Saving your calories for later

banking your calories

Saving your calories for later is also called “banking” your calories, like you have a tight budget to respect and allocate wisely. If you want to save time and not read the full article, let me just say that your body isn’t a bank.

The end.


What does banking your calories mean?

Saving your calories for later is the practice of eating very little during the day, or delaying when you will first eat, in order to be able to eat “more” in the evening. Some people do it occasionally, if for example they are going out and that they are worried about what they will be eating/drinking that evening. Some people do it all the time and that for many reasons from sleep, shame, fear of being out of control, habit, wanting to eat highly palatable foods etc.

This may seem strange to some but I’m guessing that if you have landed here, it is because the concept isn’t totally alien to you. If it is you, know that you are not weird; this is in fact common practice in the eating disorder world.

Saving your calories for later is a solution people have found to their problems but this is also a practice that comes with its own problems. Let me break them down for you.


Fullness and bloating

The first one is purely physiological: if you bank your calorie allowance during the day and spend it all in the evening, it supposes that you eat a larger amount then. This means you are going to feel really full and probably bloated because your digestion can’t go from 0 to 100. This would be true for most people but it’s all the more true for people with an eating disorder because their digestion is likely to have massively slowed down because of restriction – this is called gastroparesis and I will do a post on this another time. So your digestion is slower than average, you have had nothing, or not much during the day, and bam, you dump a load of food in your system! This is going to feel heavy.

This sensation of fullness and bloating will send your brain into panic mode: “I have eaten too much! I’m out of control! I’m addicted to food! I’m a pig! I must do better and restrict tomorrow!” This is basically adding fuel to the fire; this is priming tomorrow’s restriction…


This is setting you up for a binge

Another problem, which is also physiological, is that saving your calories for the evening sets you up for a binge. This is because you’ve allowed hunger to rise, rise, and rise during the day and so by the time you actually let yourself eat, you’re ravenous and your brain struggles to hear the message from your stomach telling it that you’ve had enough and need to stop.

It’s also likely that banking your calories for later will lead you to crave highly palatable foods, which you have no doubt labelled as “bad”, thereby reinforcing your belief that you’re out of control and bad for caving in. This has nothing to do with control but everything to do with survival. Your body thinks you are starving (which is technically true but it is not for lack of food availability) and if that was the case, eating a carrot or two would be a shit survival technique. What your body is going to go for at that point is fat, sugar, not much fibre and not much protein. It wants more bang for its buck, it wants easily digestible, yummy, energy dense food that won’t require too much chewing. You’re not out of control, your body is just trying to save you.

If you do end up bingeing it’s likely that you won’t feel hungry the next morning (this is called morning anorexia) and that will once more start the cycle of restriction and later on, bingeing. Not being hungry in the morning could also be because you are unable to recognise hunger cues after weeks, months, or years of teaching yourself to ignore them. Not feeling hungry does not necessarily equate to not needing food.

I do appreciate that not everyone who saves their calories for later ends up bingeing and that’s a shame because bingeing at least gives you some energy. People always look at bingeing as a problem when it is in fact a solution. I didn’t say it was THE solution but it is one of them and a clever one too. It gets trickier and more dangerous when you don’t and what I often see is people who end up restricting twice.


You’re going to end up restricting more than once

Let me explain. The person decided to save their calories for later, “later” finally comes but the ED voice is so loud that it tells them they probably should restrict then too because [insert some hypothetical reason], or because they have eaten “too much” that day. How can it be too much when the person has restricted? Well, because any food will always be too much as far as your eating disorder is concerned. So if you restrict before AND that you restrict “later” , then you are restricting twice. I even see people restricting three times: I must restrict because I’m going out, I mustn’t eat because I’m drinking alcohol, I probably drank too much yesterday so I should eat even less today.


But I like saving my special food for the evening!

People often tell me that they like to save their calories for later so they can have something to look forward to in the evening, “my evening snack/meal is my favourite”.  I’m likely to respond in several ways to that. First I believe we should like all our meals and snacks and I would question whether some foods are only ever allowed at certain times in the day. Why not allow ice-cream at lunch time? What is the rule there?  

Yes, but what if I eat my special food at lunch and that I still end up eating it in the evening?! Then I’m eating way too much! Is that what you are thinking? Well, let me tell you: even if you have eaten something unplanned or more than you are used to during the day, chances are that you can still eat the same amount as you are used to in the evening, especially if you are in recovery. You need more food than you think.

Food should also not be the highlight of your day. If it is, it’s probably because it is constantly on your mind, which probably means that you are under-eating (we always come back to this, sorry). You might also need to build other things in your evening to look forward to: a series, a routine, a hobby, something that has nothing to do with food or exercise but that reconnects you to yourself.

Finally remember that you thinking that you “won’t cope without having that big meal/special snack to look forward to” is a disordered thought born out of restriction and panic. When you are recovered, your body won’t be in panic mode anymore and you will therefore not be thinking like that anymore.


I starve myself now so that I won’t be hungry later

Some people do eat but they delay their eating for as long as possible, they starve themselves in order to ensure they won’t be hungry LATER. They also have the perfect excuse and don’t have to call this “starving” or “banking calories”, but “intermittent fating” or “time restricted feeding”. This sounds more scientific and it also happens to be a trendy, socially accepted form of restriction, so no one questions it.

You have to admire how clever eating disorders are sometimes.

Think about it though, whether you are hungry before or after the meal, the result is still the same: you are hungry. If you can cope with hunger during the day, you can cope with it in the evening too. The idea isn’t “to cope with” hunger but this is just to drive my point home. The constant here is hunger and that’s what needs addressing, not the timing.

What if you ate before and that you’re still hungry later? Then you need to eat, sorry. Will it be too much? Again chances are that you are eating too little even if you are eating, so if you are experiencing hunger it’s because you need food and it is therefore not too much.


Eating more in the evening helps me sleep

Saving calories for later is also a way for some people to help them with sleep. Some people tell me that unless they eat a big meal at night they just can’t go to sleep. I get that because who can sleep when they are hungry? Plus did you know that carbohydrates help you make melatonin? However, this feeling of being satisfied relates to overall eating, not to what you have just eaten. Eating enough throughout the day would have the same effect. In some cases people can experience night eating syndrome and they require to eat in order to sleep but it’s relatively rare I would say.

Evening hunger is just hunger. I think some people are more scared of it because binges often happen at night, and even if you have never binged there is a part of you that thinks that you might. Binges often happen at night but it is usually because people have more time and privacy and because their hunger has been rising throughout the day. If you feed yourself adequately during the day and that you fill your time with activities that feed your soul, there is no reason to think you will binge at night. Evening hunger is only “dangerous” if it has arisen out of daytime restriction, otherwise it is just hunger.


Letting go of the control

I know you are worried that if you allow yourself to eat during the day you will end up losing control but the reality is that restriction is what is likely to increase the chances of you being “out of control”. Plus have you ever considered this: if you can’t stop yourself from saving your calories for later, then are you really in control?

If you pull too hard on a horse’s harness, it will bolt. This isn’t because the horse is out of control and the answer isn’t to pull harder. The answer is to relax your grip.