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The After-Dinner Binge: When Evening Cravings Feel Out-of-Control

You get home from work, prepare dinner, and then the trouble begins. The dishes are done, you relax for the first time of the day, and then the cravings hit. You plan on being "good" and measure out a small serving of fat-free ice cream or take exactly four cookies out of the package. You sit down, happy with your proportioned selection, and begin to enjoy your well-deserved dessert. Then it happens. You can't stop eating.

It's a common issue for women and one I often see in my practice (and in myself at times, too!). We have complete control of our diets and lifestyle from 9am to 5pm — mastering the art of self-control, creating workday routines and structure. We take care of everyone around us: kids, our partner, and sometimes parents. So why is this one part of our day so out of control?

Having dessert isn't the problem. Nor is it really what we're having for dessert. It's the quantity and quality of the food consumed, followed by the self-inflicted emotional upheaval for overindulging, that can wreak havoc.

For most of us, after dinner is the first time we've slowed down, the first moment when we can take a little time for ourselves. We've eaten the "right" foods all day long and worked extremely hard — whether we are the CEO of a corporation, CEO of the home, or both. It's going to be very difficult to counter the strong pull of "I deserve something special tonight," because guess what, you do. However, filling up on sweets and goodies after dinner may not be what you're really looking for.

Being on the go, living life at a hectic pace, leaves little room for our true self-nourishment. Women need much more than just food that comes on a plate to feel satisfied. We need to consider our unmet needs as one source of our cravings. Maybe we're hungry for more satisfaction in our relationships, our careers, even our physical activities, so our food cravings increase. How many times have you had a bad day or argument with a loved one, and turned to the fridge or chocolate for consolation?

Here are a few ideas you can experiment with to help reduce your food cravings:

Upgrade your day-time eating. At the end of the day, taking away the very thing you crave does not work. Deprivation only leads to bingeing. Instead, try bringing your day's other meals back into balance. For example, make sure you're eating enough food at work so that you aren't ravenous by dinnertime. Eating a real food snack, not junk food, before heading home for dinner really helps; try things like carrots and humus, a couple pieces of whole fruit and peanut butter or a handful of homemade trail mix.

Stop eating fat-free. Your fat-free eating all day long may have you craving higher-fat foods in the evenings. Yes I know, "fat," the most loaded word in diet history. Here's the real deal: Your body needs adequate fats to keep your organs cushioned and protected, help your elimination processes work smoothly, reduce PMS symptoms, keep your hair and nails strong and beautiful, make your skin glow, and much more. Also, fat is responsible for giving you that full and satisfied feeling after a meal. Manufacturers of fat-free food products must replace fat with something flavorful, often artificial sugars that unintentionally trick your body into wanting more sugar. To avoid the fat-free living binge, make sure your meals include a tablespoon of good quality fats, in the form of nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, flax seed oil, or cold-water fish.

Make your life sweeter than your cravings. Just as deprivation on your plate doesn't work long-term, denying yourself of fun and "me-time" only leaves you starved for sweetness in the form of comfort and joy. The more you deprive yourself of fun, connection, and community, the more you will look toward your food for consolation and entertainment. How about setting up your evening with non-food rewards for your hard work? Talking with a best friend, taking a bath, taking an evening class, spending time with your significant other, exchanging a two-minute shoulder massage, reading a delicious novel… you get the idea. Yes, do have your dessert; but you may find you'll crave less cake when your romantic nutrients are met.

Think nutrition by color. Do you eat the same thing, day in and day out? Are you stuck in a diet-food rut? Egg whites, fat-free foods and other "safe" foods, let's face it, aren't much fun. Do you sit down to eat and appreciate simply looking at your food? Does it appeal to you? Is it colorful and rich in aroma? Or is your food bland and all one color? Think of how special you feel when someone gives you a birthday gift and takes the time to wrap it beautifully in your favorite colors. It's the same idea with food.

The after-dinner binge can be a complex issue for women. If eating were only about food, then we could figure this out in no time. However, food and our eating patterns are related to a much bigger picture, our whole life. Try some of the ideas above and be willing to experiment. Incorporate good fats into your meals, make your food visually satisfying, and nourish yourself with non-food activities. Having more information about food is not going to make you healthy, but taking action will. Take it one step at a time.

Karin Witzig of Wild Woman Wellness™ Health Coaching has been in a private practice and a Speaker in the New York metropolitan area for five years and has a national clientele of courageous women breaking out of their food ruts and energy-lulls. She specializes in making getting healthy highly pleasurable, practical and fun. She offers monthly tele-seminars via http://www.wildwomanwellness.com and can be reached at karin@wildwomanwellness.com.

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  • cookies, courtesy of Dawn M Turner.
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