Evening eating: Are you a “light” eater?

An excerpt from Let Go of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food: A Five-Point Plan for Success. Copyright © 2018 by Arlene B. Englander. Published by Rowman & Littlefield. All rights reserved. 

Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight or keep weight off realizes that evening can be the make or break time of day in terms of permanent success.

Consider this. In my community there currently is a radio-based advertising campaign touting the effectiveness of a weight loss formula that  I will refer to as the  Weight Loss Answer. This liquid, taken at bedtime, is to be consumed on an empty stomach. The purchaser is told not to eat or drink anything for three hours before drinking the “miracle product,”  which will melt  pounds  away regardless of whatever is eaten during the day. The radio announcer who is advocating this product sounds somewhat manic (a side effect of the product or the promotional fee?) and swears that he has shed over twenty pounds in about six months.

And now I’m going to tell you a money-saving secret. If you keep a journal of everything you eat all day, and are especially scrupulous about writing everything you eat in the evening, chances are that 20 to 30 percent of your day’s calories are consumed not in the day, but at night! By deducting most, if not all, of the calories ingested in the evening, you can probably make your own “miracle,” and keep your hard-earned money.

Let’s do the math. Let’s say you eat six chocolate chip cookies with a glass of milk while watching television. Later on, as you read a book, you slowly suck on a low-fat Popsicle. Somewhat later, while watching more TV and speaking on the phone, you munch somewhat mindlessly on several small bowls of popcorn with a glass of orange juice on the side. If this scenario sounds too familiar to acknowledge, don’t be afraid to admit it, because I have snacked exactly in this manner myself!

Six chocolate chip cookies at 50 calories per cookie — 300 calories
One cup low-fat milk — 90 calories
Low-fat popsicle  — 70 calories
One serving popcorn — 150 calories
One eight-ounce glass orange juice  — 110 calories

Have you done the addition? This one night of “light” snacking “weighs in” at a total of 720 calories. All it takes is 3,500 additional calories a week, or 500 per day, to result in a gain of one pound of weight per week. Eliminating most, but not necessarily all, of these tasty treats means four pounds less per month for most of us, or twelve pounds in three months, and a whopping forty-eight pounds in a year.

Aside from the weight loss benefits of controlling evening eating, there is even more good news. Reflux, often referred to as heartburn or indigestion, is a common condition affecting as many as one in five Americans at least once per week. Avoiding eating for three hours prior to bedtime is one way to lessen or eliminate the symptoms of this annoying ailment.

Excessive evening eating is a common downfall of those who would love to be slim, yet rarely, if ever, succeed. The syndrome of what I call “thief in the night noshing” is rampant. This “crime” is so common that probably someone you know falls on the Most Wanted list. What does the modus operandi look like? First, the burglar hurries into the kitchen, hastily scanning the crime scene in an attempt to avoid detection. Then, he or she cases the joint for the stash of “illegal” goodies—cake, cookies, or ice cream,  let’s say. The culprit usually eats swiftly while standing up, barely tasting and hardly enjoying the large quantities of food consumed, ready for a quick getaway in case anyone else should arrive.

If you recognize yourself in this scenario, you may feel frustrated. (And yes, in the past I was guilty myself.) All too often clients report, “I’ve been good all day, loving my food, but at night I eat and eat and just can’t stop.” So what’s the solution to this all-too-common “crime”?

The clues, and that’s where much of the solution exists, are revealed well before the evening begins. You need to eat enough throughout the day, drink enough water, and exercise sufficiently so that you enter the evening feeling relatively satisfied, tired,  and relaxed. Eat three well-balanced meals and don’t neglect dinner, even if you live alone or dine alone. Many people find it hard to be self-nurturing in this way. They can find time to cook for their families, or their friends, but not, unfortunately, for themselves.

I am reminded of a story about a man who was knocking at St. Peter’s gate and was told, “Come on in. You’re just in time for dinner. Here’s a telescope  so that you can keep yourself entertained looking down below while you wait for your meal.” At that point, St. Peter excuses himself and the new arrival looks down below. To his surprise everyone there is dining on shrimp cocktail, then consommé, a salad, filet mignon, and at the end a chocolate mousse for dessert. Finally, St. Peter returns, bearing a TV dinner on a tray. “What?” asks the newcomer. “How come all of them down there are eating a five-course gourmet dinner and I’m eating this?” “Cook just for one?” responds St. Peter.

There’s truth in this joke, which is why so many of my single friends in Manhattan used to laugh at that story. We all have the tendency to neglect our own nutrition and pleasure when eating alone. Remind yourself that you deserve to treat yourself well in all ways and at all times. Pick up easy to prepare foods that you can eat and enjoy if you arrive home late and tired. Set the table. Buy yourself flowers. Sit down, relax, and dine.

If you are able to, treat yourself on occasion to a meal in a restaurant, allowing yourself to love not only the food but the solitude as well.

Arlene B. Englander is a psychotherapist and author of Let Go of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food: A Five-Point Plan for Success.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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