Eating Healthy Working from Home - Rachel Trotta, CPT, WFS, FNS  

Eating Healthy Working from Home

All the ingredients for a perfectly relaxed weekend. Woman in the kitchen eating and using laptop.

A few weeks ago, I sent you some home workouts that you can do at home with absolutely no equipment. This week, we’re going to talk about the idea of eating healthy working from home.

In other words, when you’re stuck under quarantine and trying to telecommute, it’s easy to fall into bad eating habits like grazing, ordering in too often, overeating while working, and mindlessly munching.

With the structures of our regular routines stripped away, we lose sense of mealtimes. I saw this on Instagram earlier this week:

eating healthy working from home

This gave me a chuckle. So how do we… not do this?

In many ways, the healthy eating hacks that I would suggest are no different than they would be under normal circumstances. The main difference is that because you are probably home more than you typically are, you might need to be more vigilant than usual to make sure food temptations don’t grab you.

But when it comes down to it, it’s simple. It just takes a little planning, and you’ll be amazed at how much better your eating habits will be right away, with little conscious effort.

Let’s dive in!

Tip #1: Set a schedule, including mealtimes

The hardest aspect of working from home is the lack of structure. You’ll find that you need to superimpose self-invented structure onto your day.

As someone who has worked from home for a long time, I understand this challenge well.

It’s all about sitting down at the beginning of your day and creating structure on pen and paper (or in your digital planner) – write down exactly what times you need to get things done, including mealtimes.

It will help your day to flow much more smoothly, and you’ll feel more accomplished! The great likelihood is that you will also do less grazing at weird times, and will be hungry for real mealtimes.

Tip #2: Avoid buying unhealthy snacks

This should seem obvious. But for the first week or so of quarantine, we were all shopping and buying outside of our normal habits – foods stores were running low on many common items, which meant that lots of us had to depart from our normal shopping list.

Eating is a soothing activity, and it was normal that in that first burst of fear many of us bought snacks and treats that felt comforting.

But now that it seems like we might be in this for the long haul, it’s time to go back to normal with food. When you’re at the supermarket, resist the scarcity mentality that says you need to buy the chips or cookies or candy.

Instead…

Tip #3: Make a plan for healthy meals and snacks.

Even though we’re pretty much constantly at home now, meal prepping is still part of our routine at the Trotta house. We usually go to the store for the week on Wednesday and cook all of our food on Thursday, and we haven’t stopped doing that since the quarantine began.

There’s something about having meals and snacks ready that makes them so easy – for lunch, for example, I can be eating my homemade chili within three minutes. I don’t have to make decisions on the fly when I’m hungry, because the food is already so close to being done.

So do your shopping with meals in mind – pull some recipes together, and decide what you’re going to make for the week. Then, once you’ve prepped your food at least part way, you’ll be better equipped to make eating decisions throughout the week.

Tip #4: Intelligently manage foods that may be tempting.

So maybe you bought some foods in the gray area… not something “unhealthy” that you know would be too hard for you to have around the house, but also not something that makes an all-star list of healthy eating.

Maybe it’s a bag of something that – while not terrible for you – you’ll probably eat in one sitting if you pop it open.

I highly recommend doing three things with these foods:

  • Pre-portion them in individual bags or containers.
  • Keep these pre-bagged portions out of sight, like in opaque containers and/or on high shelves.
  • Stay aware of your own personal pitfalls. If you find that you’re consistently overeating on a particular food, it probably needs to be axed from the shopping list while you’re spending so much time at home.

Tip #5: Keep healthy foods highly visible.

On the flip side of the last tip, make sure to buy attractive fruits and keep them out on countertops and at eye level.

Make a beautiful bowl of fruit, and/or set up your refrigerator so that the first things you see when you open the door are your prepped meals.

I’ll touch on this more in just a second, but the visibility of food plays a huge role in how likely we are to eat it! So hide the stuff (from yourself) that you don’t want to overeat, and keep your desired food habits easy to munch on!

Tip #6: Take the opportunity to cook foods that you really like

This is beyond the mere practicality of meal prep – this delves into the enjoyment of food.

Take the extra time that you have on your hands to explore new recipes and try recreating favorite “restaurant meals” at home. For example, this week I happened to have some of the ingredients of Pad Thai on hand (which I love but don’t eat out very often because of how heavy it is). I threw together a makeshift Pad Thai, and frankly, it was delicious and a lot of fun. It helped to mix up the monotony of not eating out at all.

Tip #7: Exercise

There are many, many reasons to prioritize exercise while you’re quarantined, but most pertinent to this blog post is the fact that exercise helps to regulate appetite.

By engaging in continuous aerobic exercise for a sustained period of time (like running or doing vigorous strength training circuits for about 30 minutes), you can literally change the hormonal chemistry in your body to turn down the volume on cravings and feel more satisfied with what you’re eating.

It’s counterintuitive, because you’d think that exercising more would make you hungrier, right? But as long as your exercise is within the average bounds of a working day workout (i.e. a 30-45 minute exercise) and not a literal marathon training session, the result should be less cravings and hunger, not more.

Tip #8: Stay hydrated

It’s easy to mistake feelings of dehydration for hunger – sometimes it even gives you actual hunger pangs!

But these are misleading, and many people get on a merry-go-round of eating more to address the “hunger,” without drinking water. Then they still feel hungry, of course, after they’ve eaten, because they’re actually still thirsty.

Address dehydration by using a refillable bottle and aiming to refill it a certain number of times per day. A good rule of thumb is half your body weight (pounds) in ounces. So if you weigh 150 pounds, aim for about 75 ounces of water per day.

Staying hydrated greatly helps to regulate appetite, reduce cravings, and help you tune in to real feelings of hunger at the right times.

Tip #9: Don’t work in the kitchen

We’ve all done it. But it’s not a great idea. Instead, set up a home office space – even if it’s only temporary and rather makeshift – and make it work. Working in the kitchen or dining room makes it far more likely that you will experience triggers to eat.

As I alluded to earlier, the sight of food is one of the strongest cues to eat – even more than smell! So if you stay out of the kitchen and in the living room, second bedroom, or home office, you’re more likely to get work done and avoid excess snacking.

Tip #10: Cultivate at-home hobbies and ways to connect with others.

As I’ve discussed before in this prior blog post, sometimes we address the need for real comfort with comfort food. But the only place we’ll find real fulfillment and comfort is in self-actualizing activities like reading a good book, calling a friend, accomplishing a task, or doing something nice for someone else.

Food is comforting, but when overused, it becomes a hollow joy. Take this time to cultivate hobbies and pay more attention to your self-care and relationships. You’ll find that perhaps the snacking is easier to beat than you thought!

But remember… it’s not about perfection

You might not be able to implement all 10 of these tips at once… or even three of them! Start small, with the things that seem manageable, and tackle those first.

There’s no such thing as perfectly clean eating. The goal is simply to achieve a healthy eating lifestyle that you feel good about most of the time. Set up these systems, and you’ll find that over time it’s easy to keep improving your habits!

Don’t forget, though, that some eating habits can be a result of anxiety or boredom from being at home. Explore BetterHelp’s advice for handling Coronavirus Anxiety during this time!

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