A lot of us eat really well all day, only to have our careful plans come crashing down at night. I get it—sometimes it just feels like your willpower is just tapped out by 6 p.m.! This is a lot of people’s biggest weight loss hurdle, and it can be really frustrating.
In all my years helping people lose weight, I’ve found that there’s only one real solution for late-night snacking: Get to the root of the problem—the core of why you’re doing this. But before you do, it’s important to make a promise that you’ll be completely honest with yourself. If you are, we can create a plan to put late-night eating behind you once and for all!
The five toughest questions about late-night eating you’ll ever answer:
1. Are you searching for a magic solution?
We’re all looking for some sort of miracle elixir. The one piece of exercise equipment to buy, a pill to take, or an app to download… if you could just find the right one, then poof! Problem solved. And I’m no different—I’ve often found myself wishing there was a magic answer too.
Let me share one of my favorite Oprah quotes: “If there were a shortcut to having a healthy body, I’m sure I’d have the secret by now.” Now, let’s stop and reflect: This was said by one of the wealthiest women in the world, admitting that she has searched high and low for a shortcut. She has all the resources imaginable and has come to the realization that shortcuts simply do not exist.
The fact is, if you want to lose weight, there’s work to do. It’s not easy, and there’s no getting around it. So if you want to stop late-night binging, you need to set the expectation up front and resolve that there will be times when you will want to quit. It is absolutely critical to expect it and prepare for it. Discomfort is your compass; it shows us that we’re going in the right direction. Don’t fear discomfort, embrace it.
2. Do you know the difference between physical and emotional hunger?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Sometimes it’s late at night, and the cravings are so intense that you don’t know if you can make it until morning. When you’re in the moment, it’s easy to believe what you’re feeling is physical hunger!
Or to take the sugar coating off, it’s easy to deceive yourself that what you’re feeling is physical hunger. (I’ve been there.) But in reality, if you ate dinner at 6 p.m. and it’s now 9 p.m., it’s not physical hunger. What you’re experiencing is emotional—at that point, food is serving a different purpose.
- Am I eating because I’m bored, angry, anxious, or lonely?
- Am I eating to reward myself?
- Am I eating to avoid the pain of not eating?
A powerful way to determine if you’re physically or emotionally hungry is to take the Broccoli Test. Physical hunger comes on gradually. If you haven’t eaten since last night, you’d feel the pangs building throughout the day. Emotional hunger, on the other hand, is instant and has a sense of urgency to it.
3. Are you ready to accept responsibility for your eating?
If you’re a late-night eater, there’s one thing you have to know beyond a shadow of a doubt: It is your choice whether or not to eat. You have got to quit playing the blame game and accept responsibility for the choices you make. Whether or not you eat is 100 percent within your control.
It’s not your spouse’s fault because they brought cake home, it’s not your kids’ fault because they don’t like healthy food, and it’s not your friend’s fault because they wanted to go out to a steakhouse.
And it’s not because you can’t control yourself. These are lies you tell yourself to justify why you are eating. The decision to eat or not sits squarely with you. When you assign blame to another person or situation, you will always feel like eating is outside your control. The only way we can take back control is actually… to take back control. Stop sitting in the passenger’s seat, wondering why you’re not getting to where you want to go. This is your responsibility.
So when you’re faced with a decision at night, say to yourself, “Eating is my decision. It’s a choice I am making, and no one else is causing me to eat this.” When you do, you are taking ownership of what and when you eat.
4. Do you really want to stop late-night eating?
If I ask, “Do you want to stop eating at night?” it seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? Obviously, you’d answer, “Yes, of course, I do! That’s why I’m here.” But when you strip away everything you think you should say, your honest answer may be, “No. I really don’t. I enjoy eating at night. It helps me relax, de-stress, and feel good, even if it’s just in the short term.”
Do you agree that you may not actually want to stop late-night binging? Because think about the alternative. Without eating, you’ll have to deal with negative, uncomfortable emotions. You leave a void. A hole. If you eat because you’re…
- Bored. How are you going to fill that time?
- Anxious. How will you deal with that emotion?
- Lonely. Exactly how will you cope with that feeling?
Too many times, we don’t want to stop late-night eating because if we do, we’ll feel the discomfort that sets in when we don’t numb our emotions with food. Here’s what I want you to do:
Make a list of the reasons you don’t want to stop late-night eating.
Be completely honest with yourself. Ask, “If I don’t eat tonight, what negative emotion will I have to feel?” Keep in mind that there may be more than one. You may have to face anxiety and boredom and frustration all at the same time.
Make a list of the reasons you do want to stop late-night eating.
It could be that you don’t want to lie in bed another night feeling like you have zero control over your life. Maybe you’re sick of feeling guilty. Or maybe you don’t like the way it makes you feel in the morning. Remember your reason the next time you’re face-to-face with a late-night binge.
Knowing why you want (and need) to quit is one of the most powerful motivators in your arsenal.
5. What are you going to do when panic sets in?
Here’s what we’ve covered.
- There is no magic solution.
- You know those late-night cravings are not caused by physical hunger—they’re driven by emotions.
- You are responsible for the eating choices you make.
- You know that when you decide to curb late-night eating, you have to address the void.
Now, we have to talk about the moment of truth: If you make a choice to break your late-night eating habit, your body will feel like nobody told it about the decision you made. All it knows is that it expects food right now. And if it doesn’t get it, it will literally throw a fit.
And this is when the panic starts to set in. In that moment, what will you do? I hope your plan isn’t to rely on willpower. Because as we know, willpower never seems to be there when we need it most. You need an actual plan: You need support and you need accountability Going a week or a month between accountability check-ins is just too long—I believe in daily check-ins. Sure, you can tackle this problem by yourself, but why make something difficult even harder? If you are ready to make late-night binging a thing of the past, accountability is key.
This post originally appeared on mybodytutor.com and was republished with the author’s permission. Adam Gilbert is the founder of MyBodyTutor.com, an online program that offers daily and personal accountability like no other service in the world. Sign up for his free mini-course on weight loss and follow Adam on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.