The behavior I decided that I wanted to change was eating late at night. I had been making an effort to improve my diet and eating habits. I noticed that while I usually stuck to my goals in the morning, afternoon, and early evening, these habits often fell apart close to bedtime. I also noticed that I most often wanted to eat sugary foods at this time. After these initial recollections, I observed these behaviors for seven days. Out of the seven days, I ate late at night on four different days. Of those four days, three of the days I indulged in sweet treats before bed. The other night I ate chips and salsa. Of the nights I didn’t eat late, I identified some behaviors that were different from an average night. I noticed that one night I spent with friends, one night I went to bed early, and one night I ate a late dinner.
I looked up some possible reasons for late-night binges. Several different health specialists said that common reasons for people to eat late at night was because they associated food with other nighttime behaviors. Often, this was something like watching TV or playing video games. My eating was not specifically related to any behaviors. I found that I ate during a variety of behaviors, so I ruled out that as the root of my habit. Another popular reason was that people who ate at night tended to eat not eat enough during the day. This seemed to be a probably reason for my late night snacks. Often I skip breakfast because I am running late. Usually, I eat dinner around six or seven at night, but I don’t usually go to bed until after midnight. I realized that that was not eating five or six hours before I went to bed which is more time between any of meals in the daytime! This definitely seemed like a viable cause for my cravings. I had always been told that eating late was not good maintaining body weight, but eating so early actually seemed to be the reason for my super late-night snacks.
Additionally, I wanted to learn more about sugar cravings. From all of the doctors and dieticians who addressed this in my research, they all mentioned that often these sugar cravings come from not eating enough. This resonated with me and was related to my earlier assertion that eating dinner so early was causing me to snack on sugar so late at night. Some other reasons for craving sugar was not eating a balanced diet. Eating too many starches without a balance of fiber and protein caused people’s blood sugar to quickly drop. This is when they reached for sugary foods. On the other hand, people who ate a balanced meal did not find themselves craving sugar.
Finally, something else I came across again and again in my research was that the average person often eats simply out of boredom. Often, eating out of boredom can itself become a habit. I also felt like this could be an aspect of my problem. Suggestions to break this proclivity was to establish different habits at times when a pattern of mindless eating had developed. Another simple tip was to think before eating.
I used this information to create my own personal behavioral contract for curbing my late-night eating habits, and particularly, my tendency to eat sugary foods. I decided upon three things I would do to help change this behavior.
Eat a balanced dinner (including plenty of fiber and protein) an hour later than normal (sometime between seven thirty and nine o’clock at night).
Have healthy, portioned snacks on hand if cravings do arrive. I made little bags full of vegetables and had individual packages of fruit snacks on hand.
Create a bedtime routine that does not involve snacking.
I implemented my social contract and practiced it for eight days. It definitely took some time and control to practice these behaviors. I had to take time to prepare the pre-planned snacks. I found that the best way to prepare them was when I was already making other food. I settled on getting them ready when I was making my dinner. I did end up eating these snacks a couple of different times. It was nice to have them on hand, and I found that when I did feel hungry and reach for them, I did not feel guilty like I normally do when I eat at night.
Eating dinner later and ensuring it was a balanced meal was probably the easiest part of the contract. A few times I found myself a bit hungry earlier on, but I think I got used to that eating time. I already usually eat balanced meals, so there was not much of a change there.
My bedtime routine was pretty simple and not too much different from what I normally do. I included reading in a certain location and drinking a glass of water to my usual list of bedtime activities like brushing my teeth and checking the next day’s weather forecast. This too, was not very difficult to follow through with. It was actually nice to have some set things to fall back on. I found myself more relaxed when it was time to sleep.
Overall, I found that my behavioral contract was effective! I did not feel the need to eat sugary, unportioned snacks at night when I practiced these behaviors. I was shocked at how easy it was to succeed at my goal when I went through the steps of the behavioral contract. I think one of the reasons that it was so effective for me was that it caused me to really identify and think about my undesirable habit in the first place. I noticed aspects of it that I had not noticed before. From there, making the necessary changes required minimal effort. I felt good about the things that I was doing, rather than feeling bad about the things I did not want to do.