Nighttime snacking is an activity that I receive many emails about. It would seem that we’re all desperate to stop ourselves from eating in the dark.
And from the way it’s written and spoken about in the mass media, I understand why many of us would view snacking at night as a problem. It’s painted as an addiction to overcome. It’s harmful; it will derail all your healthy efforts; you should stop it…immediately. And if you do decide to snack—keep it small, and–HEAVENS!! Don’t eat within two hours of going to sleep or all the calories consumed will go unburned and be stored as fat.
The warnings are everywhere.
I am a nighttime eater—always the one to find herself hungriest after dark, when everyone else is still full from supper. In truth, I’ve always felt a little odd for it. Friends and family know my voluminous eating; they make note of it, naturally, and I am painfully shy about the fact that I’m in the kitchen well after the light has been turned off.
I’ve been this way all of my life, in fatness and thinness.
It was only when I lost weight that I tried to fight against my nature. Healthy, thin people don’t eat like this at night, I’d admonish. Normal people don’t want to eat a massive bowl of popcorn, frozen pineapple, and a Greek yogurt before bed. I was convinced that I was weird.
This slight sense of shame made me think I should stop. Many times, I did try to stop. I’d try my best to eat more in the daytime and then eschew eating after dinner. And never once did it feel natural. Never once did it feel right, mentally or physically to space my eating that way. Quickly, I noticed a pattern emerge: the nights when I tried to quit nighttime snacking were oddly the same ones that led me back to bingeing. In trying to avoid the healthy snacks I loved, I’d become so frustrated I’d say screw it and end up eating more than I would have in the first place.
So, I gave up fighting against it. I just snacked.
And I enjoyed myself. Eating at night was fun, comforting. A way to unwind. A ritual. As long as I worked the calories I consumed at night into my overall daily plan—as long as I wasn’t bingeing—the food I ate at night wasn’t harming my health. I chose foods—almost always healthy, low calorie/high volume ones—that took a long time to eat, and then ate them slowly. I’d watch television and snack for an hour on the couch with Daniel, my longtime love. And he could have assured you: It was my happy time.
I ate this way for years—all the ones after I lost weight except for 2012, when my life changed dramatically, and with it, my nighttime routine. Now, I prefer to read in bed for an hour at night, which mostly negates the TV snacking (even still, I’ll eat right before sleep). But for the years when I ate on my couch with Daniel in Philadelphia, Connecticut, and Seattle, the result wasn’t a change in weight; it was ultimately self-acceptance.
It’s a lesson that I could now stand to relearn in other areas of my life. When I’m fighting against my nature—trying to force myself to like certain routines, certain foods, etc—perhaps I just need to accept my inclinations and value the ways that they serve me. Perhaps my nighttime eating was and is different than others, yes, but maybe it has also kept me sane and healthy for seven years. And maybe it won’t stay this way forever.
It makes me wonder, then, for all of my friends who’ve emailed me on this topic: As long as you’re not bingeing and struggling with emotional eating, and you’re being mindful of your overall health (whether you count calories or not), what if—instead of battling urges to snack at night—you simply reworked your day to allow for it? Perhaps you’d need to allot extra calories or points after dinner, but in turn, do you think you’d ultimately feel more sated, more at peace with your plan? Do you think it would help you to stick with your goals? Maybe the goal is not to eradicate our vices, our desires; the goal is to work with them.
What kind of freedom would be fostered if you weren’t fighting yourself?