A topic that has come up several times in recent client sessions is that of nighttime snacking. I find that so many of my clients experience guilt and shame over wanting and eating a nighttime snack.
In a culture that constantly reinforces the belief that we need to manipulate our body size and therefore eat as few calories as possible, it makes sense that they would also discourage eating at night. Why would you add calories to your day? (because calories are energy and help my body perform all of its tasks) Why would you eat a snack simply because it sounds good and not necessarily because you are hungry? (because food is more than just fuel) Why not just go to sleep so you can forget about your hunger? (because hunger isn’t something to be ignored or put off) Isn’t nighttime eating just emotional eating, and isn’t emotional eating is the worst possible thing someone can do? (um, nope, it’s not, but that’s a topic for another post…) And all of these beliefs then cause a lot of false guilt when we want a snack to top off the evening.
We need to stop pathologizing nighttime eating. Just as our body and brain seek out food during the day, it’s going to need and seek out food at night, regardless of the fact that our culture says dinner is the cutoff for food intake. There are a lot of reasons you could be seeking out a snack at night. Maybe it’s because you didn’t quite get enough during the day. Or maybe your body simply needs more fuel (if you eat dinner at 6 and are going to be up until 11:30, your body WILL need more fuel). Or maybe you will wake up in the middle of the night hungry if you don’t have one 🙋. Or maybe you simply just enjoy eating a snack before bed 🙋🙋. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a snack or a sweet treat in the evening. And simply because you want a snack or sweet after dinner despite not being very hungry, doesn’t mean that it’s a harmful emotional eating experience. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re going to wake up hungry in the middle of the night, eat. If you aren’t going to be able to think about anything else other than that chocolate chip cookie until you eat it, then eat. Depriving yourself of your nighttime snacks or telling yourself you “shouldn’t” is only going to backfire in the long run.
If your nighttime eating feels chaotic and or leaves you feeling sick, then it’s definitely something worth looking into. But let’s not making something that’s not a problem into a problem. Enjoy that bowl of popcorn, cup of yogurt, graham crackers and peanut butter, cookie, or ice cream and then move on to other enjoyable things like connecting with a significant other, watching tv, reading a book, or sleeping. Let’s get rid of the belief that we shouldn’t need to eat after dinner and the unhelpful guilt that follows.