Episode 88 Summary

  • What is night time eating? Night time eating is eating after your last meal of the day, which is normally your evening meal which can go by different names such as dinner, supper, or tea. 
  • Night time eating for physiological reasons - one of the reasons people can engage in night time eating is physiological. In this instance your body may still need fuel after having a meal in the evening, particularly for people who are fasting. If you have fasted all day and then had an evening meal, it may not be enough food. This can be overcome by having an earlier meal, such as in the afternoon, followed by a smaller dinner, which should combat your hunger. 
  • Classical conditioning - this is the biggest cause of night time eating and is when our brains make associations between things, when some kind of cue triggers a behaviour, and the behaviour gives us a reward. For example, for a lot of people, after they've had their dinner at night time, that is their cue to have a dessert. Or night time is the time to unwind and sit on the couch and watch telly, which is their cue to grab the chocolate.
  • These habits can be very deeply ingrained and for a lot of people, night time eating, particularly of sweet foods, or night time drinking, is not helpful. It falls into the category of being unhelpful towards our health goals, but it can be a really, really difficult habit for people to kick. However, although it takes a little while to unpack, with patience and with kindness, it is possible.  
  • One little trick that often works is that after dinner most people sit on the couch and will sit in the same chair every night. And our brain immediately thinks, “When you sit on this couch, or when you sit on this chair, that equals dessert, or that equals some type of food”. The easiest way to change that is to change that cue; to swap chairs, to sit in a different spot.    
  • Another helpful way to look at night time eating is to think about what do you get out of it or why are you doing it? Is it because you think you deserve a treat? Is it a break? Is it stress relief? Why are you doing that and then trying to find some way that's more helpful to get that same reward, the same thing that your body is craving, the same soothing, the same stress relief, but in a way that's more helpful towards your goals.


For more information about our course, “How To End Night Time Eating, visit https://www.rlmedicine.com/nighttime

Show notes:


Night time eating


Dr Mary Barson: Hello, my lovely listeners. I'm Dr Mary Barson.


Dr Lucy Burns: And I'm Dr Lucy Burns. Welcome to this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss.


Dr Mary Barson: Hello, lovely listeners, Dr Mary here, and I am joined by the fabulous Dr Lucy Burns. How are you Dr Lucy?


Dr Lucy Burns: Hello gorgeous Mares, I am incredibly well. We've been on little road trips. So during COVID when Melbourne was experiencing the longest lockdowns on the planet, my hubby and I talked a bit about having breaks. So we both work in medical world, and it's been incredibly intense as people know. And my husband in particular, part of his management of this work pressure is to have something to look forward to. And he was always the king of having like two holidays planned, so that when you finished one, you still had another one to look forward to. And in COVID, oh my lord, so many holidays were cancelled, rebooked, recancelled, rebooked. So we bought a caravan and part of the theory of that was, well, first of all, we don't need to rely so much on borders, we don't need to rely so much on aeroplanes, we can actually just hook up the van and go and have little mini breaks all over the place, which is what we've been doing. But we have just come back from a longer break, which I love because I can still keep connected with the Real Life Medicine community, with our beautiful members. So what it means is that and I know some people would go, “Oh, how terrible that you have to work on your holiday”. And I think, “How wonderful that I can holiday on my work”.


Dr Mary Barson: Totally.


Dr Lucy Burns: Because otherwise you'd be restricted to only you know, four weeks a year because that's pretty much what most people have. And instead, I can go on holidays all the time and still work. Like it's brilliant.


Dr Mary Barson: It's a beautiful reframe and I love that you're exploring our bit of the world. We live in southern Victoria, which might not be considered one of the most, the sexiest destinations in all of the world but there is so much beauty around here. So much to see, so much to do. It is true that you need to carry your hat, sunscreen, rain jacket, coat and snakebite kit with you everywhere you go. But if you do that, it's great.


Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely, absolutely. And you're right, we have definitely been exploring little parts of the world that we may not have ever, you know, bothered to go to, right on our front door. What about you, darling? How have you been?


Dr Mary Barson: Well, I'm good, I'm good. I reckon by the time this podcast is released, I'll have a little bouncing newborn baby boy. But currently, I'm simply heavily pregnant with all the joys associated with that. But I'm alright, I'm good.


Dr Lucy Burns: Lovely listeners, we have a bonza, very Australian word, bonza topic for you guys today and it is something that we've had quite a few people emailing in and asking us to do a podcast on. Which is actually a good thing to remind people that if there is a burning question that you've got, if there is something you'd love, a topic you'd love us to talk about, you can email us and we will, we will do it. Our email is doctor as in the whole word d o c t o r @ rlmedicine.com and email us in some topics because we would love to have like, listener requests. And the other thing, I have started reading out a few podcast reviews, but I forgot to get one ready tonight, but if you would love to, well we would love you, it would help us so much if you would leave us a review of this podcast, particularly if you found it helpful. It will only take a couple of seconds, but it absolutely helps us get the word out about this podcast and hopefully help other people. Because certainly we've had a few emails coming in where people have been listening to the podcast and they're writing in telling us how much weight they've lost, or how well they feel, or how many medications they've reduced and seriously, it absolutely makes our day when that happens.


Dr Mary Barson: It does, and the reviews really are helpful. And it's lovely to see the reach out there, because our meaning, our purpose, Dr Lucy, is to empower people to regain their health. That is what we want to do.


Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. So today's topic, one that I certainly have overcome, is night time eating and what I mean by that is I guess eating after dinner. So dinner, tea time, whatever your last meal of the day, whatever you like to call it in your country. We sometimes call it tea, sometimes we call it dinner and I know dinner can be lunch in other countries.


Dr Mary Barson: Yeah.


Dr Lucy Burns: It's all a bit tricky. The evening meal.


Dr Mary Barson: Yes, some people call it supper and then supper is something else, but yes, your main evening meal.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yes.


Dr Mary Barson: Yes, eating after that.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yes, it's interesting and there's lots of reasons that we do it. But if we go back to a couple of the reasons that I think are important, one, one is physiological. And one may be that your, your body actually is still needing fuel. So particularly for people that are fasting, if you've fasted all day and you've had a meal in the evening, it may not actually be enough. You may need to have more food. Now, if you're worried about eating in the evening and that's the scenario, then you could have a little, an earlier meal, like an afternoon meal, for example. And I know this is something, this is a strategy that works really well for me, because I was often prowling. I call it prowling, when you get off the couch and you start sort of just rummaging around your kitchen. You don't really know what you want, but you're on the prowl. And I started having some Jimmy cakes, and if you want to know what Jimmy cakes are, they are a type of pancake made from essentially cheese and eggs named after our lovely Facebook friend Jimmy James. I started having Jimmy cakes at about three o'clock. And when I had those, two Jimmy cakes with some Vegemite, it then meant my evening meal was a little smaller, but I then wasn't hungry after that. So that was helpful. But I suspect the biggest cause of night time eating is something that is, I guess, known in behavioural terms as classical conditioning. So Mares, would you like to tell our listeners what we mean by classical conditioning?


Dr Mary Barson: Yes, it's when our brains make associations between things and our brains love to do this. This is how human brains work, we have some kind of a cue that triggers our behaviour and then that behaviour gives us, you know, was always some kind of reward with any kind of habit that we have. And for a lot of people, you know, night time, they've had dinner, that is their cue to then have a dessert, to have something sweet. Or it's time to unwind and sit on the couch and watch telly, that is their cue to grab the chocolate. Or they finally get their kids to bed, that is their cue to go and have a sweet treat. And these habits can be really deeply, deeply ingrained. And you can do whatever you want, because as we do say, you are definitely the boss of you. But for a lot of people, night time eating, particularly when we're eating sweet foods, or night time drinking, drinking alcohol, it's not helpful. It falls into the category of being unhelpful towards our health goals. But it can be a really, really difficult habit for people to kick. We have powerful stories in our head that lead us to eat at night, after dinner, tea, supper, when you're not hungry. And powerfully ingrained classical conditioning, you know, that takes a little while to unpack. It takes patience, it takes kindness, but it is possible.


Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely, and I think for some people, it's, or lots of people, it is the idea they don't actually know why, why they want to eat something, particularly sweet, after dinner. So classical conditioning, it was described originally by Pavlov. And he was a, I think a Czechoslovakian researcher back in the early 1900s and he did a couple of experiments, behavioural experiments on dogs. And so what happened was, he wanted to understand salivation. So why do dogs salivate? And basically, they would, and he wanted to work out, could he kind of get them to do it on command? And you can't, actually. You can't just say to the dog, like you can sit, you can't say to the dog, drool. It's just not, just doesn't happen. So what he noticed though, was that when the dogs were being fed, just before the food got put down, they'd start to drool.


Dr Mary Barson: He actually got their, he did surgery on them so that their salivary glands were external, so that he actually see them squirting saliva out of their cheeks.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yes. Not sure about the kindness of that.


Dr Mary Barson: We need to share that, anyway, continue.


Dr Lucy Burns: And so over time what he recognised was that the dogs would start to drool when they heard their keepers bringing the food. So the footsteps would start the drooling process. And he kind of went “Oh, well, that makes sense, because they'd recognise that the keepers, you know, are bringing the food, the food makes them drool and they're just learning to drool a bit earlier”. But then he wanted to work out, could he get them to drool with an action that had nothing to do with the food. So he first of all decided to ring a bell and of course, nothing happened. This bell would just ring randomly, and the dogs wouldn't even care about it, nothing. And then over time, what he did was he started ringing the bell when the food got put down. So the food would get put down, and of course, the bell would ring. And he did this for a little while, and then he started ringing the bell again, and the dogs would salivate. So the dogs recognised that ringing the bell meant food was coming and so they'd salivate in response to that bell ringing. So the bell itself has nothing to do with the food and before they were trained, it didn't make them salivate. But then after the training, after the conditioning, they associated ringing the bell with the food. Now the thing in humans is that a) we're not an experiment, but we have classical conditioning all the time that we're not aware of.


Dr Mary Barson: All kinds of Pavlovian responses.


Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. There are things ringing our metaphorical bell that we're not aware of. And it feels like you have no control. You cannot understand, “Why do I want to eat this? Why am I wanting to eat this”? And it may well be that as I said, something has rung your bell and your brains' go, “Yes, well, that means food's coming”. So I was thinking about this, when I grew up, which was, I was a child, essentially of the 70s. We had dessert every single night. Now, it wasn't necessarily fancy dessert, it was often ice cream and tinned pineapple or ice cream and tinned peaches or banana custard. There was always some sort of dessert and so I think, “Right, for 365 days, for 25 years, my brain goes, after dinner there's dessert”. So when I then tried to stop that it was very hard because I didn't know what was going on. I'm thinking, “What's going on? After dinner I just always want dessert, whether I'm hungry or not”. So I think, well, there's a classical conditioning response: that evening meal equals dessert to follow.


Dr Mary Barson: Yes. I didn't get that, and I don't know if that's just so much because I was a child of the 80s or just my family, I don't know. We certainly did do dessert sometimes, but definitely not routinely. And now being a parent, I'm quite conscious to not like, give my child dessert every night, you know, we have it sometimes. But she's, it's really funny. She's, she's now nine and I think she's cottoned on to the fact that dessert probably should be something sugary and sweet, but for many, many years of her young life, she just thought that dessert was anything you ate after dinner. So she'd have her dinner, and she'd still be hungry, and she'd be like, “Mom, can I have another sausage for dessert please”? I'd be like, “Sure love. You can have as many sausages for dessert as you like”. Or she'd go and get some grated cheese for dessert, or you know dessert was just, I still need some more food, yeah.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yes, absolutely. So I think it's so interesting, isn't it? The, I mean, and a habit itself is often just classical conditioning. The cue as you talked about, you have the cue, there is a response to seeing that cue and then there's a behaviour that comes. So the one little trick that we have that often works, sometimes it's, it's all that is needed, is after dinner most people sit on the couch, and will sit in the same chair every night.


Dr Mary Barson: Hmm, yep.


Dr Lucy Burns: I have my spot, my husband has his spot and that's it. It's like the same side of the bed. We would never swap, it wouldn't even occur to us. But if that is the spot that my brain goes, “When you sit on this couch, or when you sit on this chair Lucy, that equals dessert, or that equals something, some food”, then the easiest way to change that is to change that cue; to swap chairs, sit in a different spot. It makes it so much easier and remember, we're all about ease.


Dr Mary Barson: We are. I love that you're doing that, because you're just creating enough of a cognitive break between the cue, the response, the behaviour, the reward, and just enough for you to just rethink, “Actually, I don't want the chocolate. I remember now that's not helpful”. Rather than you just going straight through your night time routine, having eaten half a block of chocolate before you've even realised what you've done. Breaking up the routine a tiny bit, sitting in a different chair is enough for you to remember. It's a beautiful way. I reckon another really helpful way to look at night time eating is to think about what do you get out of it? Why are you doing it? And there's going to be different reasons for, you know, for different people. For some people, it's going to be the reward. “I have slaved away at work with the kids all day, I deserve this. I deserve this treat”. What are you actually getting out of that? Is it a break? Is it stress relief? Why are you doing that, and then trying to find some way that's more helpful to get that same reward, the same thing that your body is craving, the same soothing, the same stress relief, but in a way that's more helpful towards your goals.


Dr Lucy Burns: Hmm, I love that. I love that. I think it is, it's interesting, the stories in our head that come around, and we talk a lot about the stories. But definitely reward eating is common. And people will, you know, I think some of our clients that have shared with us that they, they look forward to their night time routine of sitting on the couch with their block of chocolate. And that's what sort of powers them through the day. And it may be that they, again it's an association, it's a conditioning that chocolate equals time to yourself. I mean, it's not actually true. This is part of the thing about our stories, it's not actually true. Chocolate doesn't equal time to yourself, but that's what our brain believes. And remember, it will fill in the gaps to make it sound reasonable. And when you break it down to, “Chocolate doesn't equal time to yourself”, you go, “Of course not”.


Dr Mary Barson: That's right.


Dr Lucy Burns: That's what it believes at the time.


Dr Mary Barson: That's right, milk chocolate isn't self-care. They're not the same, yeah.


Dr Lucy Burns: No. Or that, that your life will somehow be worse. Like, some people have a, almost like a, like breaking up with somebody and a sadness about letting some of these things go.


Dr Mary Barson: Grief.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah, a grief.


Dr Mary Barson: Grief and mourning.


Dr Lucy Burns: But my favourite way to look at that is that it's actually like breaking up with a bad boyfriend. So a boyfriend who promises you the world and then delivers you nothing. Who keeps promising, who keeps stringing you along, but never actually delivering the goods. It's hard, you keep having this potential, but it never comes.


Dr Mary Barson: That's right, eating milk chocolate at night on the couch is the equivalent of a toxic relationship that you are probably better without.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah. Which feels hard because you go, “Ahh, but you know”.


Dr Mary Barson: It is hard.


Dr Lucy Burns: But as we love to say, you can do hard things. Absolutely can do hard things. Sometimes you don't have to do hard things by yourself. And I guess this leads into our next idea and this is that we have a little course now on ending night time eating.


Dr Mary Barson: By popular demand.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yes, exactly. Because for a lot of people, they did, they asked, “What can I do about night time eating? Can you help us with night time eating”? Our private coaching was essentially on managing night time eating. So we thought well, rather than continuing to say the same things to the same people that work, why don't we put it in a course. So we have. So we will link it in the show notes. But it really is, it's a mini course, it won't take you long. And it has a beautiful hypnosis because of course, remembering that hypnosis talks to your subconscious brain, which is where a lot of the links for our classical conditioning live. We don't know they're there, they're not conscious. That's the whole point of a subconscious brain. They're subconscious, they're repetitive, they're deep-seated, and you're not aware of them. So that's where hypnosis comes in.


Dr Mary Barson: Hypnosis is powerful. Yeah, it’s a great course where we've distilled like, all the coaching and techniques and wisdom that we have about overcoming night time eating, which is such a big block for so many people. It's easy, digestible, doable chunks and it is totally, you could break up with milk chocolate, you really can, and your life will be better for it. You can make those really helpful decisions at night and work towards your goals at a much faster and happier way.


Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely, and you can end night time eating and it's wonderful. Lovely listeners, we will see you next time. Have a wonderful, wonderful week. Take good care.


Dr Mary Barson: Bye bye everybody.


Dr Lucy Burns: So my lovely listeners, that ends this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss. I'm Dr Lucy Burns.


Dr Mary Barson: And I'm Dr Mary Barson. We're from Real Life Medicine. To contact us please visit https://www.rlmedicine.com


Dr Lucy Burns: And until next time, thanks for listening. The information shared on the real health and weight loss podcast, including show notes and links provides general information only. It is not a substitute, nor is it intended to provide individualised medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor can it be construed as such. Please consult your doctor for any medical concerns.