Are you someone who wakes up with an energetic resolve to eat “right”, but by late afternoon on throughout the evening you graze, overeat, guzzle junk food—and then go to bed at night feeling physically uncomfortable and emotionally defeated?
I want to reassure you that you are not alone. Moreover, it is not your fault, nor does it have anything to do with being a failure, weak-willed, or personally flawed. In fact, let’s start by cleaning out all of those negative thoughts that form a network of bullies in our mind.
“See, you’ve failed again.”
“You just can’t do it, can you?”
“You keep treating your body like a trash pail”.
“How many times has it been now, since you resolved to eat healthier”?
“Now, look at what you’ve done! No wonder why you are out of shape and feel crummy”
“You will never look good in your clothes.”
“Why don’t you just throw in the towel and buy another bag of chips?”
“Just accept it. Your metabolism is too far gone.”
“Ok, now you get punished and get along tomorrow with only lettuce.”
You might look at these statements and feel horrified, but the truth is, most of us, at one time or another, become our own biggest bullies. These are real statements that people admit to having said to themselves when their healthful eating intentions unravel towards the end of the day.
If you can relate to this familiar scenario, the good news is, there IS something you can do about it—and it does NOT involve scolding yourself; which we know doesn’t work anyway.
Researchers found that what we call “self-regulation”, that is the ability to direct our own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors—despite outside influences or interruptions (or even temptations), is stronger in the beginning of the day, and towards the end of the day it weakens as we become more tired. So something else needs to happen when our personal resolve dwindles—and that something is renewed motivation in the form of reminders. We need to remindourselves of our goal and give ourselves a “booster” of encouragement in late afternoon or early evening, when we begin to think or act contrary to the goals we set for ourselves.
In a research experiment when participants were “primed” or reminded of their healthy eating goals LATER IN THE DAY—either by watching advertisements for healthy foods or doing word searches that contained healthy food target words—their afternoon snacking decreased! That reminder served as a motivator, which overrode the drop in self-regulation.
Here are some ideas for putting this finding into practice:
- WRITE DOWN your healthy eating plan for the day. Do this in the morning and tape it to your refrigerator or pantry door, so you will see it and be reminded to reach for a fruit—even a nice ripe tomato, instead of a sleeve of Oreos later in the day.
- POST A PHOTO OF A ROLE MODEL, where you will see it when you get home from work, or when you are preparing dinner and are tempted to “graze” as you cook.
- CREATE 5 AFFIRMATIONS that resonate with you. Then SAY THEM around the time you get a craving for something sweet or salty as your day wears on. Affirmations are self-statements that bolster your morale, motivate you, and encourage you like a best friend of life-coach would. Your affirmations could include the reason you CHOOSE to stick to your goal, a reminder of how good you feel when you feed your body what it needs, or a description of how you want to look as a result of eating right.
Consistently do these things and you can free yourself of those automatic unhealthy eating habits that harm your body —-and make you feel disappointed in your ability to stick to your goals.
Today is a new day. Let’s make it happen!
Bolland,W., Connell, P., & Vallen, B. (2013) Time of day effects on the regulation of food consumption after activation of health goals. Appetite,V 70, pp47-52