There is a concept in parenting called the arsenic hour. Even if you have never heard of it if you think about it for a minute I bet you can guess when it is. When everyone arrives home after work, a parent is trying to get dinner on the table, the kids are tired, fussy, want attention and food, and everyone is just miserable. I’ve also seen it refer to a baby’s uncanny ability to melt down right when the parents are the most tired and frazzled, again, usually right before dinner. Like arsenic, it can poison the evening.
I have an internal arsenic hour, and yep, it is right before dinner. I am: Tired. Hungry. Fussy. Frantic even. My willpower and problem-solving skills are at their lowest point in the day. If I don’t have a plan, more often than not I am screwed. Pizza starts its siren song, not even because I am overly fond of pizza, but because the local pizza joint is fast, and the greasy food slides right down without much thought or effort on my part. If I am especially tired or blue, wine starts calling my name, too. And if I pour a glass of wine while I am trying to figure out how to feed myself and my family that evening? Oh, yeah. It seldom goes well.
I am figuring out that the time to combat the arsenic hour is NOT at 6:30 p.m. Too late. I have to start much earlier in the day.
I have to plan ahead. Just like I did when my daughter was a baby. I remember a time or two thinking: Well, yeah, she’s a wee bit over due for her nap, or a feeding, but I can just run into Target and quickly grab what I need. How often did that backfire? I had a wailing baby in my cart, and what seemed like a million judging eyes on me in the aisle. So I seldom did that. Because I knew it didn’t work, knew it wasn’t good for my baby or me, knew the value of planning and scheduling and routine.
But at night sometimes I am a big, cranky baby. I just can’t pull it together to make a good choice sometimes. I can’t even get mad at myself or judge myself for that. Well, I could, but that gets me no where. Look, we are all born with some challenge, right? I was born with a deficit of willpower, and a desire to eat when I have a bad day. I can rail at the gods about that. OR thank my lucky stars that this is my big challenge right now, one that I can overcome and DO something about.
So I have a big, late afternoon snack, and I have a plan for dinner, meaning the food is already at home and at least partially prepped. Once again, Heather at HSM has helped me take a look at my behavior, and craft a plan I can live with. Having chicken already cooked, veggies washed and ready to go, a salad at the ready (even if it is just my beloved salad-in-a-bag), is almost the nicest thing imaginable at 5:30 p.m.
The snack is really more like a fourth meal. I’ll have a big salad with chicken. Or a big apple with some cheese. A Grande Nonfat Latte and a Quest bar. A half of a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Half a turkey sandwich. Almonds or Triscuits and string cheese. NOT a pointless, empty-calorie- laden “100 Calorie Pack.” Those things leave me hungry and bitter, desperately wanting more.
IF I have the snack. IF I plan. IF I prep. IF. Then I almost always stay within my calorie goals. The evening is more pleasant. I do not stand in the kitchen, feeling very very VERY sorry for myself that I have to cook, and I can’t have what I want, I am tired, poor me. That is pure arsenic to my weight loss efforts.
And seriously, to my soul.
I don’t want to do that to myself anymore. Just like the few disastrous ill-timed Target runs with my baby, I can’t say it will never happen (I am a slow learner) but I can tell you over the last year I have noticed that I have less and less arsenic hours.
I am learning my own personal formula for the antidote.