Why Can't I Stop Eating at Night?!
Bingeing my brains out at night, restricting the next day, and bingeing again at night...I know how excruciating it is to be stuck in this vicious cycle. However, the mechanisms behind this cycle come down to simple biology and it's very easy to heal this toxic relationship when you put in the work. Consistency and allowance are key!
When I think back to my ED years, my stomach hurts. I remember laying in bed absolutely starving, but not allowing myself to eat. It was during my eating disorder days that my insomnia was the worst. I could never sleep because I was just too damn hungry. From a biological point of view, this makes a lot of sense. When your body is in a place of deficit and senses starvation, it will try to keep you awake and alert so that you can search for food. If you're starved and malnourished, logically you can't fall asleep! Your body wants to make sure that you're up and ready may a food source be near.
But what about not being able to go to bed because you simply CAN'T STOP EATING? What about when you're in recovery, you're eating again, yet STILL, you feel the urges to eat the entire kitchen when the clock strikes eleven? You're not alone, I feel you.
Saving Calories for Later
If you scroll all the way back to my first posts on Instagram, you'll see night "snacks" that were bigger than most meals. 2 giant bowls of protein fluff (ew), 2 protein bars, several bowls of cereal, and fruit would be ONE typical night "snack" for me when I was starting out my recovery. My night snack was HOLY to me, and I would plan my entire day around being able to enjoy my night snack to the fullest. Writing that out just made me realize how ridiculously ridiculous that was. Every full DAY revolving around making sure the circumstances were "perfect" for my NIGHT snack? All I feel now is sorry for myself back then. Full days wasted by being obsessed with food, and particularly obsessed with "saving" it.
Speaking of saving food, I was a huge food hoarder several years ago. I had an entire drawer dedicated to protein bars, and I was so obsessed with that drawer that if even one bar was missing, I would immediately know.
Several of these bars were high-fiber, crap-loaded bars that I would probably NEVER touch again nowadays. I'll take real food, please! But back then, all of these bars and "healthy" cookies were indulgences to me...and indulgences had to be saved for the night.
But what if I binge?
I saved my indulgences for the night for several reasons. One of them was so that I had something to look forward to at the end of each exhausting day (mentally and physically) but another reason was out of fear that I would not be able to stop eating and feared that I would not be able to deal with the guilt that came with "overeating" these indulgent and sweet foods. If I saved them for the night, a time followed by sleeping (and thus fasting), I could enjoy the sweets without the crippling guilt afterwards.
I was able to sustain this saving cycle for several years, but eventually the body does fight back. And that was the case for me in September of 2018.
As I mentioned in my first Extreme Hunger post in Oct 2018, I went through a very tough period of bingeing/overeating wherein I gained weight quickly. This was definitely a mental (and physical lol) struggle, but it was also an eye-opener to me. During that time I learned that our bodies really do tell us things, and that they really will fight back if you try and control or manipulate your biology in any way.
Fast forward to today, and I have created the world’s very first EXTREME HUNGER COURSE! My course Extremely Hungry to Completely Satisfied is the all-in-one resource I wish I had during one of the scariest periods of my life. It teaches you STEP-BY-STEP how to stop bingeing, what foods you should eat to actually feel satisfied, how to deal with weight gain, digestive issues, and SO MUCH MORE!
My first real "binge" happened when I came home from school one day, and it was just the worst experience ever. I felt so full, so bloated, and so damn CRAPPY that I couldn't focus on anything besides the horrible guilt I felt for letting myself go like that. I told myself I needed to take control, and I thought I could do this by restricting. I would binge my brains out during the evening, then skip breakfast and restrict as much as I could during the day to compensate for the bad thing I had done the night before.
But you guessed it, this restriction during the day just led to me bingeing again at night, then, of course, restricting to compensate the next morning. This cycle went on and on until I came to the realization that I had to stop; I had to stop restricting during the day. I forced myself to eat breakfast, snack, and lunch, yet still, I was bingeing at night. I couldn't understand. But now I do: my body was still learning to trust me, and it would only do that once I could consistently show it that it was getting enough fuel.
Eating breakfast after bingeing was one of the hardest parts of the healing process. It felt so wrong to eat after I had eaten all that food the night before. But what felt even more wrong, was the vicious binge-restrict cycle I was putting myself through. The bingeing didn't immediately stop the day I stopped restricting in the earlier hours, but after several months of nourishing myself consistently, the urges to binge did cease.
Another very important point I want to bring up, is that nourishing yourself throughout the day (even after a binge) includes allowing yourself "indulgences" and "unhealthy" foods throughout the day.
In the beginning, I found that I was still bingeing every night despite my effort to eat breakfast and lunch and snacks because I was eating only foods I deemed "clean" and "healthy". While I may have been getting enough calories, my body still felt restricted because I simply was still restricting!
This fear of eating unhealthy foods goes hand in hand with the fear of bingeing on them. But this fear of bingeing is the ROOT CAUSE of the bingeing itself! Because you fear you'll binge on certain foods, you restrict them...which ultimately leads you to binge on them. And no, this doesn't mean you are "weak" or "messed up"; it's simply biology. The body will obsess over what it cannot have, and will make up for restriction in any way it can.
Bottom line: Nourish yourself consistently and adequately, allowing yourself anything and everything. Once you show your body there is no need to binge, it won't need to!
I eat a lot during the day yet I still feel super hungry at night. Is this normal?
Yes! It's even a good sign. When your body is in a state of starvation, hunger cues dissipate because your body is trying to do everything it can to save energy. Sending out a hunger cue is an energy-consuming process, so if your body constantly receives the notion that there is not enough food, it will save its energy for other processes and not on sending out hunger cues. The fact that you are experiencing constant hunger cues indicates that your body is finally learning to trust you again, so it's absolutely key that you honor that hunger, no matter what time of day!
What should I eat so my sleep doesn't get disturbed?
I wish I had a one-off answer to this question, but what works for one doesn't work for the other! To figure out what works for you, I think it's really important to experiment and try new foods so you can discover how your body reacts best. I personally enjoy a variety of different foods at night, it totally depends on what my body is craving! Some of my favorite nighttime snacks are:
Oatmeal--I'm serious, I could eat oats any time of day. I have heard a lot of people say that hot oats cause them to feel tired, so if you're one of those people, eating a bowl of oatmeal at night can be a perfect way to end the day. I always make my oats with plant-based milk, a scoop of protein powder, fruit, and fats (nut butter, chocolate, etc) so I have a well-balanced snack that keeps me satisfied.
Cereal--when I'm not in the mood for cold oats, I will almost always opt for a loaded bowl of cereal! I start with a base of whatever I have on hand (and if I don't have cereal, I crumble up some rice cakes) then top with all the goods! My current favorite combo is 1 scoop Nuzest Vanilla Protein Powder + frozen blueberries + almond milk + roasted nuts and seeds or chocolate...mix it all up and it's soggy blueberry heaven ;)
Mug Cakes--if you follow me on Instagram, I think we all know the relationship I have with mug cakes...I need one every day or my day is not complete, haha! They're perfect when you want a treat but don't feel like whipping up an entire recipe for something you want ASAP! I have several mug cake recipes on this blog as well as on my Instagram feed. If you have trouble finding them though, don't hesitate to let me know!
Chickpea Cookie Dough--Oehhh, SO GOOD! Just like mug cakes, chickpea cookie dough makes for a perfect single-serving indulgence that requires almost no time to make. It's loaded with wholesome ingredients that keep me full while tasting delish! Please note here, that Chickpea Cookie Dough (or mug cakes) are NOT A REPLACEMENT for the real thing. If you want the real thing, PLEASE just have the real damn cookie dough (or cookies for that matter!). I allow myself real sweets whenever I want them, and that's why I don't obsess over it anymore!
Yogurt Bowl--Another quick, easy, and satisfying breakfast or snack idea! Start with a base of your favorite yogurt--Greek, soy, coconut, etc--and top with whatever you like. One of my favorite ways to do a yogurt bowl is with a baked sweet potato, blueberries, and an almond butter drizzle! You could, of course, flip the order and create a Stuffed Sweet Potato instead :)
What are some ways to prevent waking up hungry? My sleep is often inhibited because of this.
Again, there's no one definitive answer to this because the body does what the body does! As I mentioned above, malnutrition can cause trouble sleeping as a survival mechanism. If food is scarce (undereating), your body will do everything it can to get you out of this deficit ASAP. Obsessing over food, constantly thinking about your next meal, waking up hungry...it's simply a sign you need more food! The fact that you're waking up during the night means you're probably not giving yourself enough fuel throughout the day, or your body doesn't feel it can rely on what you feed it throughout the day. So I'd say, eat more! And if you wake up hungry, EAT! You will no longer wake up hungry once your body notices there is no need to.
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