Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bad habit intervention week

So much progress, yet sometimes it feels that I’ve made so little.

In so many parts of my life, I have been able to incorporate healthy habits that I can almost take for granted.  Eating a healthy breakfast, not eating a foot long sub for lunch, exercising like an Upper East Side socialite are just a few examples.  So it can be all the most disheartening when I find myself struggling with the same set of vices.  A few of my big ones:

  1. Going on steady-state feed mode throughout the afternoon on weekends
  2. Saying “yes” to everything served on an airplane
  3. Getting overly ambitious with appetizers at social events
  4. The biggest of them all:  mindlessly eating after dinner

If I think about all of the caloric damage of the above four, number 4 is clearly my Waterloo.  This not very good habit manifests itself in a few ways, but the timing is always the same:  after dinner.  Some examples:

  • Assaulting the bags of nuts in the kitchen cabinet.  For a while, we had a Costco container of cashews sitting openly on display.  BADDDDD!  
  • Having two Weight Watchers ice cream treats in a sitting.  
  • Quietly knocking back seemingly innocuous slices of cheese
  • Eating a handful of cereal straight from the box
  • Hotel mini-bar excursions

We all have bad habits to lick.
I really wish I could send my dog
to this school for hers...
There are few of these that don’t come with a 4-8 PointsPlus sentence in the penalty box.  However, what makes me particularly crazy about these is that I always feel badly about myself afterwards.

It’s the latter point that I’m particularly interested in.  Why do I beat myself up when I fall victim?  I suspect it is most because it just seems so dumb.  I’m not really hungry when I do these little raids.  I cannot say it’s completely mindless because I am at least somewhat aware that I’m doing it.  The fact of the matter is that it seems mostly like a compulsion.  I’m so used to doing it that I think that I have to do it.  I find myself looking at my dinner and thinking that it couldn’t possibly be enough food to hold me over until morning.  Yet, I intellectually know this not to be true.

For myself, I have always found it easier to DO something healthy than to STOP from doing something unhealthy.  I was born with too much nervous energy, and I have a hard time stopping inertia and momentum.  Eating a healthier breakfast was only a function of replacing unhealthy foods with healthy foods.  Exercising was a process of finding the time to do something new.  Stopping a bad habit requires a completely different approach.

I was getting pretty frustrated, when I decided to try an experiment last week.  I decided that I wanted to grab one bad habit and see if I could make some progress on addressing it.  I made the conscious decision not to try to address my full laundry list of vices all at once.  This go around, I wanted to have a little bit of focus.

The Plan

My plan was to have a one week challenge for myself in which I wouldn’t eat anything after dinner.  I could have as much dinner as I wanted, but once the plate was done, I was done.  To try to put some teeth into the challenge, I also made the decision to share it publically and report on my progress every day on Twitter.

The Outcome

I did not eat once after dinner for seven days.

What I learned

Making the public challenge announcement with public updates was really helpful.  It was nice to have a consequence that I could fall back on if I was feeling at all like having a minor break down.  Knowing that I would be Tweeting each morning was enough to give me that extra bit of focus and personal accountability by making myself accountable to others.

I also learned that I did not go to sleep hungry once.  I really didn’t need to eat after dinner to feel just fine.  I was particularly proud of the fact that during this week, three of my evenings had me in a hotel room with a minibar topped with a small mountain of highly snackable  treats.  There would have been no witnesses to my crime.

Finally, I learned that I felt really good about myself for having completed the challenge successfully.  I felt much more in control, and I realized that killing this habit was a real possibility.

Going forward

One 1-week challenge does not vanquish a bad habit.  I view this habit as one that I will need to proactively work on for some period of time (and maybe forever).  My thinking is that I might do a “pulse” every few weeks in which I do a one-week challenge.  Over time, I suspect I can get to the point where I start to ritualize the process of not mindlessly snacking after dinner.

My one open question with this is the degree of how far I take it.  The notion of never eating after dinner does not feel even vaguely realistic, so I think it would be a mistake for me to define success as never eating after dinner.  There is nothing wrong with dessert after dinner nor is it a crime against nature to have a piece of candy on Halloween night (I had two).  Therefore, I think I would be well served into defining for myself what is OK and what is not.  I need to think more about this one.

Feel free to jump in with the one habit you’d like to abolish forever.  Maybe we can create a planet-wide movement to kill our one least wanted habit?!




  1. I seem to be unable to spend more than two weeks OP now that I'm in maintenance. I fall off the wagon, get back on for a while, then fall back off. I need to maintain my maintenance!

  2. Thank you for this blog post! Sometimes I feel like I have to change everything right now. I like the idea of focusing on one thing each week! That won't be extremely overwhelming. What habit am I going to focus on this week? I'm not sure yet.

  3. thank you. i love this blog. i get a lot of great ideas and motivation from it.

    it's funny how we act on cruise control. we ate dessert after dinner when we were kids... and so we do the same thing when we are adults...

    snacking calms the nervous energy -- but as we all know, there are other ways of achieiving that. i love the idea of replacing the bad habit with something good -- like exercise or whatever.

    it's also a good idea to someone separate watching tv and eating... two of my favorite things.

  4. My #1 weakness is the fact that I am a total and complete "foodie". I LOVE food. Now, I am not just talking about eating food (although that is a big part of it), but I also love to read about food (in magazines or cookbooks...I have 50 of them) and watch food (cooking shows, I don't just stare at food all day).

    My solution...campaign for a Weight Watchers cooking show. That way I get the best of both worlds. I get to watch a cooking show and not be tempted to abandon ship and cook something completely unhealthy.

    My idea...have the host of the cooking show be a member of Weight Watchers so we can follow her (when I say her, I mean me...I want to be the host)journey to lifetime status and beyond. The host (again, me) would need to be an average person who is just like every other member...someone with a normal life who is trying to balance work, a husband, family obligations and this amazing journey we call Weight Watchers. Obviously, this person (need I say me again) needs to have a knowledge of and passion for cooking (which I do) while not being an expert (which I am not). {If Julia Child taught us anything it is that we need to show people we make mistakes and know how to laugh them off.}

    So...if you value and support my idea for a cooking show...please help make it a reality. Visit my blog "Sexy on the Inside" if you want to discuss further.

  5. Eating/ snacking also an issue for me. Even being at goal, I still struggle with that one. Maybe I'll try the one week challenge and see how it goes.

  6. Great topic.

    My number one bad habit is eating mindlessly during the night. Technically after dinner, but more specifically starting around 2-3am. I will wake up with a sort of fake hunger: a kind of restless, insistent need to eat, but without the actual physical state of hunger. A good night is one when I don't eat the high point options - usually when there are are none in the kitchen. If I can stick to fruit and string cheese, and remember to track it, that's currently the best I can hope for.

    It goes without saying that I am impressed and not a little envious of your success in not eating after dinner for 7 days ( nights ) running. Incredible! I am going to look very carefully at the issue of accountability because I suspect if there is answer for me in this, it's in not going it alone. Perhaps my meeting group and leader can be the ones I commit new behavior to.

    Thanks Dave- this really gets to the heart of the matter. It also explains why I average under 2 pounds a month weight loss. I'd have hit my goal months ( years? ) ago if it wasn't for the 3am Call of the Kitchen.

  7. Hello David,
    I am new to the program and have achieved great success in my 1st 3 weeks. I have lost 10.2 lbs with a goal of 30. I attribute my early successes to exactly what you ascribe above. It's what you DO, not what you STOP that is what we all should concentrate on. My mandate is to never go over my 29 daily plus 49 weekly points. I also have ramped up my speed walking to a level I have never achieved, so I also have promised myself that I will never withdraw from my activity points while on the weight loss side of the program.
    So what do I DO (as opposed to STOP?)
    - Track every single morsel that I ingest, and do it on-line where I can't fudge the point calculations.
    - "Weigh" out the "is it worth it factor" on all foods that I know aren't healthy (and yes some are worth it!)
    - Read EVERY label of packaged food that I ingest (or consider buying) to familiarize myself with the ingredients
    - challenged myself to increase distance and speed of my power walks (5 times a week). It is amazing, if you push yourself just a little each day, how fast you can accelerate your performance. After 2 weeks of consciously working at it, we did a 7km walk yesterday in just under 60 minutes.
    - Communicate with my 4 friends that are on the WW journey with me. We email and group BBM a few times a day with great tips, successes and failures. The communications are so hysterical sometimes that I am going to start my own blog.
    - Being SERIOUS about the weight loss, but never taking it too seriously. Humor is the KEY!
    - Constantly giving myself and my cohorts a thumbs up and accolades for everything we do that is a step forward. We are AMAZING!

    - I am signing off as anonymous now, but will be back with ah identity as soon as I start the blog. Have an awesome weekend!

  8. David:

    Another excellent blog; I really enjoy your refrreshingly honest commentary on the struggles and parils of our Weight Loss/Management journey.

    As another (middle aged) male, professional travel-warrior type, who has achievd major weight loss with Weight Watchers (2007…member of the 1/2 my size club). I have struggled to keep the pounds off. I too find myself mindlesly grazing through evening snacks and airport kiosks (lol, why doesn't SOMEBODY sell REAL healthy choices in airports...they'd make a killing from all us fit-type wannnabees). I'm working out at the gym more than ever, partially as a distraction and partically out of fear, trying to compensate for over indulging.

    Your Blog's often strike a cord with me, please keep them coming…. (btw, I just started following your Twitter feed, looking forward to more inspiration).


  9. Mindless eating after dinner...that one sure hit home. This is my #1 problem.

    Put another way, dinner starts round 5 PM and lasts until bedtime!

    I like your one-week challenge; I suspect that I need to start it as a one-DAY challenge and work up from there. I will give it a try. Thanks for the idea.

  10. Thanks for this post! I struggle with evening/weekend afternoon snacking ALL. THE. TIME. I think I will do my OWN one-week challenge and see how it goes!

  11. I think you've found America's obesity problem. I have been struggling with this habit ever since I pinpointed it as the thing between me and goal. It's also the thing between me and living like a normal weight person, which is outside of losing or gaining weight. Normally stable weight people don't go fressing about this endlessly. Once in a while they get a munchie attack after dinner and have a cookie or something, but otherwise, dinner = done.

  12. I just love the Weight Watchers Ice Cream sandwich that costs me 5 points. I figure my points first thing in the morning and plan my points so I can eat that for dessert. Sometimes, I just forget to have it and don't get all my points, but I always plan that.

  13. Snacking thru out the days is my issue...100 calorie pack do not fill me at all..Starting Sunday I will challenge non food after dinner is complete..... Patricia

  14. David,I've got the same problem. Also fall victim to ww ice cream sand. which are only 1 point for me (using flex point system) Today I also let loose and had a Baconator from Wendy's :( and I have a party to go to tomorrow :( so i'll prob gain some lbs this week. Good thing i lost extra last week. I think we have to let loose every once in a while or we'll go nuts! We'll I must be doing something right cause i've lost 124 lbs in 1 year 3 months. Only 11.6 pounds to go. I CAN and I WILL reach my goal. Thanks for the post.

  15. I get up at 5 am every weekday therefore I have to go to bed pretty early. This helps with evening snacking. We eat dinner pretty early too so I just have a Weight Watcher snack (2 or 3 points) and then I am done for the night. The morning is no problem because I am not hungry until about 8 am when I have breakfast.

  16. This is great! I think your approach - tackling one habit at a time - is spot-on. I read Zen Habits (just Google it, if interested), and that's one of the things the writer is always touting: make just one change at a time.

    I'm at a point where I typically have to eat after dinner in order to get all my Daily Points in, but I know the day will come when I may very well be facing the same issue. I adore my evening popcorn!

  17. Thanks Dave. I'm finding a problem in that too. I'm thinking it is a time that I am not as busy and have more idle time so look for things to graze on. For me it is the focus on keeping my mind off food as supper is always plenty of food.

  18. I love your insight about being able to do something healthy but not able to stop doing something unhealthy. Like you, I can easily eat light, healthy meals during the day but I cannot stop snacking in the evening. I have tried and I always seem to find myself back in the kitchen. It is a real challenge but it helps to know I am not alone.

  19. I agree with the not noshing after dinner vice. I like the idea of truly eating my dinner, instead of grazing until full.
    I'll work on that this week.

  20. What frightens me the most on this journey is that getting to goal is the easy part. Keeping it off will be the struggle and I can't imagine anything harder than just getting to goal. As they say, Rome wasn't built in a day so you have a good idea of one brick at a time!

  21. Mine is likely the late night snacking. I do fine after dinner, as I'm usually full. It's when I go into my room at night to read/watch tv and fall asleep. My snacking habits pre WW were a lot worse, and I've made changes to fit within my daily points (I'm not a fan of using weeklys unless there is a reason). Slowly I'm losing the snack urge, but it's still there. If I could snap my fingers and rid myself of one thing, that would be it.

    On a bright note, I've done very well with the plan, losing 61.5 lbs in past 25 weeks. I'm trying to get the most positive frame of mind going into the holidays.

  22. Well we are actually learning that we can eat what we want and when we want so long as we remain in points.i have just had a weightwatchers dark chocolate bar after dinner and a curly wurly.i feel is short.its not about feeling far i have lost 7.5 pounds in two weeks at weightwatchers eating all the foods i want.Its about portion control,not beating yourself up.You will never kick your habit and neither should you.My dad has been given a year to live.Love yourself and lose weight at the same time.Never beat yourself up for enjoying a perfectly normal,healthy human desire to eat.If i dont lose any more weight ignore my advice but believe me i will.And this weekend i am treating myself to wine as its bonfire Night.xx

  23. I'm @ week 3 or 4 and I snack mindlessly at times, and someetimes in reaction. Pondering if journaling would be helpful to me at those times. Then maybe stopping to write (a long indepth process, comparatively) about why/what I'm doing to help me be more present.

  24. Isn't Twitter an awesome accountability tool?!?! Congrats to you DK!

  25. I agree with Vegasgrrl24. I think writing down not only our food intake but our emotional hunger as well. I find myself looking for food when I am stressed which is a lot lately since I am going on a trip to help my mother in law after her heart attack. I really hate airplanes and will be gone for 3 weeks. I am just stressed about the flight and what it will be like to care for her since she has always been a strong woman and not sure she will be up for me doing for her as she has always been independent. Talking to myself lately about being in a good place through all this as it has lots to teach me.

  26. Well written piece, David.
    Thanks for sharing.I needed that article!

  27. My bad time is not after dinner, but from the time I get home until dinner. I usually finish up my points before dinner and then still have dinner with the family. I need a few very filling snacks at that time. Any suggestions? I also need to start walking at that time to fill up the time so I'm not eating as much.

  28. This blog is so timely and hit so close to home. It's nice to know other people struggle with this type of thing. I have the exact same issue, mindless snacking, only at a different time of day but your solution of tackling it a week at a time is very helpful. I also started taking a college class that meets at my difficult time and requires me to read, and I never snack while reading, so that combination is helping a lot.

  29. After reading this post, you inspired me to "give it a try", challenge myself NOT TO SNACK AFTER DINNER, and I have posted about it on my blog with a link back to yours.

    I love reading your blog and love the fact that even as CEO of the company, you are still able to share your struggles with the rest of the Weight Watchers community. Thank you!

  30. I want to stop picking my toenails. It's a disgusting habit that is only possible because I stopped chewing my nails. Grrrr... Sometimes it is just hard being human!

  31. Hi David and greetings from New Zealand where we're going into summer - yay!
    Another great post. I also find it much easier to do something healthy than stop doing something unhealthy. Sometimes I think it's because I have the addictive gene - it's all or nothing. I also find if I'm focusing on the healthy, I lose total interest in the unhealthy- which helps!
    I think that's a good thing. It suggests we focus on the positive behavior as opposed to the negative. Interesting too how making the goal public, helped keep you on track.
    As you pointed out, one week does not a habit break. I like your idea of one week 'pulses' for the things we find really tough and can easily lapse into. And setting our own 'rules' is important. I don't eat desert - never have it in the house, but on special occasions if I'm out to dinner and everyone else is having one, I'll have one or will share one.
    And lastly, that feeling of satisfaction after completing the goal is what keeps us motivated to keep going - even if we do lapse. That intrinsic reward/sense of achievement and feeling of continuous improvement and progress - however small- is so important - as is not beating ourselves up and feeling down when we fail :) If we can get 'addicted' to that feeling of slow but continuous achievement and feeling good about ourselves, that self-esteem and self belief could pervade areas of our life.

  32. Hi David,
    (Do you get to read these posts? I sure hope you see how much your thoughts help us!)
    As others have said - thanks for posting "out loud" what I also struggle with and try to hide. A couple of thoughts:
    1. You do that too?? (especially #1 and #4)
    2. I have latched on to the label for #1, my worst habit, and it repulses me, which is exactly what I need.
    Again, thanks so so much!

  33. Really helpful, thanks. Snacking in the evening hss been one of my issues too. Sometimes its even budgeted in, but "spending" 6 or 8 PP on popcorn does not seem very nutritional. Plus once I am on the "budgeted" slippery slope of snacking, instead of stoping at 29 it just goes on.

    Someone mentioned not eating before 7 am or after 7 pm. Sometimes I make it 8 am to 8 pm as I keep later hours. I am trying to make this declaration of kitchen closed at 7 pm. So far its been 2 days. I find if I go upstairs away from the kitchen that helps.

    I just joined WW 5 weeks ago, went through that initial quick weight loss of 13 lbs during the first 4 weeks and now I feel like I am digging into the real task of the program. I have several 10% goals to accomplish and set (ie what?! 70+ lbs to lose if I get to my height weight numbers which sort of seems like an impossibility). BUT I see other people on program lose 70, 80, or 100 lbs with time, I can do it too. It will just take time.

  34. I've been on maintenance for 6 years now, but even when losing I planned a snack in the evening. No mindless eating allowed! Using the Points plan, I spent 2 Points on this snack and really enjoyed and depended on it. On maintenance, I still have a snack later in the evening. Maybe plan your snack and track it ahead to write it in stone?

  35. Myself being naturally nervous and always having to do something, I find myself with the same problems. For me, I could never long-term "make myself" stop eating at night.

    What I discovered through some self analysis, was that my "mindless eating" was my bodies way of forcing me to relax. Foods I crave, salty or sweet, raise serotonine and relax me. So when I started to get these cravings instead of ignoring them, I gave my body the relaxation it was clearing yelling for. When I realized it was my bodies way of asking for help, trying to actually solve it, totally resolved my need to eat late in the evening.

    So instead of "making myself" stop I actually could just stop, but replacing it with what my body needed -- RELAXATION of the mind.

  36. First, let me say that I enjoy reading your blog. You are struggling with all the same problems as the rest of us mere mortal Weight Watcher members! After dinner snacking has got to be one of the hardest things to overcome.

    I, like some of the other posters, save some points plus for evening snackage. I savor my 2 point plus mini bars!

    Thanks for this wonderful blog and keeping it real.


  37. Hi David,
    Your post was so appropriate for me this week as I was able to leverage from this to allow me to self disclose to my team this past weekend how you and I will challenge our habits and more importantly to be accountable. If i could share with you the effect this has had on my team of 55 (Leaders & MTM's) is profound. There emails and success this week has been through the roof!! Thanks' so much for your blog. If you only you how supportive it is!! Thanks Again - Sherryl AM Aust

  38. Hi David,

    I can not tell you how the hours of 8pm to 11pm are the curse of all curses. Thanks for the ideas, I am going to try an "evening fast" for the rest of the week - already had two terrible days, but never too late to start!


  39. I've often gone to bed early when the snacking urge won't go away. But I also find it helps to drink a cup of 1 point hot cocoa and then pop a piece of gum in my mouth until bedtime!