Why Can’t I Stop Eating at Night?

Why can't I stop eating at night

Written by Tamara Rees

Tamara is a weight mastery coach. Her speciality is educating her clients to reprogram their unconscious mind so that they not just lose weight, but become a MASTER of their weight.


So you’ve said to yourself all day – tonight I’m going to be really good and I’m not going to eat that ice-cream that’s in the freezer.  You come to the end of the day, you put yourself in front of the TV. Before you know it, you know you look down and you’ve finished off the carton of ice-cream – what just happened?  So the next day you say, today I’m not going to eat any ice-cream. And yet again that night you’re once again staring at the empty bottom of an ice-cream container. What’s going on here? So you ask yourself, “Why can’t I stop eating at night?”

I plan on answering just that here for you today.

Small polar bear cub exploring the territory

White Bear Experiment

The late Daniel Wegner, who was professor of psychology at Harvard University conducted a study. He and his colleagues asked people to make sure that they didn’t think about a white bear for 5 minutes.   What Wegner discovered was that, unsurprisingly, people couldn’t supress thoughts of a white bear.  What was surprising though was that even after the experiment was over, even when people could think about whatever they wanted.  People ended up thinking about white bears far more than they would have normally. (Wegner DM, Schneider DJ, Carter SR III, White TL. Paradoxical effects of thought suppression. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1987;53:5-13)

“The act of trying to supress a thought actually made it more stronger, more tenacious, more frequent”

In other words, the act of trying to supress a thought actually made it more stronger, more tenacious, more frequent and more enduring even when the experiment was over.  This phenomena that Wegner called “Thought Suppression” has been shown over and over again in the scientific literature.

Golf Study

For example in another study, when golfers were told not to overshoot, that’s exactly what they were likely to do, and in a different study with soccer player when they were instructed to not think of a penalty shot in a certain direction, they couldn’t help stop their eyes from looking at that forbidden spot.  Ironically the very act of trying to suppress a though actually makes it much more likely that we’ll get to have it.

Why does this happen why does the white bear effect exist?  In order for us to NOT think about something some part of our brain has to think about it, which ironically keeps the thought alive.  This is especially true when we’re under what’s called “Mental Load” Mental load means that you’re conscious mind is working really hard.  It can come from having a lot on your mind or fron engaging in a difficult mental task, from being distracted, and it can come from stress and anxiety. 

When we’re stressed or anxious, trying to suppress a thought makes it much more likely that we will.

So how does this relate to why I can’t stop eating at night?

“One of the most natural responses in trying to lose weight is to try to fight against any thoughts of the food. “

One of the most natural responses in trying to lose weight is to try to fight against any thoughts of the food. This is an incredibly natural, intuitive thing to do. What are some ways that we try to fight any thoughts about food?  We might try to ignore them, forget them, debate them, distract ourselves, or in other words, we try to suppress them.  It’s a totally natural response.  However, because of the white bear effect, most times it doesn’t work. You keep on eating the ice-cream, chips or chocolate alone.

So what do you do instead?  Real change in your eating patterns comes from real, lasting shifts in your emotions.  When you feel, confident, happy, calm, safe, secure, in control in the very situations when you used to feel an urge to eat the food then your thoughts automatically shift. And then there’s no need to try and fight with them.

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Why Can’t I Stop Eating at Night?

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