Working from home can seem like a dream — sleeping in, no commute times, flexible working hours, PJ pant meetings!
But when it comes to healthy eating, the desire to distract with food can completely derail a diet.
To prevent this habit from sabotaging your wellness goals and pausing work productivity, try these 14 science-backed tips for healthy eating when working from home:
Note When You Snack
Stick to a Schedule
Make Mealtime Matter
Step Up Sleep
Mix All Macros
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Prioritize Meal Prep
Be Careful with Caffeine
Get a Step Ahead of Snacking
Move Before you Munch
Keep in mind that not all of these tips will work for you. The trick is to experiment with them and find what works best for your body and what suits your schedule.
1. NOTE WHEN YOU SNACK
Keeping track of what you eat can be a key to resetting your eating habits. A food journal or diary can help you understand your eating habits and identify “why” you’re eating.
Research suggests that keeping a food journal can be a very effective tool for behavior change. In a study of almost 1,700 participants, the ones who kept a food record lost twice as much as those who didn’t!
Use a food diary in order to observe, examine, and understand you’re eating behaviors. Try not to judge yourself for what you jot down. If you label foods or actions as “bad” it will only discourage positive progress.
The more detailed your food diary, the better you’ll understand your behaviors. Harvard Health recommends the following when you track what you eat:
What – include specific foods that make up the meal, how it’s prepared, as well as any beverages, sauces, condiments, dresings, or toppings.
How much – list the measurements (such as “cup” or “handful”) as best as possible.
When – this can be really helpful to understand the effects of eating patterns such waiting too long between meals or skipping meals.
Where – this can be especially important when working from home. Record the specific place such as “standing in the kitchen” or “at my computer”.
What else – are you working while you eat, watching TV, reading a book, or just eating?
Who – who else are you eating with (if anyone)?
How are you feeling – both while you eat and after you eat. During the meal, do you feel stressed, happy, sad, lonely? Afterwards do you feel energized, slowed down, still hungry?
From this information you can play detective and examine when you may be eating mindlessly. This will also help you understand what foods keep you satisfied and if you’re having excessive amounts of, or too little of, certain foods.
For instance maybe the cream you’re adding to your coffee is more of a cup versus “just a splash”. Or maybe you’re not including any vegetables for the day. Be your own expert!
2. STICK TO A SCHEDULE
Sticking to a schedule will be one of the most important things you can do when trying to regulate your eating when working from home. With a kitchen full of tempting treats within reach, it becomes all too easy to snack in between meals.
Just because your day isn’t structured by getting ready in the morning, commutes, meetings, and designated lunch times, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t structure your day as if you’re still doing these activities.
If possible, eat earlier in the day. Some studies have suggested that eating within two hours of going to bed can increase heart disease risk and disrupt circadian rhythms, which is your body’s natural biological clock.
Aim to eat breakfast within an hour of waking up. Then plan your meals for the day, spaced about three to five hours apart, ending a couple hours before bed so your stomach has ample time to digest.
Related article: Can Eating At Home Help You Lost Weight?
3. MAKE MEALTIME MATTER
It can be extremely tempting to work through snacks and lunch in order to try and get more work done. But being distracted while you eat can lead to overeating both during the meal and decreased satiety after the meal.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that being distracted while eating caused people to eat more at that meal. The research showed that increasing mindfulness during a meal may actually help promote weight loss and maintenance.
Treat meal time as only meal time. Take a break from work and sit somewhere away from your workstation. If you’re not able to move away from your workstation, close your computer for a few moments while you eat.
4. STEP UP SLEEP
Good quality sleep is a critical factor in your health, weight, energy, and productivity. The Sleep Foundation emphasizes that sleep deprivation may also inhibit one’s ability to lose weight.
A 1999 study at the University of Chicago found that healthy young adults who restricted sleep just 4 hours per night, had glucose and insulin characteristics similar to diabetics.
Get a good night’s rest by:
Creating a schedule and sticking to it.
Avoiding drinking alcohol and coffee at least seven hours before bed.
Keeping your room dark and cool.
Disconnecting from devices (phones, TV, computer) at least an hour before bed.
Too much of the stress hormone, cortisol can also impact sleep and lead to weight gain. Keep stress at bay by practicing some mindful meditation.
5. MIX ALL MACROS
Eating a balanced meal (containing healthy carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) every few hours, will help stabilize your blood sugar, insulin, and cortisol. This means sustained energy and less cravings.
Focusing on balance will also help support your wellness and fitness goals, such as building muscle or powerlifting.
Aim to have one food in each of the following sections, for every meal. And at least two groups for snacks:
Chicken, fish, eggs, plain yogurt, nuts, beans.
Whole grain bread, rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, millet, potato.
Nuts, seeds, oil, avocado, olives.
Pretty much anything goes here, just keep in mind that some vegetables are starchy and fruits should be eaten in moderation (about two to three servings per day). Mix and match vegetables that you like. And add a fruit to a couple snacks or meals per day.
6. OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND
Studies even show that we eat with our eyes. There are dramatic physiological and brain changes seen in response to when we see food images. This presents a danger in the fact that we are exposed to food so often.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that motivates you to go after things that are conducive of survival. In addition, cortisol, the stress hormone, causes us to crave sweets and carbs. Our body is designed to help us survive, therefore it’s going to do what it can to motivate you to eat.
So, when you have that impulse to eat (especially during a stressful time) and a cupboard full of trigger foods, you’ll actually be fighting your biology in addition to work boredom.
Science of People featured a study conducted by Food Psychologist, Dr. Brian Wansink. He found that when secretaries sit near dishes filled with Hersey’s Kisses, they ate 71% more than those sitting near opaque dishes.
Set up your work from home environment to limit those quick temptations. If you live with kids or someone who you share those tasty treats with, ask if you can put the unhealthy foods in the fridge, drawers, or cupboard.
The more difficult it is to access your trigger foods, the better. If possible, don’t even buy them and bring them into the house. You can still indulge, just do it outside of the house or at least when you’re not working.
7. PRIORITIZE MEAL PREP
Planning your meals in advance can help you eat healthily, save money, and time. You may notice that cooking and preparing your meals takes a bit longer. But consider dedicating your typical commute time to meals.
Say for instance you’re used to an hour commute each way. Use 30 minutes to meal prep for lunch, then the rest for something like a walk or an at-home workout.
Start by targeting the meal(s) that are a challenge for you. Don’t worry about repeating meals if you want to keep it simple. For instance, pick five different main meals for the week. Try preparing these meals for dinner, with the extras to be used for lunch leftovers the next day.
If you prefer more variety in your meals, keep some staple meal components on hand and build from them. For instance, if you have leftover rice, use it to make a stir fry, beans and rice, or a simple rice and chicken dish.
If you’re making a meal in the moment, healthy greens such as rucola, spinach, and lettuce make great salads. However, if you’re preparing a meal in advance and plan to put it in the fridge, gravitate towards the cooked ones.
Write a grocery list and go at least once weekly (if possible). If you’re trying to limit grocery store trips or prepare further in advance for something such as a natural disaster or pandemic, check out:
8. AVOID ALCOHOL
William Gruchow, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, explains in Popular Science that our desire to have energy dense, fatty and carb filled foods (hello hangover burrito) after a night of drinking, is partially due to a brain chemical called galanin.
Galanin increases our appetite for fatty foods and alcohol intake increases galanin production.
MedicalNewsToday also states that alcohol consumption can interfere with blood sugar levels and the hormones that help keep it stable. Over time, alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of insulin, increasing the risk of diabetes.
In terms of how alcohol impacts eating healthily when working from home, the galanin leads to fat cravings while the dip in blood sugar leads to carb or sweet cravings. So if you’ve had a night of drinking, the following work from home day, you’ll be craving those fatty and sweet foods while suffering from the snack munchies.
9. BE CAREFUL WITH CAFFEINE
You may find yourself becoming besties with the coffee machine when you work at home. Having all day access to cup after cup may seem like a nice way to get an energy boost or pass the time, but be careful when it comes to caffeine.
Too much caffeine can cause some uncomfortable symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, stomach issues, and fatigue. Even though you may be drinking for energy, too much can cause you to feel tired.
What comes up, must come down. So when your caffeine boost wears off, you’ll be left feeling slow and wanting to grab a snack for energy.
Caffeine can affect your sleep, both keeping you awake longer and giving you less restorative sleep. This takes a toll on your alertness the next day.
Some experts believe that too much caffeine can increase cortisol, the “stress hormone”. Excess amounts of this hormone can lead to sugar cravings. Research also suggests that caffeine may interfere with the ability to taste sweet flavors and therefore increase cravings for sweets.
Coffee itself is full of health-boosting chemicals and properties. But what you add to it can quickly cancel out these benefits:
10. HYDRATE RIGHT
Dehydration is often mistaken for hunger. You may feel hungry when your body just needs more fluids. As explained by Alissa Rumsey, dietitian and spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition, the confusion happens in the hypothalamus which is the part of the brain that regulates appetite and thirst.
If you feel hungry, try drinking a glass of water and waiting about 10 minutes to see if the hunger decreases before eating.
Dehydration can also cause headaches and fatigue, which will deter productivity when working from home.
If you keep a water bottle or glass next to your workstation, you’ll be much more likely to drink it. Make water more tempting to drink by adding a squeeze of lemon or lime. Or try out some herbal teas.
Avoid sodas, juice, energy drinks, and sugary drinks which will give you empty calories (calories without much nutrient value). These drinks can cause you to crash later, leading to more sweet hankerings.
11. GET A STEP AHEAD OF SNACKING
When you eat out of the bag or container, it’s much harder to be conscious of how much you’re eating.
One study examined about 50 men and women who were served varying sizes of meals. One group of participants were served a portion on a plate while the second received it on a serving dish in which they could take the amount they desired.
The participants consumed 30% more energy (almost 700 calories) when offered the largest portion than when offered the smallest portion. Larger portions led to greater energy intake regardless of serving method and the participants age, weight, and gender.
Have some healthy snacks on hand so if you do get the munchies you can fill up on the good stuff. Try keeping crunchy produce such as carrots, celery, or apples, on hand and having them with a healthy source of protein such as yogurt, a hard boiled egg, or a handful of nuts.
12. ENCOURAGE ACCOUNTABILITY
It’s much easier to stick to a habit or behavior change when you have support. One study of 100 adults showed that in addition to pain and perceived benefits of exercise, social support was a factor that predicted adherence to a 12-month at-home exercise program.
You can create accountability even when working from home by doing a friendly competition with remote co-workers or friends. Share your healthy recipes and tips for what’s been helping you eat healthy. It can also be very helpful to share your struggles. It’s most likely that someone else has been in the same situation as you.
According to the health experts at PrecisionNutrition, accountability helps keep you consistent because you have to report back what you’re doing (or not doing). If you can’t be consistent, you can’t make progress. Accountability is a key factor in this.
13. MOVE BEFORE YOU MUNCH
It’s completely normal to want to grab food when you’re working from home. Start by identifying what your food provoker is: are you feeling bored, stressed, angry or lonely for example?
Then find an alternative behavior such as meditating, going for a quick walk, doing some house work, or a trusted fitness app.
Getting some exercise can actually curb your appetite. Studies show that single bouts of exercise induces a short-term energy deficit (calorie burn) without stimulating compensating effects on the appetite.
Another study found that both a run and weight lifting helped tame the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin is termed the “hunger hormone” because it stimulates appetite, increases food intake, and promotes fat storage.
If you don’t have access to a gym, check out:
14. ENJOY EATING!
Food Psychologist Dr. Brian Wansink describes it well:
“Food is a great pleasure in our life – not something we should compromise. We simply need to shift our surroundings to work with our lifestyle instead of against it.”
One of his food philosophies is that the moment we consciously deny ourselves of something the more likely we will be to crave it more and more. Allow yourself a treat from time to time.
Be easy on yourself as you find what type of tips work best for you when you’re trying to eat healthy when working from home.
More on how to eat mindfully: How To Stop Overeating When Working From Home
About The Author
Lisa is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with over 15 years of experience in nutrition, fitness, and mental health coaching and education. She studied Foods and Nutrition at San Diego State University and earned a Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition at Hawthorn University.
Having certifications and experience in group exercise, intuitive eating, coaching and psychotherapy, and digestive wellness, she’s enthusiastic about the relationship between the body and mind.
She’s dedicated to helping people understand how to implement healthy habit change, while gaining a deeper understanding of what makes them feel their personal best.