I am such a creature of habit.
Every day I wake up at the same time. Every day I wear my hair the same way. And every night, around 8:30 p.m., I have an evening snack.
Most of these routines are harmless. Sure, some aspects of my life – and my hairstyle! - would be more exciting if I shook things up a bit, but overall it’s no big deal. Except for that last one.
You see, because of my history with disordered eating, I’m pretty wary of any kind of set-in-stone food routine. If my eating habits are the exact same day in and day out, it’s usually a sign that something isn’t right.
In this particular case, I’m noticing that my evening snack has been filling more of an emotional need than a physical one. I’m not eating it because I’m hungry; rather, I’m eating it because I find it relaxing to do so. For the past few weeks I’ve let my evenings get so busy that it feels impossible to wind down. Eating a snack is a signal to my brain that my work for the day is complete, and in that sense eating has been very soothing.
While that might not seem too problematic, for me it’s a slippery slope, and I’d rather not go back down that path of using food for emotional reasons. So yesterday I pulled out my e-book, and decided to take some pieces of my own advice. Here’s how I’m approaching the issue.
Three Steps for Managing Nighttime Emotional Eating
1. Ask myself if my hunger is physical or emotional.
Obviously I already know that it’s largely emotional, and yet simply asking myself the question in the moment can really help. If it turns out I am physically hungry – say, I had an early dinner – then of course an evening snack is perfectly appropriate.
But if I’m honest with myself, I’ll be able to acknowledge when the urge to eat is stemming from an emotional void. Just recognizing what’s going on in the moment is a huge step.
2. If it’s physical hunger, commit to eating mindfully.
A telltale trait of emotional eating is that I don’t pay attention to my food, like I want to ignore or deny the fact that I’m actually eating. So if I do end up going for an evening snack, I’m determined to eat it mindfully rather than scarf it down without even tasting it. That means I’m not eating it in front of the television or while I’m surfing the Internet. Nope, I’m giving my food 100% of my undivided attention.
3. If it’s emotional hunger, try something else.
If, as I suspect, the urge to eat really has more to do with a need for relaxation than with a need for food, I’m committing to finding alternative ways of winding down. Indeed, I’ve made a whole list of more effective possibilities: watching television (without multi-tasking!), reading a novel, flipping through a magazine, sipping a cup of tea, playing with my cats, etc.
I firmly believe that if the problem really is that I’m having trouble relaxing, doing one of these things is going to help me way more than a bowl of ice cream can.
Overall I’m not beating myself up for falling back into a little emotional eating. It’s easy to do, especially for a creature of habit like me. But some routines – especially ones that haven’t served me well in the past – are better off broken.
Have you ever struggled with the urge to snack at night even when you’re not hungry? How have you managed it?