A couple weeks ago, I added a new habit to my list: finishing my food for the day by 8pm. My goal was to do this 25 times by the end of the year.
Why did I choose this goal? I’ve been noticing that if I eat too much, too late, I feel uncomfortable while going to sleep. My sleep is not great and I thought this habit might improve it. Why only 25 times? Because I have a past history with any “rule” that sounds like a diet rule, and I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I just wanted to start experimenting with this habit to see how it felt. 25 times amounted to roughly 3 times per week. I was uncertain as to whether focusing on this habit is a good idea in the first place. What if it sends me back to a dieting mindset?
I noticed those feelings and tried to address them. You don’t have to do it every day. The goal is 3 times per week. That leaves plenty of room for listening to your body. If you are hungry and need to eat, go for it. It won’t mean throwing in the towel. If you didn’t get home in time to finish eating by 8, the goal is flexible enough to accommodate that. If you are watching a movie and want a snack for pleasure, not hunger….well, there is room for that too.
This is not about restricting myself from eating food that my body is hungry for. It’s about encouraging me to finish all that food early enough in the day that my sleep won’t be compromised by a full belly. It’s about noticing where I am in this process/journey of developing an intuitive eating practice…and noticing that I have made great strides with it during the daytime, and not as much in the evening. Therefore, it’s about giving myself an external reminder (the clock) during the time of day when I feel least likely to remember to eat in tune with my hunger and satiety cues. And since the goal is not perfection (but rather, 25 times by the end of the year), there is room for me to check in with myself and decide that I DO want or need to eat after 8pm on any given night for any reason.
Even acknowledging all of this flexibility, I still notice some uneasiness with this idea. Not necessarily in a “red flag” sense…maybe just in a “notice the sensation” sense that yoga teachers talk about when holding a challenging pose.
I again reassure myself that this isn’t a diet rule, it’s a habit goal/guideline I created to help serve ME. If, upon trying it for a while, I determine that I am not ready for this habit or that it is causing me more harm than good, I have the option to modify it, much like a yoga teacher might offer me a modification. For example, I can modify the time of day, or the number of days. Or, if I determine that this habit is not for me right now, I can choose to hang out in metaphorical child’s pose or savasana and choose to skip it entirely and then work on the next thing.
Okay then. Here are some sensations, thoughts and feelings I am noticing in the past 16 days of having this habit on my list:
- I feel so much more comfortable when lying down to sleep at night!
- I also feel more rested when I wake up in the morning.
- My digestion feels much calmer. My intestines feel “clearer.” (Not sure if that is the right word, but hopefully you get what I mean.
- Just having this clock reminder (and seeing how I am having a very easy time eating enough by 8pm to keep me satisfied) is showing me how often I used to continue eating after I felt satisfied. Eating is awesome. Eating and watching TV was my preferred way to unwind at night. Now that I am consciously choosing to stop eating by a certain time, I find that I don’t want to watch as much TV.
- On nights when I finish my food before 8pm, I also find it easier to do some of my other habit goals, such as not starting any TV shows after 9pm, and going to bed by 10pm. When I’m not distracting myself by eating, I am better able to notice my body’s signals such as “I’m tired, and looking at a screen doesn’t sound as good as going to sleep.”
- Part of me feels resistant to sharing this post at all. I have a fear that some people will want to congratulate me for taking a step that looks remotely like dieting. The whole good fatty / bad fatty dichotomy thing. If you are proud of me for being a “good fatty,” I don’t want to know. I’m not doing this to lose weight. I’m doing this to get better sleep at night and see what happens. People being “proud of me” reminds me of being a kid under constant pressure to lose weight and feeling the disappointment and fear of my mother when I did not show interest in engaging in dieting behaviors at the age of eight. I don’t want it.
- I don’t know whether I want to blog about this. On the surface, “don’t eat after 8pm” sounds like a diet rule, and I don’t want to encourage people to live/think in terms of absolutes or listening to an arbitrary rule instead of cultivating trust in one’s own body when trying to improve health.
- At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if this change will have any effect on my weight. I don’t want to focus on that but sometimes I can’t help it. My biggest fear is that this particular habit will send me back into a weight-obsessed mindset. I am taking the risk, for now.
- So far, it doesn’t feel difficult at all and I am not feeling any resistance to it, other than the fear I mentioned about going back into a weight-obsessed mindset, and the unease about people congratulating me for it because it is seen as a “good fatty” thing to do. The habit itself is actually feeling pretty easy. I’ve already figured out how to eat enough to meet my needs during the day.
- Since I am not aiming for perfection, it’s interesting to feel what “balance” is like, as opposed to “all or nothing.” In the last 15 days, I’ve been successful with this habit 12 times! Of the three days that I ate after 8pm: one day I just wanted to snack, another day I felt hungry after 8pm, and another day I got home late and didn’t have time to eat dinner until later in the day. Life happens, and any good habit goal needs to allow for that.
- I expected to feel more resistance to a habit like this. I don’t think I would have a chance at success if I had chosen this as my first habit goal. I needed the positive experience at incorporating at least 10 other habits before I attempted something that looked remotely like diet advice. But I’m at the point where I’ve gotten used to “listening to myself,” so to speak. I think parenting has primed me for this. If my kid had a deep resistance to trying something, I would probably say “he’s not ready yet,” and focus on something else (okay, you got me. That’s bullshit. Ask me how well I”m doing with this potty training thing). If he seemed to have some only some mild resistance, I would try and talk to him about what was causing the resistance, reassure him if the fears were unfounded, and still encourage him to try things out of his comfort zone. Part of this process has been learning to treat myself in the same way in order to encourage my own growth.
So if I have all this resistance to publishing this, why am I doing it anyway? Because I personally find it extremely helpful when other people share what positive, constructive self talk looks like. I believe that one reason positive self-talk and self-listening can feel so unnatural for most women is that we don’t have many female role models who practice these skills. Most women are self-deprecating at least some of the time. I would love to see this change. And so I recognize that if I am having some success with changing these patterns, I can contribute to this change by sharing my inner monologue out loud. So there you go. That’s my latest habit I’m working on. Hope everyone is having a great holiday weekend!