Let’s face it, we’re living in a weird time right now. We’re used to being on the go 24/7, having structure in our days, eating a certain way, spending time with others, and hitting the gym X times each week to name a few. And all of a sudden, POOF! Life changes. Now you’re not constantly on the go, you’re spending more time alone than you have in years, your daily and weekly routine is basically mush and you really have no clue what the future holds.
Living in the unknown is uncomfortable. It’s normal to feel a rush of different emotions while you process what is going on around us with COVID-19. And on top of all the weird feels, you might be one of many who are working from home or quarantined to stay in for the time being. So now you’re spending time alone, you’re experiencing a variety of emotions, and you have access to your kitchen goodies like ice cream and chips all day, every day.
So how can you go about your day without thinking about all the food you can grab at any moment? How can you not snack ALL day when your kitchen is literally steps away? How can you not eat too much when you’re used to packing perfectly portioned meals and snacks for your work week?
The above are all valid questions and things I’ve had to work through since I started working from home in 2016. Before that time, I didn’t trust myself around food and relied on my daily structure to prevent me from overeating (at least during the work day). I would eat a small breakfast before heading out the door and pack a large salad for lunch, bulked up mostly with greens and veggies to keep it low cal. I’d purposefully pack minimal to no snacks because I thought less was best, and it was my way of ensuring I kept my food intake low during the day. I remember days where I was SO hungry at work, but pushed through because I had no other choice; I had purposefully packed less food than I needed because I thought eating less was the way to go. Each evening when I got home from work, I’d overeat because I felt ravenous, and then I would feel really guilty about overeating and repeat my destructive/restrictive cycle the next day.
In 2016 I took a full-time job that sounded awesome. I got to travel, work with food (which scared and excited me at the same time), and I was titled THE Registered Dietitian for the company. Needless to say, I felt legit. After I committed to the company, they let me know that a large chunk of my position included working from home. For many, this offer would have sounded sweet. But for me, panic and stress swept in. How could I work from home AND be near my kitchen all day without losing control and constantly snack? I knew there was no way I could willpower my way into continuing to eat my small breakfast and lunches if I had a fridge and pantry steps away to satisfy my hunger. This felt like a true nightmare, but I was stuck. I already took the job and there was no turning back.
With lots of trial and error, and much snacking along the way, I figured out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to overcoming the need to constantly snack and eat when working from home (or spending time alone at home). I’ve included my top three tips below, to help you during the time of uncertainty so you too can learn to take a chill pill (I know, hard to do!) during this down time without anxiety around all your pantry snacks or physical discomfort from eating too much all day long.
- Eat enough with loose meal and snack structure in your day
If you aren’t eating enough, there isn’t much you can do to fight off the desire to waltz into your kitchen and start munching on goodies available. You NEED to be biologically fed (meaning you need to eat enough for your body) in order to stop thinking about food 24/7 and stop the desire to graze on snacks all darn day. Generally speaking, meals that contain a mix of carbs, protein, fat and color from fruits or veggies provide a nice mix of nutrients to support your needs and satisfy your hanger to fuel you throughout the day and stop the constant food thoughts. Here’s a great breakfast example that utilizes shelf-stable foods: oatmeal (carbs) with peanut butter (fat) and one scoop protein powder (protein) mixed in, topped with canned peaches (color). This isn’t to say that all meals need to follow this formula to the T; it’s simply a guideline and especially during times like these where all food may not be available, it’s important to not get caught up in what’s “best” to eat. Any food is better than no food.
I have also found that having a loose meal and snack structure in your day is incredibly helpful. Create a plan that includes eating breakfast, lunch, dinner and some snacks each day. For me personally, I have general times in which I enjoy eating my meals but allow a one-hour window to fluctuate in either direction of my planned meal time. This allows for me to make adjustments based off of my hunger or activities that I have planned for the day. For example, I prefer to eat breakfast around 8:00 am. It works well with my morning routine, but sometimes I find I am hungry at 7:00 am or can’t eat until 9:00 am because I’m caught up at the dog park (yes I’m that dog mom) or find myself getting lost in emails. However, I do make an intentional effort to not miss that window for breakfast. If I do, I find myself hanging out in the kitchen all morning long, grazing away on snacks to satisfy my hunger.
As far as snacks, I find many of my clients and myself benefit from eating at least two snacks each day. But, my best recommendation when it comes to snacking, is to enjoy them when you are hungry. If you’re hungry, you don’t need an explanation or permission slip to eat. The best thing you can do is honor it!
2. Lose your black and white thinking.
YUP. I said it. Let go of eating “perfectly” and embrace the gray area. This is something I preach on the reg, but it is especially important to believe and practice during this time. Grocery store shelves are emptying, fresh produce isn’t always available, and your “clean” snacks and way of eating might not be feasible right now. And that’s okay because perfection isn’t important now (or actually ever). If you find yourself eating ice cream at 10:00 am, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean your day is ruined and you need to finish the tub. It doesn’t mean you need to order in UberEats and stuff your face because you “messed up.” Acknowledge that you ate ice cream at 10:00 am (hey, I do it sometimes!) and MOVE ON. It does not need to negatively impact the rest of your day or give you a hall pass to overeat because you’ve been “bad.” Need to practice this? Start by allowing yourself to eat a food you think of as “bad” and then make intentional efforts to replace negative talk like “you failed,” or “just start eating better tomorrow” with more positive self-talk like “there’s nothing wrong with enjoying chocolate in the morning.” Make intentional efforts to not have that choice negatively affect the rest of your day.
3. Feel your feelings.
Food is sometimes used to cover up uncomfortable feelings that we don’t want to deal with. It can be hard to confront our emotions! When you find yourself turning to food while spending endless hours at home, ask yourself the below questions to assess whether this hunger is biological (meaning physical hunger) or psychological.
- Are you physically hungry?
- If yes, eat! If no, continue to the next question.
- What are you FEELING?
- What do you NEED?
If you find yourself on question number two, I’ve got you. This is the tough part and means it’s time to figure out what’s really going on. WHY are you reaching for food? This can be difficult to pinpoint for some. I recommend going into a room that you do not eat in, pulling out your journal or a piece of paper, and start journaling away your emotions. Give yourself at least ten minutes to do this, to sit with your emotions and try to understand what is going on, understand what you are feeling now. Perhaps you are sad, lonely, scared, guilty, bored or worried to name a few. There are many emotions to be felt, especially during this time. It is important to acknowledge and feel them instead of push them away. Once you understand what you are feeling, determine what you need in the moment to cope with your current feeling. Examples include distracting yourself (like playing the piano), finding support (like calling a friend), dealing with your feelings directly (like continuing to write in your journal), or practicing self-care (like allowing yourself to rest). Meeting your needs instead of covering them up with food will help you live a life without guilt or shame around your food choices and be able to trust yourself when home alone with food for hours on end.
Remember to give yourself grace over the next few weeks. We are living in an uncertain time and no one needs to be perfect right now.
Intuitive eating is associated with greater emotional reasoning, and having extra down time like many have now could be a great opportunity to learn more about yourself, why you feel out of control with food, and what you can do to overcome the guilt, stress or anxiety that you feel around it.
In this time of uncertainty, I also find peace through utilizing my faith and meditating on truth that is found in the Bible. Here are two of my favorite verses at the moment:
For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; I am the Lord, Who says to you, Fear not; I will help you!
2 Timothy 1:7
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
“Fear not” is listed in the Bible 365 times, and I am choosing to stay strong in my faith vs. getting caught up in fear during this stressful time. Staying strong in my faith satisfies my feelings of uncertainty during this time, which years past would have led me to turn to food for comfort. And this helps me maintain my life of food freedom and eat without guilt or shame. You too can find how to meet your unmet needs, instead of turning to food or covering them up by snacking all day. Remember, first eat enough and then assess what you truly need.
I love this blog post! It was good to hear your story about trying to eat as least as possible, and your journey of changing that mindset. From my experience so far, I must say, that under-eating is dangerous; it robs one emotionally, physically, mentally, and from a hormone standpoint. I was like you—sitting at work feeling so hungry—but not allowing myself to eat because I had rigid rules of how much I could eat and at what time. Now that I am eating MORE, I actually think of food LESS. I am a teacher, and even with me being home the last few days, I have actually been enjoying myself, and use this as a time for healing. instead of using it as a time to be tormented and whip lashed by food concerns. Thank you for all you are doing for me.