Whenever I ask people what the most difficult habit is for them to break, late night snacking is often the first thing they say. This doesn’t surprise me.
If you feel like a zombie every night when you get home from work, it’s because you pretty much are one. Even if you enjoy your job, you are still subject to countless stressors throughout the day that deplete your cognitive resources––especially those required for self-control. Without a well of willpower to rely on at the end of the day, our brains go into autopilot to avoid more heavy lifting.
For these reasons, more than at any other time of day our evening actions are guided by habit. All the cues and triggers around our home––the TV, computer, couch, etc.––guide us mindlessly to the pantry for the cookies, or the freezer for the ice cream, and we eat to our heart’s content (not our mind’s or stomach’s content, those guys stopped caring hours ago). Stopping doesn’t even occur to us. We just continue until the cookies are gone, or the carton is empty.
It makes sense that these late night eating habits are particularly difficult to kick. Bad food habits are hard to break as is, but at night we have even less self-control than at other times of day for reshaping them, so we usually don’t even try. These habits are also especially strong, since they are deeply entrenched through weeks, months and years of repetition.
So what should we do?