Does your self-control go to pot in the evening?

Does your self-control go to pot in the evening?

As lockdowns continue to try and curb transmission of Covid19, the pressure we’re under may show in our eating patterns. My blog this week is on a situation I often hear from clients, which is that they struggle with their eating much more in the evenings than other times of day. This was true before Covid and for many people is even more of an issue now… My client Rhiannon realised that years of failed dieting were in part to do with feeling unable to control her eating at the end of the day. Here’s her story – please share it with anyone who might be interested.

“I’m good in the mornings but hopeless in the evenings, when I can’t resist eating”

This is something I hear often when clients talk to me about particular issues they have with food. Take Rhiannon for example. She contacted me because yet another diet had started well, but faltered after the initial honeymoon. Rhiannon was a seasoned dieter and had dealt with dieting failures by chalking them up to experience and hoping that the next would be THE one that worked.

Deep down Rhiannon doubted whether dieting could help her lose weight and keep it off, and had come to see herself as weak-willed. When I assessed what might be getting in the way of her being able to make changes to how she eats, one of the main issues that came up was her feeling that she lacks willpower.

She had seen my blog and wanted to find out more about Appetite Retraining as she was excited to realise that her issues with food might have answers other than conventional dieting. She said that as she read the articles I’d written, she recognised herself in many of them. She read my book and got in touch for some specific help with increasing her willpower.

Feeling weak-willed

Years of yo-yo dieting had taken its toll on Rhiannon’s confidence and she was feeling pretty down on herself for lacking self-control. She put on a brave face around friends and joked with them about being hopeless when it came to resisting temptation. But at home in the evening it didn’t feel funny.

The first thing we did was to look at Rhiannon’s overall self-discipline and willpower. She had a demanding job, which had become all the more demanding during the pandemic as she was working long hours from home. Her days weren’t broken up with friendly coffee breaks as they had been in the office and she was feeling drained and unsupported. She didn’t want to complain though as she felt lucky to have a secure job.

What was clear was that Rhiannon was using copious amounts of self-control and willpower to keep on track all day working. She kept returning to her desk and her zoom meetings even when all she wanted to do was sign off for the day and watch box-sets. She certainly wasn’t lacking in self-discipline as an employee!

Rhiannon’s willpower trouble seemed to be specific to eating.

Willpower levels fluctuated depending on time of day

Even around eating though, Rhiannon’s lack of willpower around food wasn’t constant – it hugely depended on time of day. She found it really easy to eat the healthy breakfast and lunch that she planned, and only started to struggle towards the end of the day. When she closed her laptop at the end of her day, she seemed to close her willpower down too!

Rhiannon found it really helpful to focus in on this issue as the particular thing she needed help with – it had surfaced with every diet she had tried. She had noticed the pattern, but blamed her own ‘weakness’ and felt she should just put more effort in. Unfortunately this had never worked.

Enhancing willpower involves understanding it

The pattern Rhiannon wanted to change was eating more than she intended at dinner and then grazing her way through to bedtime. Some nights this meant a lot of food. Strikingly she felt that almost none of the evening eating was actually enjoyable – it was more that she was chasing the possibility of genuine pleasure.

What she wanted in the evenings was relaxation and fun, and the pleasure of a really enjoyable snack with a glass of wine to replace the mindless grazing that had been making her feel unhappy.

Once she understood the link between willpower and energy, it made sense to her to tackle this specific eating habit rather than try – yet again – to overhaul her entire diet.

Using proven behaviour-change techniques she was able to stick to a plan for what to eat for her evening meal, and to swap the unsatisfying snacking for a special treat. Not only did she lose weight through cutting down on unrewarding evening eating, but she felt her confidence boosted. She realised that far from being weak-willed, she was using self-discipline and willpower throughout her day and this changed her view of herself for the better.

Four types of self-sabotage

Lack of willpower is just one of the four types of self-sabotage I discovered as I developed Appetite Retraining, and I made a short video explaining all four types here:

My short video on the 4 main types of weight-loss sabotage

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