Green smoothie for breakfast, salad for lunch, and you managed to say no to the donuts someone brought in for work. You’re feeling fantastic and oh-so disciplined.
But at the end of the day, you’re feeling tired and low-energy. It was a pretty tough day where you were running around from commitment to commitment and you couldn’t wait for the day to end. You’re willpower is weaker and you find yourself in your tired, groggy state, making your opening your apartment door. The first thing you’re thinking about is the Haagen-Daaz in your freezer. “I’ll just have a little bit…” you say as you plop on the couch and turn on Netflix. The first bite is delicious, so you have another… and another. You put the container back in the fridge but soon find yourself going back and forth between the couch and the freezer to get more. The food was so good as you began eating but at some point that inner voice starts to become mean and ugly. “I knew it… you’re so lazy… You’re such a failure… You’re going to be fat and ugly forever. No one likes you…” Then, you feel guilty and the guilt fuels the eating. It continues and continues until you’ve finished the entire container.”
“What is wrong with me?” you might ask yourself. “UGH, I blew it…”
Does this scenario sound familiar to you? I know for myself and for my clients, it’s all too common. If this describes you, I want you to know there is nothing wrong with you and it’s absolutely possible to start shifting the pattern. The key to breaking free is in understanding what eating is doing for you in the moment so that you can meet the underlying need in a way that serves your health and wellbeing.
Here are the most common reasons that people overeat and binge eat after work that I’ve seen from my client work:
Reason # 1: The Need for fuel
One thing to ask your self is “Am I eating enough nourishing meals during the day?” So often, I see busy and hardworking men and women living off coffee and quick, processed snacks throughout the day, so that when they are finally home, their bodies are starving for fuel and nourishment.
“I was so good all day!!” they say. But what this might mean is that they are skimping out on eating during the day and are famished by the end of the day…. and when we’re famished, what do we naturally want - the most fatty, oily, gratifying thing we can find.
How to meet this need: Make sure you’re eating enough during the day. If you aren’t, you’re often more susceptible to overeating at night, which feeds a vicious cycle of waking up feeling bloated and perhaps telling yourself to “make up for the calories” by restricting your food the next day.
It might be helpful to plan and prep meals ahead of time and for a while focus on eating at regular intervals. Slowly, you’ll start to retrain your body to eat more during the day and move away from eating at night.
Getting enough protein can also be key to helping you feel satiated. Instead of quick, processed foods, which digest quickly and can send your blood sugar on a roller coaster, bring in some lean protein and fiber into your meal to keep your blood sugar more balanced.
Lastly, get in touch with your hunger again. This key is huge for my clients who perhaps have learned to demonize their natural hunger cues and appetite. Rather than relying solely on a diet or meal plan to tell you when and what to eat, get in touch with your body’s signals. Instead of waiting until your famished, start eating when you’re feeling the first signs of hunger. You’ll tend to make wiser choices at this time.
Reason #2: You’ve forgotten you’re a human “being” vs. a human “doing”; i.e. discomfort with transitioning between “work” & “home”
The transition period between being busy to having unstructured time can be uncomfortable for people so that they begin to fill it with food. In our modern day society that values hard work, we often forget that we are human “beings” instead of human “doings.” Eating after work therefore may be your default routine to help you transition from being busy to being at home. Food may be a way for us to de-stress and relax after a long day.
How to meet this need: Start creating a new routine to transition between “work-mode” to “home-mode.” One of my clients decided to shift her exercise routine to be after work instead of the morning, so that she could use it as a method to de-stress and transition. Practices like meditation for example can also help you become more comfortable with just “being” rather than reacting and “doing” all the time.
Self-compassion and self-acceptance is key in this particular cause. This might mean forgiving yourself for not accomplishing all you wanted to do today. This also could be giving yourself credit for doing your very best.
Reason # 3: Need for a pick me up
You may be overeating after work or school simply as a way to fight the sensation of tiredness. After all, food has biochemical effects on our body and therefore can change our state.
How to meet this need: There are two options here. Option 1 is to surrender to the tiredness. For example, you may take a nap or go to bed early. You might want to assess what’s causing your tiredness in general. Are you sleeping enough hours for example? Are you getting regular exercise?
The second option is to learn to change your state without food. It’s counterintuitive but getting your blood flowing through exercise and movement may be what you need for an energetic boost. Take a 10 min brisk walk or put on some music and notice how your energy changes.
Reason # 4 Need for guaranteed pleasure and fun
Food often can signal a need for pleasure in our lives amongst the busy-ness of life.
I remember that for a time while I was working full-time at a desk job. I was quite ate eating to cope with boredom. I had outgrown the work and found myself going numb in order to cope with another long monotonous day. There were days I would keep a full bar of dark chocolate at my desk and consume it fully to give me a sense of pleasure throughout the day. This of course did not do bode well for my body, sending me on a sugar and caffeine high and crash later in the day.
How to shift this: Make maximizing fun and pleasure in your life more of a priority. Many of us have guilt around doing this especially if we were told we always had to work hard and play later. In my particular experience, I had some beliefs that kept me feel stuck in my job. In working with my coach, I was able to shift these beliefs and transition into doing work I love, so that food no longer became my only sense of pleasure but became something to fuel me as I was doing work I love.
In the case of food, eating is and should be pleasurable! The thing is when you’re actually hungry is the time that food is the most pleasurable.
So if food is the only real sense of pleasure you get regularly during the week, it’s time to make fun and pleasure more of a priority in life both in the short-term and in the long-term. In the short-term, what other sorts of activities and experiences can you find pleasure? Perhaps it’s dancing, sports, writing, or being with certain people you love. In the long-term, how are you spending your time and how energized are you by your work, your relationships, etc. If you’re using food to run away from the pain or stress, it may be time to look deeper at making a change to support your happiness.
Reason # 5: Need for attention/unconditional love
As social beings, we all have a need to feel valued by others and ourselves. We all have a need for attention. After all, have you ever met a little kid who didn’t want attention from others? As children we learn what sorts of behaviors get us attention from our caregivers. Many times, kids who feel like they can’t keep their parents’ attention will “act out” even if this means their parents will berate them.
I find that if we don’t give ourselves this love and attention, inevitably, we’ll try to meet this need in other ways that don’t serve us. Abusing food and the subsequent self-abuse by beating ourselves up may be the only time we give ourselves attention. It’s almost like our inner child is acting out so that we start to listen. I think back to myself when I was in the worst of my binge eating. I was so misaligned with myself and had shut down feelings that told me I wasn’t happy about certain aspects of my life. Also, due to my beliefs at the time, I felt I didn’t have a choice to change things.
In binging and in the aftermath where I would beat myself up, this inevitably became a time that I actually paid attention to myself, even if it meant saying harsh things to myself. Like my clients, I had perhaps believed in this way I was doing the best for myself - hoping that if I just beat myself up more and more, things would change. But, time after time as I’ve seen for myself and for my clients, the overeating would continue where I’d feel terrible about myself and continue abusing food.
How to shift this: Start to give yourself the gift of presence and love. Instead of beating yourself up, start to observe and be gentle with yourself. A big part of this is learning to be with your emotions and the messages they have for you rather than using food to cover them up.
One key in the Food & Body-Love program is to learn to come from curiosity rather than judgment. In this way we learn to observe ourselves as children who are learning and doing their best from the eyes of a loving and supportive. Get curious about what the overeating my signal for you and know there is absolutely a reason for it even if it doesn’t make sense yet.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you begin to learn the need you are meeting with food, you can start to break free from pattern so you can make peace with food and your body.
If you are looking for support and are ready to find your freedom with food in the next few months, I want to let you know that the next Food & Body-Love Group Coaching Program will be starting in May 2019. In this program, you’ll get the understanding of why you’re eating mindlessly/binge eating and the tools support to start breaking free from the yoyo-dieting and binge eating cycle. If you are interested, feel free to apply for a Breakthrough to Food Freedom Consult here.