secret (and not so secret) late night eaters. What’s not to love about eating at night? While we each experience eating differently, for me, the food that I eat at night usually feels like an indulgence. The food that I eat after midnight always seems to be the most enjoyable and decadent morsels of the day.
Like a fresh tomato in Italy, food after midnight (FAM) just seems to taste better. The peanut butter is creamier, the crackers crisper (and saltier), and each mouthful and comforting swallow seems to relax me and take me closer back to sleep.
That's the way that I experience FAM, but there is also another side to it that I want to be honest about.
It feels like I'm having an affair.
My late night kitchen rendezvous started feeling like I was having an affair on my wife.
I would inch my way out of our bed, pretending to head to the bathroom, and then at the last minute, silently duck out into the hallway and towards the kitchen. As much as I enjoyed my FAM, I didn’t want anyone to know that I was doing it.
So I got to be like 007 at breaking into the kitchen in silence, lights down low, like a jewelry thief at the louvre cracking the seal of the fridge, careful not to rattle the condiment bottles on the door. I would silently curse when a cupboard door closed a little bit too loudly, or the wrapper on the cheese slice gave off a sound that sounded like I was dancing on bubble wrap. Sound familiar?
Momentum to break the habit.
This was the way it's been. Most nights I was getting up. Then something happened to break my habit. 3 weeks ago, my wife and I moved across the country to Vancouver so that she could pursue a great career opportunity. We had very little notice before this move, so we decided to stay with her parents until we figured out where we wanted to live in our new city. Since arriving at my in-laws, I haven’t had FAM once. This little break in routine has given me the space to decide that I want to stop FAM, and I feel like I’ve built up some momentum to make this happen. I want to end my affair with food after midnight.
Why am I doing this?
I've been more mindful of my overall wellness since I had a serious health scare last year. Thankfully I turned out to be ok, but the experience has resonated and made me more aware of how my daily choices can impact my health, mood and quality of life. I’m also turning 47 this year, and I know that the best time to plant a tree is today. When my best friend of 32 years suddenly and unexpectedly passed from a heart attack two months ago, it shocked me into wanting to be more responsible. I also just want to experience what it’s like to live closer to what I know I’m actually capable of - in all areas of my life.
On the more immediate side of things, I know that it's not serving my goals to be eating the equivalent of an extra meal's calories during these FAM feasts. I’m undermining all of the disciplined choices that I make all day, and keeping myself just far enough away from reaching my goals that I’m always just a hand's reach away from them. Close but never allowing myself to fully get there. What's that about?
I’m also concerned about my impulse to hide my FAM habit. On the rare occasions that my wife has woken and walked in on me to get a glass of water, I’ve felt embarrassed and slightly ashamed to have been ‘caught’ - even though my wife is entirely neutral to my eating habits and has never judged me for them. I am troubled by the shame I’m feeling and my need to hide my FAM trips to the kitchen.
I’m going to discuss the shame I'm feeling around my late night eating with my therapist.
I need some help and support figuring out why I feel this way.
I haven't had FAM for 3 weeks now.
I haven’t had FAM for 3 weeks now, but we are moving to a new house soon, and I won’t have the fear of waking up my mother in law to keep me from my nightly tip toe through the carb patch.
I’ve done some research and these are some of the most helpful questions and strategies that I’ve discovered.
Identify the cause of wanting FAM
As I mentioned, I’m going to dig into my shame around my FAM habit with my therapist, but when I contemplate other factors that might be contributing to my desire for food after midnight, answering these questions feels like an important step in bringing me closer to understanding the big 'why' behind my FAM habit.
Am I not getting enough to eat during the day?
I’m eating according to my needs, with enough flexibility in my plan to allow myself a balance of snacks and treats. I almost always feel full and satisfied after my meals, and I don’t ever go to bed feeling hungry.
Am I eating to fall asleep?
I know that FAM always makes me feel sleepy. I think that I am using food as a sleeping aid. This feels true to me. A PB sandwich knocks me out no matter how fast my mind is racing.
Am I eating because I’m feeling sad or stressed?
Maybe. My pattern seems to be that I can’t sleep because I’m stressed out about work (or whatever else), and I know that I use food like Nyquil ZZZ. People with something called ‘nighttime eating syndrome’ tend to graze through the evening and then wake up later in the night and plough down 25% of their daily calories. This sounds like me.
What are your triggers?
To stop FAM, I need to figure out what triggers me to do it.
If I know that there is an open package of Dairy Milk chocolate in the kitchen, I can almost guarantee that I’m going to be heading to the kitchen later to get freaky with it. When I choose not to have it in the kitchen, it’s one less temptation to overcome. There are certain foods that I buy that I know I’m going to have late at night. It’s not that I’m buying them for that express purpose, but the little devil on my shoulder and I have a wink and in the grocery bag it goes.
I need to stop setting traps for myself.
Restaurant leftovers are another trigger for me. I usually box half my food when we go out to eat, because restaurant portions are usually served on a platter, and a main course can feed 8 people. Having wisely decided to eat just a single serving size and boxing the rest, here I am 6 hours later farming the leftovers out of the fridge for a FAM session. I’m going to start giving my leftovers away to someone in need. The walk home usually gives me this opportunity to hand off my food to someone less fortunate.
NetFlix and gobble.
Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I fire up a show and watch an episode (I’m loving Succession on HBO). When I watch something, I typically like to have a snack. This seems to still hold true when I’m streaming a show at 2 am. Cutting back on screen time will help eliminate this late night eating scenario.
I’m reinforcing my positive routines.
I found a 2015 review of studies that found that a lack of sleep and short, broken up sleeps, have been directly linked to higher calorie intakes and bad quality diets. Over time this has been found to lead to obesity.
I’m going to be much more careful about following my day time meal plan, which is either based on eating clean, whole foods or intermittent fasting when my goal is leaning out or losing weight. I’m going to make sure that I’m not skipping meals, and that I’m drinking enough water. I know that sometimes our bodies can mistake feelings of dehydration for hunger. So a glass of water on the bedside table is now a mainstay.
I’m going to do a better job of putting thought into what and when I’m eating. For any plan to be of value, you have to give yourself the time to properly plan and execute it. I follow a meal plan because I know that I’m not going to be successful at supporting my fitness goals if I’m just out there winging it. I need form and structure and a few rules based mostly on common sense. I need these things to keep me on track.
I’m planning on talking to my therapist about all of this. Just for the record, I believe that therapy is the equivalent of personal training for your emotions. It’s basic emotional hygiene, and I encourage anyone that is looking for support and better tools to manage the ups and downs of their fitness and life journey to seek it out and not be afraid.
I’ve spoken to my wife about my FAM issues, and noticed that I felt some hesitation about opening up to her about it. I felt vulnerable, embarrassed, like what I was describing to her was an admission of weakness and somehow unmanly. My wife, Joti, was amazing about it, and listened to me stumble out my thoughts and feelings. She offered to listen to me and talk to me anytime that I needed her support. I was tempted to recruit her into being a kitchen sheriff, a late night pantry security guard, but I decided that I didn’t want to put her into that position. I want to take responsibility, and asking someone that I loved to be the hall monitor felt demeaning (for both of us).
Maybe we can start a BodyRock FAM support group?
Move to Destress.
I had heard of emotional eating, but didn’t know that anxiety and stress were the leading factors for why people eat at night and when they are not hungry. Food takes the edge off wrought nerves, but it's only a very temporary solution.
Luckily, I’m the founder of a fitness company, so I have access to a streaming platform of purpose built workout programs. Since starting my FAM research, I’ve discovered that Strength Training is exceptionally good at reducing stress levels, and I’ve started to do the Introduction to Strength training bootcamp among other programs to see what impact that has on my feelings of stress and anxiety. If you want to try this out with me, this link is an extended, 1 month free trial of BodyRockPlus.com. It gives you an extra 3 weeks for free over the regular 7 day free trial. If you are just starting out, we have a lot of programs specifically designed for beginners.
I’ve stopped watching YouTube before bed. I realized when I was looking at possible triggers for stress and anxiety, that I was watching a lot of political news before bed, which was, on occasion, getting me a bit wired. The same also holds try for thrillers, action movies, and any other types of social media, which we now know is designed to make you experience intense, often negative emotions to keep us engaged. I cut my screen time before sleep to reduce my stress and stimulation load. I think this is good practice even if you don’t have a FAM habit.
I know that this is going to be a process. There will be ups and downs, and lots of difficult self reflection. I want to kick my FAM habit, once and for all, and I’m committed to sharing that process with you.
Thanks for listening,
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