We know that feeling.
When you’re up at night, and you’re hungry.
Let me share my own story. In May 2021, I started waking up every other night to eat. I would start with a red date. But then it would end up being as many as 40 dates, with walnuts. They were simply too delectable , and there was nothing I could do to stop.
I didn’t know what to do.
I recorded down food diaries. I took down the triggers to the food. But somehow or rather, I couldn’t seem to stop.
You might be like me.
No matter how hard you’ve tried, you still end up throwing open the fridge at 2am in the morning, feeling the cold breeze against your face, and thinking,
I’m dead. Here we go again, down the spiral of binging on food.
But often when we read the information out there, the focus is on the food you eat, rather than the behavioural patterns that cause you to go back over and over again to the food.
We will take some time to cover the science of good (and bad) habits, to understand why you still go back to binging on late night snacks, even though you know you probably shouldn’t, and how you can break that.
Map out the behaviours that lead you to eating at night
Think of your bad habit of eating at night this way. Actually, you’re doing something consistently.
It’s just that it’s not contributing to your goals of better weight loss.
But before we go into those behaviours, it might be worth taking time to map out all the behaviours that lead you to eat at night. After you map those behaviours, you will be better able to see where to change and adjust.
For example, when I tried this exercise, I immediately realised:
- Waking up at night to pee, which resulted in me heading to the fridge for a snack
- Drinking before I went to sleep, which resulted in me peeing at night
- Eating ultra processed foods, which left me wanting to eat more
- Eating in front of the fridge
When I mapped these behaviours out, I quickly realised the things I could change to help myself to eat less.
Make easy to do things (like sleep) easier
Let’s pause to ask a question.
Why do you wake up at night to eat, even though you’re already so tired?
From my personal experience, and from what we’ve read in the likes of Ultra Processed People by van Tulleken, it seems to be due to:
- A lack of boundaries between work and home, resulting in an overactive mind that does not shut off entirely at home
- The ultra processed food (UPF) you eat leaves you filled, but wanting more. You don’t actually know how to stop.
Get back to the office
In May 2022, after seeing my weight balloon from 57kg to 64kg, I was sick and tired and waking up at night to eat over and over again. Just then, my friend mentioned that even though he didn’t have to go to the office, he still went daily.
It made me sit up and think.
Hey, maybe I should try that.
As a freelance writer then, I had no need to go to any office. But I wasn’t ready for what happened when I moved. Suddenly, I started sleeping normally.
When you’re at home, you lack the boundaries between work and home. That does affect your sleeping routines.
In university, when I once asked my social work professor how he maintained good boundaries dealing with the messy clients he worked with, and home, his answer shocked me.
I change my clothes to something comfortable to signal to my mind and my body that the day is over.
Try this simple trick.
It may just help you to sleep a little sounder, and wake up a little less.
Stop the UPF
If you don’t know UPF, you have to know what it does to your appetites and diets.
Have you ever had a cookie, and gone,
Wow, this is pretty more-ish?
And you might even have gone the whole way with the bag of cookies, before realising that you’re full, but you’re not satisfied?
And that you want more?
Some of the additives that food manufacturers add to food are actually hugely addictive. They are a combination of chemicals that hack your brain in such a way that makes you actually keep wanting more, without allowing you to feel satisfied.
The end goal of food manufacturers is simple.
Get you consuming more of their food.
The more you eat, the more they gain.
And that’s why it’s hugely, hugely scary.
If you have a choice today, start eating these foods instead.
Stop buying food with ingredients you probably won’t find in your kitchen
When I first read Ultra Processed People, my first thought was,
How do you even tell what is ultra processed, and what’s not?
In the book, van Tulleken suggests that you use the NOVA index, which allows you to quickly tell what’s UPF and what’s not. The NOVA index, developed by Monteiro and his team, helps you to quickly tell what’s UPF, and what’s not.
The way to tell is to look at the ingredient list. If you find a growing list of complex chemicals you don’t understand, drop it.
Just drop UPF for a week
I know, UPF is hard to drop.
Especially when we feel the immediate burst of umami in our mouths when we bite into those chips.
But you know what it’s doing to you.
Honestly, the moment you drop UPF, you will stop wanting to eat as much.
Cook it yourself
Yes, I confess. I eat to live, rather than living to eat. And in Singapore, with hawker foods all around us, it’s easier to get cheap and affordable food, though it may not always be the healthiest.
One thing I recommend is that if you’re easy on food, then go ahead to just grill proteins with herbs.
At night, you can grab one of these roast proteins and pop it in your mouth. At least it fills you better than a cookie.
Sit down to eat, not in front of the fridge
Another habit that you might need to adjust is the habit of standing in front of the fridge to eat. You might have been used to this from the days of old, where you flung open the fridge doors, and eaten whatever you want.
Now, try changing that.
Why not try taking time to move what you want to eat from the fridge, to a plate, to a seat on the sofa? You might be less tempted to eat mindlessly, and instead take time to enjoy your food.
Sparkling water can fill you much more easily than other foods. And the reason why you’re hungry is because you’re constantly peeing out ions.
Sparkling water, filled with potassium ions, can help your body to replenish its ions, and not leave you craving for that hit of dopamine that comes from UPF.
Watermelons are another great option that fills you with more water than carbohydrates.
It keeps you hydrated and also fills you with healthy fibres that allow you to pass motion more easily.
It is the fibres that will keep you full.