Getting Through the Witching Hour

I have found that many dieters I work with initially have a “witching hour:” a period of an hour or two each day where cravings are strong and staying on track feels much harder. For most dieters, this is either the period right before dinner (around 4 PM – 6 PM) or in the hours after dinner but before bed (8 PM -10 PM).  Dieters often think that they just can’t get through it without eating, but this is only because they don’t have skills that they need.

I am working with a dieter named Sarah whose witching hour is between 8 and 10 PM. She told me that every night around that time, she starts thinking about food and eating a lot more, and it’s difficult for her to stand firm. To help Sarah stay on track, the first thing we did was come up with an eating schedule for the evening. For some dieters, it may work to not eat at all during the witching hour, and for some it’s perfectly reasonable to plan a snack. We decided that we would try the latter strategy first, since it was reasonable for her to have a dessert-type snack after dinner. Sarah eats dinner at 6:30, and is usually in bed by 10:30, so she decided that she would plan to have an evening snack at 9:00. Immediately after dinner Sarah is full, so it’s easier to not eat, and then from 7:30-8:30 she’s usually distracted with getting her kids to bed. We knew that 8:30-9:00 might be a hard time to not eat, and that after she ate her snack it might be hard to not keep eating more.

Once we made a schedule of when she would eat (and, of course, when she wouldn’t eat), we then made a plan to help her stick to it. Sarah made a Response Card to read right after she finished putting her kids to bed to remind her why it was worth it to her to wait to have her evening snack:

Even though I want to eat right now, it’s worth it to wait so that I can reach my goals. I have to prove to myself I can overcome these cravings, or I’ll always be at risk for eating too much in the evening.

We then talked about some things that Sarah could do to help her stay distracted. We knew that her cravings go away when she’s fully engaged in something else. Sarah made a list of things she could do, like clean the kitchen, call her mom or her sister, play a game on her phone, do a crossword puzzle, or go through her kids’ toys and clean out the things they no longer play with. Since television alone is not always distracting enough, we decided that if she was going to watch TV during this time, she would make sure to pair it with another activity (like TV plus coloring in her adult coloring book, TV plus knitting, or TV plus deleting pictures on her phone that aren’t worth keeping).

We then came up with a plan for what Sarah would do after she had her snack to help to stop eating.  We made another Response Card for her to read:

It’s worth it to stop eating now! If I keep eating, I’ll wind up feeling mad at myself and when I stop eating I’ll feel so proud of myself. Remember that the moment my brain is engaged in something else is the moment it stops feeling hard not to eat.)

And we decided that after she read her Response Card she would either do another distracting activity, or she would just go upstairs, brush her teeth, get in bed early and read (in addition to losing weight, Sarah also had a goal of reading more).

If you have a witching hour, consider this same approach! Make a schedule for when/if you’ll eat and then formulate a plan to help you stick to it. Make Response Cards to read before and/or after and come up with some distracting activities to help you get your mind off of eating and on to something else.

What is your witching hour? What do you do—or what do you now plan to do—at that time? Post in the comments below!

9 replies
  1. Oola
    Oola says:

    I’ve been calling such times the “witching hour” for years! I do better with fewer eating events per day, but I will sometimes have a decaf with creamer in the afternoon, my witching hour. So glad the night snacking is over.

    Reply
  2. Mary Ogden
    Mary Ogden says:

    These are great ideas! Unfortunately, BOTH of the times you mention are my witching hours! I can usually distract myself during the time before dinner (I usually have a class at the gym), but after dinner is tough. I will plan to do the following: after i clean up in the kitchen, I’ll read my cards, all of them. I’ll plan to have a snack around 8pm, then read my cards again. If I’m still tempted, I’ll brush my teeth and go read. Thanks for the timely post!

    Reply
    • Jen
      Jen says:

      Me too! I was reading and saying to myself, umm not once but both times! I will also put those on cards and read them. I know I don’t need to eat during those times. I’m not hungry. I need to read in my bedroom, away from the kitchen.

      Reply
    • Madonna Molinari
      Madonna Molinari says:

      I also have the same witching hours about 5 PM when I get home from work and then later in the evening around 8:30 pr 9 PM. The worst one is at 5 when I get home from work. I’m not ready for dinner and I just feel like snacking on something. Its also a bad time for my husband, so we both end up eating too much junk. I am going to work at making a plan to go for a walk right when I get home, so I am not so anxious and try to persuade him to join me for extra support.

      Reply
  3. Carrie
    Carrie says:

    The interesting thing about me is that my witching hour is at 2- 2:30pm. I eat to stay awake! I start work at 3pm and I am afraid if I nap I will be late for work. I eat at that time. The plan next time is to go ahead and nap. I will just set my phone alarm to wake me in time for work!

    Reply
  4. Alyssa Mozelle McCord
    Alyssa Mozelle McCord says:

    Both! About a week ago I started mixing my afternoon coffee with a GC control powder, low fat milk and ice then blending it. I have never been fans of “powders” before but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try something to help me get through that time before dinner. It has REALLY helped. It keeps me full. Now…after dinner…a WHOLE DIFFERENT STORY. I like to stay up late and I noticed after 10pm especially I want something mindless to snack on. Popcorn, crackers, nuts, etc. I tried to make a rule of no eating after X time when I was making food rules and it made me SO uncomfortable I didn’t write it down.

    Reply
  5. Sprog
    Sprog says:

    My witching hour is the end of the working day when I am alone in the office … just me and all the left over sweet stuff I have frequently successfully resisted all day.

    I have been maintaining my weight for to years now and this is still my downfall. When I crack it, maintaining my weight loss will be much easier.

    I throw every tactic I have at it:

    It is important to give myself credit for not having given in in the day and remind myself I want to stregthen my resistace muscle.
    I tell myself “oh, well”.
    I remind myself there will always be other cakes and biscuits.
    I put open packets in the tin I brought in to hide them.
    I visualise a reminder of my Diet Coach on the bisuit tin.
    I get support online.
    If I have worked the hours I am paid to work I remind myself “If I can’t stay on without eating I should just go home”.
    I made a special coloured response card to this situation – but often don’t remember to look at it – which is silly!
    I have a low calorie hot chocolate – even if I have two this is the calories of one biscuit!
    I do sometimes think about my advanages of maintaining my weight loss.
    I should remind myself more often that I am unlikely to eat just one ..and perhaps using delay and giving myself permission to have one as I leave the office would be helpful (and I might not bother then!)?
    And I know that the more often I give in, the harder the struggle is.

    And I don’t eat more often than I do eat. But it is a constant work in progress, that without the BEck techniques would scupper me entirely.

    Reply
  6. Mary Hathaway
    Mary Hathaway says:

    My witching hours start the minute my husband goes to bed. And as he usually goes to bed about 8 or 8:30 pm and I am not sleepy until 10 or 10:30, this is 2 to 2 1/2 hours. If I can get control of my witching hours, it would be a major victory in my struggle with my weight.

    Reply

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