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Nutrition Articles  ›  Pitfalls and Plateaus

Is Evening Eating Destroying Your Weight Loss Efforts?

Cues to Eating and How to Control Them

-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian
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Are You An Evening Eater? Try this exercise to find out.
Use the Nutrition Tracker to track 3-5 typical days of eating. Print each day's results and use your records to answer the following questions:

1. How many meals and snacks did you eat after 5:00 pm?
2. How many meals and snacks did you eat during the day?
3. How many total calories did you consume after 5:00 pm?
4. How many total calories did you consume for the day?
5. What activities occurred while you ate after 5:00 pm?

You may have a problem with evening eating if:

  • More than one-third of your meals & snacks are eaten after 5:00 pm.
  • More than one-third of your total calories are consumed after 5:00 pm
  • Evening eating constantly occurs with another activity.

    Put An End to the Evening Binge Cycle!
    You CAN control evening eating disasters. Try these tips to normalize sleeping patterns and fend off hunger:
    • Plan activities to do throughout the evening, but don't make food a part of the activity:
      • Take a bath
      • Walk the dog
      • Pay bills; balance the checkbook
      • Play board games with the kids
      • Call a friend
      • Keep your hands busy (polish the silver, sew, knit, or do any craft)
      • Play basketball, baseball, soccer
      • Read a book or magazine
      • Try a relaxing fitness video such as yoga or tai chi.
    • Eat 3 meals daily and 1-2 planned snacks, keeping in mind your total calorie range.
    • Plan to eat about the same number of calories at each meal throughout the day. The total should be within your calorie range.
    • Have a low-calorie beverage (diet soda, flavored water, etc.) in the evening.
    • Make a list of low-calorie snack options. Select one for the evening. Eat it, but no more.
    • Don't eat mindlessly! Eat all meals and snacks at the kitchen table, keeping all of your attention on the food you're enjoying. Take your time and really enjoy every bite.
    • Get 7-8 hours of sleep nightly.
    • Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule, even on the weekend.
    • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine.
    • If you have trouble sleeping, leave the bed (or room) and pursue another activity like reading until you're ready to sleep. Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex.
    • Finish eating at least two to three hours before your regular bedtime.
    • Exercise regularly.
    • Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime; avoid nicotine altogether.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • I've never been much of a snacker, but dh started recently offering me snacks during tv time. Finally, last night, I said, no thank you, then he got all pouty. I hate being strong. - 7/17/2014 5:56:22 PM
  • Only use the bedroom for sleeping and sex? Um, how about NO! Sometimes I read in the bedroom; do crafts in the bedroom; practice my mandolin; do other things, too.

    I usually don't get dinner till about 7pm; I am asleep by 8:30. No, I cannot cook earlier. The last time I used spark and lost 55 pounds, I was eating dinner at 9 - 10pm, because of my work schedule. I had no problems. It all depends on your activity level, not necessarily when you've eaten. - 5/29/2014 7:14:50 PM
  • Good article. The only thing that struck me wrong was the mention of diet soda. Diet soda is full of chemicals and I think there are much better options you could have suggested. - 4/28/2014 8:18:02 AM
  • Thank you for the comment SLOLIFE; I was wondering about the 5:00 cut-off time. Substituting "dinner hour" definitely makes more sense for me. I do know a lot of people eat dinner at 5:00 so for them 5:00 is fine. - 4/27/2014 2:23:15 PM
  • Don't be annoyed or puzzled by the 5PM cutoff time. Just substitute "dinner hour," whatever it happens to be for you. That's all that arbitrary time is . . . when you eat your last regular meal of the day. If you are eating a lot of your calories AFTER your evening meal (no matter what time it happens to be), then you have a problem. - 4/27/2014 2:03:44 PM
  • When I am dieting I get strong cravings in the evening, and it is imperative that I have no unhealthy food in the house, because even if it's hidden I'll find it. I think you need to get your family on board with the new healthy eating regime, at least to the point of not having fattening things in the house. - 4/27/2014 4:45:57 AM
  • I suffer from heartburn (acid reflux), and on the days I don't have a "midnight" snack, the minute I lie down, my throat is on fire. Usually it's fat free cottage cheese or fat free tapioca pudding, sometimes crackers. I don't think it's inappropriate if it's for a good cause. Getting a good night's sleep is supposed to help with good eating habits, and if the heartburn is keeping me awake, that's not a good thing. - 4/27/2014 4:07:18 AM
  • I'm just not a breakfast person. I don't really get hungry until around 9-10:00am. But it's in the evening that I get hungry and want to snack. So I have three meals a day, plus two snacks spread throughout the day; but I leave around 500 calories, for the evening, when I'm going to be snacking. That way I eat when I'm hungry but I don't go over my limit. - 3/27/2014 6:10:28 PM
  • Very informative article. I have only 1 small quibble.... not everyone has dinner at 5:00. I work until 6:00, then drive home, walk the dog, change clothes, cook dinner. My dinnertime is 7 or 7:30, so a third of my calories come after 5. That does not make me a night binger..... it's the junk eaten at 9 and 10 that does!! - 3/26/2014 7:32:45 AM
  • JUMPINGJEANNIE
    Great article!!! - 8/22/2013 11:24:16 AM
  • Good article except the suggestion to drink diet sodas. Diet sodas are known to increase hunger and are linked to other health problems as well. Drink water or unsweetened tea. Real and fake sugars should be minimized. - 7/26/2013 10:56:01 AM
  • We are all trying to make changes in order to develop a healthy lifestyle. In order to move forward in this development and keep making progress, I don't think there is ever a time when you should feel deprived. Once you start feeling deprived and tortured, you're going fall off the wagon. So I say if an evening snack is a habit you're not willing to change yet, at least plan it into your day. Adjust your meals throughout the day so you have some calories left over for that evening snack. This may even work to your benefit. For example, I allow myself to enjoy a reasonable sweet treat as my evening snack. Because I know I can have something sweet in the evening, it helps me say no to sweets throughout the day. Have a plan and make good choices. - 7/19/2013 10:36:45 AM
  • I question the advice on eating at the kitchen table and enjoying every bite. It is like waving temptation in the face of a starving person. I am much more in control of my diet now that I am eating in the libary on the second floor: It is a relaxing room, rather than a working room. To get an additional slice of bread or a some butter for the veggies or sauce for the steak: means a trip downstairs and back up and I usually decide it isn't worth it. The meal is what I intended to eat and it keeps me on plan. In the kitchen, I can just reach out and the sauce or the drink or the salt or whatever is immediately available and much harder to resist. Ditto, seconds that were intended for another dinner. Avoiding temptation works best for me. - 7/18/2013 12:54:28 PM
  • KATNESS1469
    I will admit I usually have a small snack before bed BUT I get on the treadmill for half an hour after dinner and before bed. My snack usually is no more than 100 to 150 calories. Like 3 crackers and a slice of provolone or a frozen fruit bar, or a 100 calorie snack. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. And it's kind of unavoidable if you have to smoke to Go to Sleep.. (Some of you know what I mean) - 7/18/2013 10:17:59 AM
  • Great article. Sometimes I can go all day eating health and then herecome that sweet tooth. Mainly on friday and saturday when hubby home. - 7/18/2013 8:06:30 AM