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:
- Going on steady-state feed mode throughout the afternoon on weekends
- Saying “yes” to everything served on an airplane
- Getting overly ambitious with appetizers at social events
- 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...
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.
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.
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.
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?!