Greek physician Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.” Yet in this modern age of working from home, food seems to be more of thy distraction, emotional outlet, stress supporter, and so on.
Whether you’re a seasoned remote worker or new to home office obstacles, it’s common to grab at snacks when work gets overwhelming or uneventful. For the sake of your long term health (and pant size) it’s vital to develop ways to manage your food intake.
So how do you stop overeating when working from home? As a nutrition professional and coach, here are my 8 tips:
Set an eating schedule
Eat away from your workstation
HALT before you eat
Keep a food journal
Practice intuitive eating
Don’t forget drinks
Let’s dive into each of these points further so you can work from home and continue to maintain healthy eating habits!
Before we get started, please note that this content is for educational purposes only. If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, please contact your physician and mental health expert for support.
Why Am I Eating SO Much?
It’s common for erratic eating behaviors to develop as a result of feeling penned up or overwhelmed with work and life. Eating tends to be one of the first behaviors that we alter.
But before getting hard on yourself for frequenting the fridge, recognize that you’re not alone.
According to a 2013 American Psychological Association report, thirty-eight percent of adults reported that they’ve overeaten or indulged in unhealthy foods in the past month because of stress.
Half of which report doing so at least once a week. And thirty-three percent of adults say they do so because it helps distract them from stress.
Also note that it’s not all about willpower. There are also physiological reasons why you may get cravings during times of change.
When your fight-or-flight system is activated, your adrenal glands pump out stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which bring on the snack attacks.
So, the best thing you can do is cut yourself some slack, appreciate the fact that you’re doing your best, and take a breath (do it with me now) before diving into discovering what works best for you.
Set an Eating Schedule
Setting a regular eating schedule will be one of the most important things you can do.
Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a daily pattern. Developing a consistent eating schedule that mimics this cycle will help your appetite and metabolism, including blood sugar, hormones, digestive wellness, and sleep.
Evidence suggests that timing of when you eat is critical, in addition to what and how much you eat.
An Obesity Journal study found that when overweight and obese women on a weight-loss diet for three months, those who ate most of their calories at breakfast lost two and a half times more than those who had a light breakfast and bigger dinner.
Aim to eat breakfast within an hour of waking up. Then plan your meals for the day, spaced about 3-5 hours apart.
You’ll get into your own groove depending on when you’re working, but here’s an eating schedule suggestion:
If you’re the type who tends to forget to eat, set a reminder on your calendar or phone. Without a schedule, you’ll be much more likely to mindlessly eat (more on this to come) or wait too long before eating, which can lead to overeating.
One barrier to preparing a healthy meal when working from home can be feeling overwhelmed by the amount of time it takes to prep a meal, especially when you’re used to grabbing something on the go.
The key is to prepare in advance. This way when you’re hungry and short on time, you have a wholesome meal ready to reheat.
Batch cooking is preparing a larger quantity of food at one time. You can choose to cook an entire meal or just a portion of the meal and keep it in the fridge or freezer according to food safety standards.
Here’s some simple meal ideas (10 minute or less prep) of what you can use a batch of brown rice for:
Stir fry: pan fry rice with tofu and bok choy
Burrito plate: rice, beans, salsa and lettuce
Egg bowl: serve over easy or hard boiled eggs on grilled veges and rice.
Fooducate recommends keeping meal ingredients simple. Rather than building a meal with multiple vegetables, aim to focus on one. Even if it’s a carrot or two or one head of lettuce, it’s an easy start to get you prepping.
In each meal, include protein, healthy fat, complex carbohydrate, and some form of fruit and/or vegetable.
Learn more abo
ut what makes a healthy meal: The Powerlifting Diet: Eating For Strength (Definitive Guide).
Eat Away From Your WorkStation (and Television)
Have you ever been at the movie theater with a big bag of popcorn that seems to disappear in thin air? Multitasking while eating can prompt you to eat more.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reviewed 24 studies and found that being distracted at meal time (watching TV, scrolling through IG, working, etc) caused people to eat more at that meal. The evidence showed that increasing mindfulness during a meal may aid weight loss and maintenance without the need for conscious calorie counting.
If possible, set up a designated eating area that’s separate from your desk. If you absolutely can’t step away from your desk, at least close your computer for a few minutes while you eat.
HALT Before You Eat
“HALT” stands for hungry, angry, lonely or tired. This is a common slogan used in recovery communities including Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous. But it can be applied to general overeating.
Before you reach for a food when you’re not really hungry, take a breath, “HALT” and ask yourself which of these reasons you’re wanting to eat.
Hungry: If you are physically hungry, honor your body’s natural response and eat a healthy meal or snack. When you sit down for a meal, you want to be hungry but not ravenous. Not sure? Check out WebMD’s hunger rating scale. And keep in mind that if your eating has been chaotic lately, it may take some time to re-regulate.
Angry: Munching and crunching on snack foods because you’re mad at your boss or partner may feel good for a brief period of time. But it won’t get rid of why you feel angry in the first place. Plus, you may end up feeling more guilty and mad at yourself afterwards. Can you think of another way to let off some steam? Perhaps taking a walk, journaling, or sneaking in a quick workout.
Lonely: No matter how yummy a food is, it won’t fill the need for human connection. If you’re feeling lonely, have a quick chat with a coworker, send a message to or call a friend or family member, or schedule a facetime or skype date.
Tired: It’s common to crave food (especially the carby sweet stuff) when your body is tired. This is due to the need for extra energy. Research shows that sleep deprivation causes appetite regulating hormones to get whacked. If you can, take a quick power nap and if it’s nighttime, head to bed.
Unfortunately today’s society thrives on over productivity which may mean you’re not used to just eating. If you’re not used to eating mindfully, it can feel very strange at first. But start by taking small steps.
Mindfulness is the focused act of being present without judgement. Basically it’s being aware to the best of your ability of the sensory, emotional, and physical things you’re experiencing in this moment.
In terms of eating, it includes noticing what the food looks like, smells like, tastes like, and feels like. For instance, if you ate an apple right now, maybe the colors are red and yellow, the smell is a bit acidic, the taste is sweet, and the feel is crunchy.
Pretend that you’re a scientist, exploring a new food. The key is to be mindful without any preconceived judgements whether the food is “good” or “bad” for you.
Keep a Food Journal
Something that can help increase your mindfulness when you eat is keeping a food journal. Several studies have suggested that when people keep a food journal they are more likely to be successful in losing weight and keeping it off.
One American Journal of Preventive Medicine study found that people who kept a food diary six days a week lost about twice as much weight as those who tracked what they ate for one day a week.
Even if weight loss isn’t a goal of yours, keeping a journal increases awareness of what, how much, why, and the results of what you’re eating. It helps you be accountable for what you’re putting in your mouth as well as how it makes you feel, in terms of energy, hunger and fullness.
Practice Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating is similar to mindful eating.
It relies on your internal hunger and satiety cues, giving you unconditional permission to eat what you really want, while addressing the emotional reasons that motivate your eating, guiding your eating back to your body’s natural instinct.
This concept was created by registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. They created ten principles that can help guide you towards becoming an intuitive eater: Intuitive Eating.
Don’t Forget Drinks
Calories from drinks are one of the fastest ways to tack on extra calories. Fluids don’t provide the same feeling of fullness or satisfaction as eating solid foods. Basically your body doesn’t register the calories that come from drinks.
Harvard Health summarized the shocking effects of drinking your calories by stating, “the more ounces of sugary beverages a person has each day, the more calories he or she takes in later in the day. This is the opposite of what happens with solid food…:” Meaning, that drinking calories can actually increase the amount you consume.
Same goes with artificially sweetened drinks. Even though they don’t contain calories, some studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can stimulate appetite in the brain.
On the flip side, dehydration can make you feel hungry. Keep a water bottle or cup next to you as you work. Make it interesting by squeezing some lemon juice in it. Or if you enjoy tea, get creative and create your own version with fresh mint or ginger.
If you drink alcohol, aim to have it in moderation. Alcohol not only adds extra calories, it also can increase your appetite and good intentions may be thrown out the window. In addition, if you’re hungover the next day, it can drastically increase cravings for sugar and carbs.
Nutrition and your relationship to food is highly individual. What works for someone else may not work for you. Everyone has a unique relationship with food and a unique way of eating, so know that there’s no real right or wrong way to eat.
When you’re new to working from home, it can take a few weeks of trial and error. You may find yourself using food as a coping tool but then start to recognize how bad it makes you feel. This is all part of the process.
Give yourself some time to adapt and be kind to yourself. When you add on unnecessary stress, such as telling yourself that you’re “bad” for eating a certain way, it will only make the problem worse.
It’s not about depriving yourself, it’s about finding balance and what makes you feel your personal best as you work towards your health-related goal.
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.