Nutrition Articles

Is Evening Eating Destroying Your Weight Loss Efforts?

Cues to Eating and How to Control Them


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

  • Excellent point. Dinner is the cut off, no matter what time it falls for you. - 11/14/2015 1:57:51 PM
  • A lot of it also depends on when you go to bed. If you go to bed at 10 and get up at 7, it would make sense to have a majority of your calories before 5. However, if you get up at 10 and go to bed after midnight, you still have half your day ahead of you at 5 PM... why would you stop fueling yourself?

    Yes, mindless eating in the evening would be a problem. But if you say "hmm, I'm hungry, let me go get a piece of fruit" that is not a problem.

    On most days, I don't eat breakfast, and for me, that makes sense. I get up fairly late (9 to 10), unless I am going somewhere (if I get up early, I do have breakfast). It wouldn't make sense for me to eat breakfast at 11 to eat lunch an hour later.

    However, it does make sense for me to have a snack after dinner. I don't eat unhealthy snacks, but I do often measure out some fruit and nuts into a bowl and eat that. It keeps me going until I'm ready to go to bed. - 9/5/2015 2:32:11 PM
  • I agree regarding the diet soda. We read all the time about how bad they are for us and that they cause us to be hungrier. Why would that be a suggestion? A lot of them have caffeine, as well, which is not a great idea before bed.

    Also, drinking anything close to bed time can result in a middle-of-the-nig
    ht trip to the bathroom, thus interrupting that 7-8 hours of desired sleep.

    I thought the article was great with this exception. - 6/16/2015 11:58:45 AM
  • I know this is a problem for a great many (most?) people. But for me, it went beyond just bad habit. My whole life I've gotten up in the middle of the night to eat once or twice, but in my mid-20s it started to get worse. The frequency increased slowly until I was waking up literally hourly feeling absolutely *famished* - just so.darn.hungy! No matter what I ate, no matter when I ate, no matted how much I ate (even deliberately overfeeding) - it didn't help. I was so tired all the time from never getting solid sleep. It was impacting my life, but I didn't want to see a doctor because what would I say? "I can't sleep because I eat all night"? I expected the doc to say "eat more at dinner and see if that helps."

    So before shelling out $$ for a doc visit, I went searching online for what it could be. I found that some people do suffer from something called "Night Eating Syndrome" - where the body's rhythms for sleep and eating get out of sync. Sufferers tend to eat through the night, and then not be hungry for breakfast. Sufferers tend to be overweight, though I am not. It is theorized that it is caused by serotonin issue (serotonin being responsible for regulating both sleep and appetite). Antidepressants are used to resolve it. I didn't want to take it that far if I could help it (antidepressants have so many side effects). I started taking 5HTP supplements (OTC in the US). It helps a bit, probably not as well as a prescription, but without all the side effects.

    Now I'm back to once or twice a night. It's still not ideal, and I still struggle, but the supplement does help. If others feel like their eating might be more than just a side-effect of reduced caloric intake, you might try it. - 12/10/2014 4:50:54 PM
  • Here's another idea...DON'T have diet soda! haha why would they suggest that?!
    Other than that, it's a pretty decent article. Simple, but good. - 9/16/2014 12:51:58 PM
  • BOY DO I LOOK LIKE THAT CHICK ON THE COUCH.....UGH.... - 9/9/2014 12:57:41 AM
    Raw veggies do NOTHING for me, they are just cellulose, and no satisfaction from eating that, I don't care how fresh they are. Fruit works, we eat cut up strawberries at night, but I have a Skinny Cow treat every night at 7 pm, and that and the fruit keeps me from eating more. I drink hot coffee or iced coffee, depending on the season, and I do that until bedtime, that also keeps me fuller feeling. - 9/8/2014 1:31:13 PM
  • ANGEL115707
    Hate to say it, but this article is full of the same old info and we would all be hunger free in the evening if it actually worked. Simple fact is, if you are reducing calories, you will be hungry in the evenings, period. Deprivation and allowing yourself to go to bed hungry will result in insomnia (I know and hate it!) The key is to eat filling foods high in raw veggies, and you body will adjust to love raw food rather than nice fluffy carbs. The only way I have ever been able to feel better with my conditions and to go to bed without starving and suffering is to have some lean protein and raw veggies about an hour and a half before bed. 2-3 hours before bed... hahaha... nope, doesn't work. Taking melatonin does help be get sleepy enough to ignore hunger though. Deprivation diets NEVER last. You have to find what works for you, and never starve yourself. Check out Body Ecology, AIP Paleo and Raw Vegan diets all of which allow you to consume 10 times the food the average person does, but if its primarily raw veggies, you still stay within caloric goals. People often marvel at how much I can eat, but if I ate pizza, I cant eat two pieces without sweating. only veggies and some fruit can I consume tons of.
    also this was in the article "Have a low-calorie beverage (diet soda" WHAT!!!! Are you guys crazy! Thanks a lot! its that advice that gave my grandmother dementia!! And that kind of advice definitely isn't good for people who have conditions like me, including MS, Fibro etc.... awful awful..... I rejoined Sparkpeople ONLY to hold myself accountable but the amount of health knowledge these articles hold is disturbing. I don't like gluten, GMOs. factory meats etc and this website should definitely consider less recipes with all those nasty products if they expect anyone to see long lasting results. I am ticked I let myself get back up to 140... 140 is still in normal BMI for me. I obviously know what I am talking about, my body depends on it or I would be sicker! - 9/8/2014 11:56:00 AM
  • I want to share what is working for me. Ikeep my food log in a plain steno notebook. On the left column, I record what I eat with the number of calories and fat grams. At to right top, I wirte my present RMR and the number of calories and fat grams I am aiming for that day. As I eat, I subtract the calories and fat grams from that info. Whatever time I finish, I "turn over a new leaf." Immediately I date it for the next day, and enter my goals in the right column. Somehow, tha physical act of turning the page tells my brain that I am finished until tomorrow. It's funny that after that I feel satisfied!!! I have lost 31 lbs. so far and am in maintenance. - 9/8/2014 10:36:10 AM
  • This is definitely one of my problems. It's partly because I start work at 6 am, so breakfast is at 4.30, teabreak is half 8, lunch is 11.15, but family dinner is about 6 pm. So I snack when I finish work at 2, and then Still snack after dinner! Hopefully this will change when I start my new, 9 to 5 job in September (though I will be doing less walking about during the day too, so swings and roundabouts) I find that keeping my hands occupied is the best solution, so sewing, or even computer games, help a lot. But not watching tv, or even reading, one hand is free to shovel food in! - 8/3/2014 1:38:21 AM
    Good points. My battel is I work 4 nights from 6pm to 6am then 4 nightes off and do it over and over ad nausiom! My body clock is a mess. All my friends are sleeping when I am awake.

    Over the last 4 months I have managed to gain back 10 pounds. This house has never been so clean and the dishes along with laundry are finished. Then the ptoblem id what to do the rest of the night except practice my cooking!
    - 7/23/2014 2:42:12 AM
  • 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

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