Monday, April 5, 2010

Kick the Nightime Eating Habit

Nighttime, for some people, is a time for enjoying dinner, relaxing on the couch or falling asleep with a good book. Yet for others, it can be a time filled with anxiety, loneliness and hunger.

Often this can lead to chronic overeating to numb feelings of isolation or anxiety, many times with foods containing large amounts of refined carbohydrates such as chips, cookies and candy. The reason these high-calorie items are often picked for night eating is because they promote the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that causes people to feel both calm and full.

If this scenario sounds like your personal habit, consider the underlying cause of your urge to eat at night. Are you sad, lonely or anxious? Do you "fill" a missing part of your life with food or numb a feeling that has become too scary to work through? Do you restrict calories during the day, feel famished in the evening and binge to feel full? Do you find that eating something will help put you to sleep? In any of these cases, proactive steps can help reduce night eating.

To help control overeating at night, consider becoming mindful of why you are eating by asking yourself the acronym "HALT B," which stands for, "Am I hungry, angry, lonely, tired or bored?" Eat regular meals throughout the day so that you are not famished at night.

Know that you may not be able to do this alone — and that is it okay to ask for help. Consider scheduling an appointment with a registered dietitian, who can help restructure your meals, or a counselor who can work with you through the emotional aspect of night eating.

- Katie Southworth, MS, dietetic intern, and Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University

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