Do you binge eat at night? If this is something familiar to you and has become an after dinner ritual, you’re not alone. When it comes to nutrition, eating at night is one of the biggest struggles that my clients have, even if they’re not hungry. Whether it is caused from high stress, a strict diet or anything in between, many people get caught in the cycle of binging at night.  It then turns into a habit and addiction that feels uncontrollable and hard to break.

Improving your relationship with food and learning how to address your urges will help you gain control back of food (and all around health). Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin, who is a psychoanalyst, author, speaker and internationally-recognized expert in weight, food and body image issues, created the “After Dinner Survival Guide,” that was part of her 30 day program Kick The Diet Habit. Below are tips and tools that she shared to help you get through the night without binging.

                                                FIGURE OUT WHAT IS EATING “AT” YOU                                                  (INSTEAD OF FOCUSING ON WHAT YOU’RE EATING)

Most people emotional eat, when they turn to food to cope with stress. They are aware that it is not what they are eating that is the true problem; it is what’s eating “at” them. Many times people cannot figure out what is actually bothering them.

Dr. Nina developed a formula to help you identify the real triggers of emotional eating. What we often think of as a “trigger food” is actually pointing to the true trigger, which is an underlying emotion, need, or conflict.

FORMULA FOR FIGURING OUT WHAT’S EATING “AT” YOU:

CREAMY

Foods that are sweet, smooth and creamy such as ice cream, frozen yogurt, and pudding, suggest a longing for comfort, for soothing and nurturing. If ice cream is your go-to food, you likely need to find a new way to comfort yourself.

FILLING

Foods that are filling, like breads, pastas, cake, and pizza are correlated to loneliness, since they are bulky and symbolically fill an internal void. If you crave these types of “filling” foods, that’s a clue you may be feeling deprived or lonely and using food to symbolically fill up.

CRUNCHY

Foods that are crunchy, like chips, pretzels (anything with a CRUNCH!) are associated with anger. If crunchy foods are the ones you turn to most, you may be angry, frustrated, annoyed or anxious. You may be taking those angry feelings out on yourself instead of addressing them with the people or situations that are actually causing you to be upset.

If you think you are triggered by food, think again. You are actually being triggered by an emotional need. Identifying what is bothering you is the first step to changing your relationship to food. Once you know what is bothering you, you can start responding differently to yourself.

MAKE SURE YOU ARE EATING ENOUGH

If you skip breakfast and/or lunch, or if you eat too few calories during the day, you may be setting yourself up to overeat or binge at night. That is because when you are super-hungry, you are more likely to lose control once you actually start eating. Sounds so simple but it’s very important to make sure you eat enough during the day. If you get to the point where you’re starving, it is difficult to stop yourself from making poor choices or eating too much.

BE A FRIEND TO YOURSELF

Dr. Nina shares a great scenario to help you understand how to be a friend to yourself:

Recently Kaila confessed to eating endless bowls of ice cream after a painful break-up. She said, “I can’t believe I did that. I should be over it already. What’s my problem?” I asked what she would tell a friend who had comforted herself with ice cream after a bad break-up. Kaila said, “Oh, I’d tell her I was sorry she was going through a tough time. I’d ask her how I could help.”

I nodded. “So you would not shove a carton of ice cream into his or her hands and say, ‘Here, have this.’”

She looked horrified. She assured me she would never do such a thing. And yet, that is what she did to herself, followed by self-recrimination. And if a friend had eaten eating ice cream, she would not have said, “What’s wrong with you? Just get over it, already.” She would not have said, “You are so disgusting.” She would not have been so mean to anyone else. But that is exactly what Kaila said to herself.

Can you relate? If you are mean to yourself, you feel terrible, and you might even use food to escape your own mean voice. The way you talk to (and about) yourself, can make you feel either good or bad. When you are kind to yourself, you feel better. And when that happens, you do not need food to cope.

SILENCE YOUR INNER CRITIC

If you’ve ever said something like this to yourself: “You’ve got no willpower. You’re never going to lose weight. I’m such a loser,” then welcome to your inner critic. That critic makes you feel bad and depressed, which may cause you to eat just to escape your own mean voice. A quick way of identifying your inner critic is to catch when you talk to yourself in second person, when you tell yourself, “You’re a loser” rather than, “I’m a loser”. Here is another scenario that Dr. Nina gives:

Recently Ellen was at a party catered by a gourmet French restaurant known for its excellent food. She told me, “I decided this wasn’t the time to worry about what I was eating so I just ate what I wanted, and afterwards I thought, ‘You’re such an idiot, you’re never going to lose weight. I can’t believe you did that.”

Notice the way Ellen was talking to herself. She switched from “I” ate what I wanted to “You” are such an idiot. When I asked her to say, “I’m such an idiot” she couldn’t do it. She said it felt really harsh. And she was right. It was harsh. As you can see, changing the way you talk to yourself can be very powerful. Instead of being critical, you must learn to be kind to yourself. How? By responding to yourself in comforting, soothing, acknowledging and validating words, instead of food. Comfort words instead of comfort food. A good rule of thumb is this: if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, child or loved one, don’t say it to yourself.

Take Home Message:

Binge eating can lead to poor mental and physical health. It is a difficult cycle to break, however by identifying the cause(s) you will be able to take the right steps to solve the problem. Using the tools provided by Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin can put you on the path of having a healthy relationship with food.  Understanding your triggers, monitoring your behaviors, and having a game plan will allow you to feel confident heading into the night and nurture your body without abusing food. 

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