Groggy and unobserved, it’s easy to succumb to the sweet temptation of the ice cream, cookies, or freshly-baked apple pie. Tired but unable to sleep, you crave that sweet bite to make your dreams even sweeter. I know, I know.
For most of my life I have been there to answer temptation’s call.
As a child, I remember spending my summers at Aunt Pat’s in New York. She was very strict when it came to our meal schedule; we would have our last meal at 5 pm, followed by a long walk. Later on, when I thought she was asleep, I would tiptoe to the kitchen only to be startled by her voice just as I made it to the cookie cabinet: “Denissita, I hear you. Don’t go for the cookies. (Fig Newtons and Vanilla wafers were my absolute favorites. Oreos would get my teeth dark.) Come back to bed. ” Darn. Many years later, my dogs Nina and Lana would follow me to the kitchen and bark their demand for their share of whatever Mama was having. I had no luck.
For most of my life, I have struggled with the impulse to eat compulsively when I was tired, stressed or anxious. Food was comfort, an antidote for anxiety, stress, and fatigue. Many of us use food as a way to hide from our emotions, to fill a void, and to cope with daily stresses and issues in our lives. Food becomes addictive, precisely because we are craving comfort.
Problem is, once you succumb to the temptation, you often feel powerless and guilty. How many times have I asked myself, “why did I lose control?” In the bright light of day, the indulgence was never worth it. Worse yet, you have not addressed the issue that kept you awake to begin with.
Given the choice of the apple or the apple pie, it’s time to choose the apple.
After years of false starts, I made a commitment to change. First, I looked for patterns of behavior and I jotted them down. I was lucky enough to find a great therapist with whom I could share my feelings and frustrations. I started practicing meditation, five minutes a day at dawn and dusk, which helped lower my anxieties. I read about willpower and neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to learn new things and memorize new information. All these readings filled me with hope. I was motivated.
More changes were to come. I started to eat healthier. I added exercise to my daily routine. Exercise, especially after a long workday, invariably led to better sleep. It has been proven again and again that exercise lifts mood, reduces stress, and helps bring on the Zzz’s at night.
I have learned to be kinder to myself, to let go of my guilt and actually enjoy downtime. I have also developed more self-awareness. I might have a tempting thought, but that does not mean I have to act on it. The more disciplined I am, the easier it gets to have willpower.
I first learned of the concept of “putting one’s future self on sale” for the sake of instant gratification when I read the book “The Willpower Instinct” by Stanford University professor Kelly McGonigal. Since then it has become a personal mantra. I am not letting instant gratification put limits on the future me. And as they say, practice makes perfect, or at least it makes progress.
Which leads me to my choice: apple or apple pie. First of all, I don’t wake up at night anymore. But even if I did and I had the apple pie to tempt me…I have a better choice. I’d go back to sleep.