How to Stop Overeating When Tired or Fatigued

Does your willpower go out the window when you're sleepy? Try this!

Posted Mar 21, 2019

Fatigue is no fun. Many of us are able to maintain our diets for the majority of the day, only to cave in when we become too tired and/or physically exhausted.  

This isn't just our imagination, either—there are countless studies which suggest that willpower dwindles as we make decisions throughout the day and is further degraded by physical fatigue. Moreover, sleep deprivation and fatigue tend to increase levels of Ghrelin… the “let’s eat” hormone. In fact, people who get four or fewer hours of sleep per night may consume as much as 22 percent more calories per day on average.

  • The first thing to do when you realize you’re experiencing “fatigue cravings” is to take a time-out. Stop making decisions. Stop trying to be productive. Take a deep breath. Step away from any and all “input” (people, places, and things which want something from you) for at least five minutes. Take another breath. Say, “I always use the present moment to be healthy.” Take another breath.
  • Second, utilize standard delay tactics. Rather than running to buy and/or eat what you’re craving, write it down. Include the specific type of food you’re craving, where you would get it, and how much it would take to satisfy you. Take another breath.
  • Then project yourself into the future about 30 minutes after you finished eating it. What do you see? How does the future you feel? How’s your digestion? Your self-esteem and emotional outlook on things? Take another breath.
  • Finally, ask yourself what you could eat that would change that future picture for the better. Specifically, where would you get it, how much would you have, and how would you feel afterward? Take an even deeper breath and sigh it all out.

In addition to this technique, you can take preventative measures. For example, if you didn’t get enough sleep and/or know you’re going to have an exhausting day, try extra hard to make all your food decisions in the morning when your willpower is strongest. Pack up your food in Tupperware and baggies, and have it all sitting and waiting for you later on, when you know you'll be tired.

You might also consider writing down a hypothetical food plan for the next day each evening before you retire. 

Even though the plan is hypothetical, and you have the right to flexibly change it if you need to, the act of thinking it through and writing it down forces you to see any upcoming trouble spots and plan for them. This eliminates the need to make spontaneous decisions which require willpower you won't have when you're tired!

Last—try to get more sleep. I know, it’s easier said than done, but it’s important!

For more practical tips and advice on how to stop overeating, please view my Psychology Today article here


Blay, Libby.  (2016, September 9th). [Blog post].  Retrieved from