- The first one is obvious but important: Minimise the availability of easy-to-binge snack foods. If it’s not in the house, you’re much less likely to eat it. “I’ll just have to use will power” is a perfect setup for giving in when the time comes. Harness motivation when it’s high to set yourself up for success when motivation is low. That might mean throwing away your stash now, or donating it to the common area at work, and then not buying more.
- Plan a more healthful alternative and have it already made. It’s hard to just take something away without replacing it. Is there a more healthful alternative you could have on hand? It might even be something very small like a bite of good chocolate or a mint. Practise accepting that it’s not going to give you the same feeling as eating half a box of cookies or a pint of ice cream. Make sure it’s prepared in advance so there’s no additional obstacle to the better option.
- Mix up your routine. Part of habitual late night eating is just that, a habit. If you mix up your routine, it can help nudge you out of a rut. For example, if you’re accustomed to grabbing the chips and dips on your way to the couch to watch TV, you could plan instead to read a book you like with a cup of tea. For some people, simply brushing and flossing their teeth as soon as they’re done with dinner can be adequate incentive to discourage eating again, since it would mean having to redo the teeth routine. It may take careful thought and planning to identify a strategy that works for you.
- Examine the thoughts you’re telling yourself. Most of us have beliefs about cravings that aren’t helpful or true. For example, we might be telling ourselves, I can’t be happy if I don’t eat that food. We might have ‘permission-giving’ thoughts like, I ate pretty well today–I deserve to indulge myself tonight. Other examples include:
- This craving will never go away unless I satisfy it.
- Resisting this urge will be so uncomfortable I won’t be able to stand it.
- I’m just going to give in later so I might as well give in now – at least this way I’m not eating as late.
- It’s only one night; tomorrow I’ll be more disciplined.
Practise noticing the thoughts that contribute to cravings. They might be hard to hear at first—more impressions than explicit statements. After we’ve identified our beliefs we can examine whether we might be misleading ourselves.
Licensed psychologist Seth Gillihan, PhD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Dr Gillihan has written and lectured nationally and internationally on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and how the brain is involved in regulating our moods. He co-authored Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery with Janet Singer and author of Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks. Dr Gillihan has a clinical practice in Haverford, Pennsylvania, where he specialises in CBT and mindfulness-based interventions for OCD, anxiety, depression, and related condition. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and children.
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