Most dysregulated eaters don’t do a lot of mindless eating in the morning or mid-day. Some find themselves food-seeking in the late afternoon (they’re probably fatigued due to insufficient nourishment earlier in the day), but the biggest problem time for troubled eating is in the evening. Although it may be caused by a need to relieve stress or because people eat when they’re bored and lonely, hormones may be the culprit.
“Hunger strikes harder after the sun goes down” by Roni Caryn Rabin (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, E14, 2/27/18) describes a small Johns Hopkins University study which “suggests that satiety hormones may be lower during the evening hours, while hunger hormones rise toward nightfall and may be stoked even higher by stressful situations. It’s not clear whether these hormonal patterns cause the binge eating behaviors or are conditioned by an individual’s eating habits. But, either way, you can get stuck in the cycle,” says Susan Carnell, assistant professor psychiatry and study author.
Kelly Costello Allison, director of the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania underscores that mindless eating is not about lack of will power, “that myriad factors contribute to weight gain, and that shaming and blaming people for their weight problems is inappropriate.” She asserts that, “There is so much bias and judgment about people who are overweight, that it’s their fault or they’re lazy or just don’t have enough willpower. The bottom line is that people are wired different ways, and some of that does really depend on these biological markers.”
The article explains that appetite is at its lowest in the morning and that hunger peaks in the evening, possibly an evolutionary adaptation to ensure that we eat enough before going to sleep. Dr. Satchidananda Panda, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, maintains that, “For millions of years, our nighttime period was a time when we didn’t have access to food, and you also could not just get yourself food as soon as you woke up in the morning.”
The article also points out that stress can drive up hunger through an increase in ghrelin, the hunger hormone. One suggestion is to give yourself a “curfew” and not eat after a certain time at night. What would be a good time for you to call it quits with food in the evening? Set a curfew several hours before you hit the sack because we need time after eating to digest our meals, especially when food is heavy or we’ve eaten a lot of it. Experiment with different times and see what feels best for your body. Another suggestion is to ensure that you eat enough before curfew to see you through the night.