Night Eating and Behavior Change

What behavior did you select to change and why?

I felt it was important to change my habit of eating past nine o’clock at night, because this behavior was done on an emotional level, for reasons such as stress, anxiety, boredom, and occasionally depression. Since most of the foods I consume at night are high in sugar, I was concerned about my diabetes and cancer risk . By cutting off consumption before nine, I felt I could close that gateway to unhealthy snacking and potential binge eating. My short-term goal for the duration of this assignment was to reduce mindless eating to four or fewer nights a week.

What procedure did you use to change your behavior? What information on behavior change in the text applied to your situation?

My behavior change plan was contingent to The Health Belief Model. I wanted to change my eating habits because I feel at risk for chronic diseases, like cancer and Type 2 diabetes. One’s beliefs “relating to the effectiveness…and consequences” of engaging or not engaging in a behavior are the basis for this model (Gurung, 2010, p.190). Self-efficacy is another important factor of the HBM model. This is “defined as the conviction that one can successfully execute the behavior…to produce” the desired results (Gurung, 2010, p.191). Often during this project, my dedication wavered because I didn’t feel I was capable of stopping the behavior. I felt like I had lost all control of my eating .

According to Prochaska & DiClemente (as cited in Gurung, 2010), I spent much of this project in the contemplation and preparation stage. I was aware of the benefits of changing, but remained ambivalent. I would enter the action stage at times, but would never remain there for long.

Perhaps instead of working on the elimination of this habit, I could have instead focused energies towards creating new health habits unrelated to eating, such as exercising for the purposes of reducing stress and anxiety . Or I could have implemented a new behavior to replace the eating, such as reading a book, going for a walk, listening to music, or coloring that would make it easier to stop. All of these are things I’ve used in the past as an attempt to replace other destructive behaviors. In therapy four years ago, I was instructed to create a “distress tolerance kit” when faced with the urge to self-injure, restrict food intake, or induce vomiting. I filled it with objects and activities that would help create the opposite of a negative emotion I was feeling. This method proved effective, and I am now free of these behaviors. But I never considered a distress tolerance kit to resolve night-eating .

What successes did you experience? How did you reward your successes?

The one success I experienced was that I stopped eating from vending machines, almost entirely. This occurred somewhere in the middle of the project. In the beginning of the project, I tried to reward myself by putting a sticker next to days I didn’t eat past nine. After awhile, I stopped. Perhaps the lack of positive reinforcement was a reason I had difficulty changing .

What factors hindered your progress toward your goal? How did you adjust to these restraining forces/barriers?

Along the way, I was constantly hindered by stress, anxiety, and occasional depression. I was diagnosed with anxiety years ago and have managed it with medication, but I’ve experienced a recent increase. All of these emotional factors played a role in my eating. I was prescribed more medication towards the end of this project to help with my anxiety. It is too soon to tell if this will help me to reduce my night eating habit .

Some of the days I ate past nine were due to a lack of calories consumed during the day. Although the amount consumed at night was not always excessive. I often found myself eating the granola bars I purchased for work and snacks between classes late at night instead. For a period of time I had my arm chair in front of my food shelf to serve as a deterrent. I should have remembered from my past struggle from Anorexia and Bulimia, it is difficult, if not impossible, to hide food from myself. I purchased fresh fruits and vegetables when I had the chance . I usually get these servings from the school dining hall and therefore don’t always have my own supply.

Negative self-talk did not aid in the process of behavior change. Obviously calling myself derogatory names is not the way to go about change . I practice positive-self talk throughout my day in many aspects of my day. But I rarely do so regarding eating. In the future, I may benefit from further cognitive behavioral or dialectical behavior therapy .

I’ve begun to spend more time with a supportive friend on campus who also copes with mental illness. Spending time with her in the evening has deterred, or at the very least delayed, some of the night eating .

In Chapter 7, Gurung (2010) suggests recording how many times a day food was consumed, what was eaten, how much was consumed, and what factors determined these choices. The text provided examples such as taste, convenience, emotion, availability, advertising, weight control, hunger, family values, peers, nutritional value, and cost. Table 7.1 suggests recording the time of day, amount of time spent eating, the degree of hunger experienced, and the other activities that may have been performed while eating This logging format may have been more helpful than the vague one I constructed for myself.

Were there any cultural factors that had an impact on your behavior and/or the behavior change process?

Cultural factors that influenced my behavior change involved the social aspect of eating and snacking. Events in the residence hall with food were often scheduled past nine. Sometimes friends would want to go on a late night run for ice cream or George Webb’s, but I realized I could enjoy their company without feeling obligated to eat . I tried to make a plan tailored to allow me to eat socially past nine, but not excessively .

How do you feel about your ability to change your own behavior?

I feel less confident in my ability to change behavior. In the past, I was able to reduce, and eventually eliminate, restrictive eating, compensatory behaviors (such as inducing vomiting after eating), and self-injury in a time span similar to that of this semester. Perhaps in the future I would benefit from more Cognitive Behavioral or Dialectical Behavior Therapies .

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