Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Do You Have Trouble Passing Up Food that is Not on Your Plan? What About Night-time Eating? Beck-Day 13: Overcome Cravings

I don't have any problem making great food decisions all day long.

Until 5:15 pm that is.

That's when I walk in the door after work and usually a work-out. My energy stores are very low. I'm attempting to accommodate the needs of three other little people all while trying to prepare dinner, that they wanted a half-hour ago.

If I can make it through dinner prep unscathed, there's still the rest of the evening to contend with. And that's where the battle really begins.

Eating a Plant-strong, Nutritarian diet has eliminated all of my food ghosts and goblins of the past, except for this one: night-time snacking. I have absolutely no problem resisting any food craving I have all day long, until 7 o'clock hits.

What's up with that? I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.

The New York Times published an article about something called "decision making fatigue." Here's a key excerpt from that article:

"The discoveries about glucose help explain why dieting is a uniquely difficult test of self-control — and why even people with phenomenally strong willpower in the rest of their lives can have such a hard time losing weight. They start out the day with virtuous intentions, resisting croissants at breakfast and dessert at lunch, but each act of resistance further lowers their willpower. As their willpower weakens late in the day, they need to replenish it. But to resupply that energy, they need to give the body glucose. They’re trapped in a nutritional catch-22:

1. In order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower.

2. In order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat.

As the body uses up glucose, it looks for a quick way to replenish the fuel, leading to a craving for sugar. After performing a lab task requiring self-control, people tend to eat more candy but not other kinds of snacks, like salty, fatty potato chips. The mere expectation of having to exert self-control makes people hunger for sweets."

Holy s#1+. That just described me.

And the NYT isn't the only news organization talking about this phenomenon. Here's how the people at Prevention Magazine described it on NBC's The Today Show:

"Budget your resolve: Each of us has a limited supply of self-control, which means if you try to exert it in too many areas at once, you'll rapidly deplete your reserve. A study from Case Western Reserve University illustrates the point. Researchers placed freshly baked chocolate chip cookies before two groups of participants, instructing one group to eat two or three and the other to eat radishes (while watching the others partake). Then everyone was asked to try to solve an impossible puzzle. Participants who had to resist the treats gave up on the problem twice as fast as those who were allowed to indulge. 'Willpower is like gas in your car,' says Vohs. 'When you resist something tempting, you use some up. The more you resist, the emptier your tank gets, until you run out of gas.'”

That's me. I run out of "gas" at the end of the day, big time (well, not the literal kind of gas, I've got enough of that to last all night, and all morning).

Well, maybe not "big time." I wouldn't call my night time eating a binge. I've overcome any of that behavior by filling up at breakfast, lunch and dinner with high nutrient food. So what I'm really talking about here is that "treat" at the end of a busy, stressful day. But that treat, every night, is the difference between me at my happy weight and me at my something more than my happy weight. And I don't like it.

It's just like Beck says on Day 13, I have to overcome my cravings if I want to remain at a healthy weight for me. Because that's what it is: cravings. I'm not hungry at night. I'm craving a treat and my resistance is shot.

Beck says that we don't have to give into cravings and that they will disappear. Wait it out, it goes away, and over time you gain confidence that cravings do pass. Here's Beck's advice on how to do just that:

(1) Label your feeling as "just a craving" and not an "emergency" or real hunger. This is a very important step and if you don't feel that you know the difference yet, please do the exercise on Day 13.

(2) Decide you are not going to eat anything, because just that decision will relieve you of the tension. Beck says it's the not knowing that causes us the strain. Once we make a firm decision of "no" the craving should start to diminish. Do not give yourself a choice.

(3) Get involved in a compelling activity. Watching TV is probably not enough. Taking a shower, talking to a friend on the phone, reading a book or working on a project is more like it. Beck has a long list of great ideas for distractions.

(4) Drink water, tea,  or club soda. Thirst can mask as hunger.

(5) Distance yourself from the food you crave. Remove the food from your house or you from the place that the food is. I always need to remind myself to throw away whatever it is that has newly become my nighttime "treat." Guess what I'll be doing as soon as I finish writing this post!

(6) Read your Advantages Response Card to remind yourself of why you want to resist cravings.

The key is this: you don't want to strengthen you giving-in muscle. You want to build your resistance muscle. And it is a muscle. I built it once before and I can do it again.

How are you doing with resisting food that is not on your plan? Is this particularly difficult for you at night?

Got any tips and tricks for building a resistance muscle?

Just a reminder, if you haven't done so yet, please enter HGK's blogger giveaway of two copies of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant Based Nutrition. The questions are awesome so keep 'em coming. I can see some popular ones beginning to emerge from the pack!


Anonymous said...

MArcia wrote; REally good post. I cave at night, but it's from fatigue and a desire to be done with being "on" for the day. I see food and wine as a chance to finally let go. But that leads to trouble. I'm going to approach my evening challenge as a craving and thanks to you, study that Beck chapter again. Your work is so good and so important. Thank you.

Eric Sheffield said...

You most certainly aren't the only one who's resolve wears out as the end of the day approaches! I have done a lot better in the last 6 months or so avoiding things that I'm trying to avoid, but the "this one time won't hurt" trapdoor appears under me more often than I like. Good advice on how to deal, I've thought about a couple of those ideas myself. Good luck with recovering your resistance muscle!

Sindy Warren said...

I struggle with this intermittently. One thing that (usually) works is, at least when there's a chill in the air, getting into a tea groove after dinner. Instead of figuring out what to eat next I make a nice cup of herbal tea (the flavors are endless; there's an Indian spice one I'm loving these days, Egyptian licorice is another fave). The tea is my signal that the eating portion of the day is over.

Elisa Rodriguez said...

I've been dealing with the night time snacking more recently as a result of stress :-( The things that I find work best are making up my mind that after a satisfying dinner I'm "done" for the day, ending on a sweet treat or a cup of tea and then brushing my teeth so that I will be less tempted later ;-) Also, getting to bed at a decent time helps too!

nicole @ pink string & green beans said...

I grew up with a mother who was they "no eating 3 hours before bed time" type. It worked out just fine because we ate dinner by 7 and were in bed 3 or so hours later. My fiance is a "farmer" & doesn't get home until the sun has been down and there are nights we eat at 9pm. 9pm also happens to be close to my bed time & 3 hours after I finish my first dinner... I need to figure this out & want to get the book.

Annaleigh Belle said...

My biggest challenge comes on the way home from work. Since I live in NYC, I do small, daily shopping trips. Unfortunately, I'm in the habit of picking up potato chips in line. If I can tough it out at the grocery store, I don't even miss them when I get home. I have to figure out how to keep my willpower up just at that time -- self-talk isn't always enough.

Danielle said...

Any chance that you are not eating enough during the day? My nutritionist recommends eating more at breakfast and lunch (lunch being the biggest meal of the day) and less at dinner. I found that getting into bed early (9pm) to read or journal for an hour before going to bed helps.

TejasJJain said...

Hi Wendy,
After salt, this is my second issue (Night time snacking). I crave for salty stuff. I like low cal stuff but still it is not what I plan to eat or should eat(If I want to lose weight). This is most difficult part. I read the articles you mentioned so I do understand that I am super depleted (physically and emotionally).
Actually till three months ago, I would not even acknowledge that I have this problem.
I am reading Beck solution right now too so I am seeing that I need to get handle on this.
On most days, I go to bed early but I still snack….no matter how low cal.
I and my kids are out of home for more than 10 hours so we do have low cal, good quality ‘ready to take with you’ food available. I end up spending 3 hours each day in kitchen but I still need to rely on these ready food (school does not help. Do you know that in 10 hours, kids get to eat 4 times snack in addition to lunch? How many veggies/fruits you can pack? Not to mention all those container that you need wash once they get home…).
I have no tip as of now on how to deal with this. I will be reading comments….
It is like I am not in control when I am doing it. I am unconscious…

Liana said...

This is dumb but it works for me. I brush my teeth after dinner. If I think I'll have a sweet tooth I'll have a small banana with nut butter. Brush my teeth. Closed for business.

Jen said...

I have two food options that help me avoid craving binges. I make a Vitamix V-8, usually using salsa, cukes, zuch, celery, red pepper to sip during the late afternoon/supper prep time. For an after dinner sweet treat, I sip a soy latte chai tea sweetened with stevia.

Meridith said...

This is so helpful. Just recognizing the fact that I've used all my decision-making energy throughout the day is huge! I've gotten better lately, but it's still a struggle almost every night. I have been doing the drinking water trick which does work. We also eat supper a bit later (between 6:30-7:00) and try to start with a salad, which seems to help.

Virtually Vegan Mama said...

That so describes me as well, I definitely have a hard time with food cravings or over-eating after I work-out. I find if I work-out in the evening instead of the morning I won't over-eat or eat something "unhealthy". I can eat a nice dinner, maybe throw in a healthy dessert and go to bed early!

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