As a holistic nutritionist, I’ve been fielding questions from clients and friends about the pandemic. I will be sharing my answers here on my blog.
Question: I’m having trouble social distancing 6 feet from my refrigerator!! What should I do to control my eating?
Answer: Stress eating, mindless eating, bored eating, binge eating are all so much easier to do not that we are stuck at home! I’ve been right there with you making bags of chips, countless cookies, and bottles of wine disappear. It’s like magic isn’t it?
The first thing you need to do is give yourself a break. It is completely normal to fall into unwanted eating patterns when our schedules and security get up-ended. The great news is that you are aware that your behavior is unhealthy and that you want to change. This is a huge step!! Don’t underestimate its importance.
Take a look below at this cycle of change wheel below. (This one is from socialworktech.com)
As you can see, you are somewhere between “contemplation” and “preparation”: aware that a problem exists and ready to make a plan for action. But making a plan is easier said than done especially right now as we are turning to comfort foods.
My advice is to implement a 3 phase action plan:
- Mindful Eating
- Strict Meal Timing
- Controlled Grocery Shopping
This 3 phase plan will allow you the flexibility to use up all the groceries that you have already purchased without feeling guilty about wasting food or money and you’ll also be in complete control of what you choose to eat. I break it down for you below:
1. Mindful Eating
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of your surroundings and what you are doing. When you are mindful, you bring your full attention and awareness to the present moment.
Mindful eating, therefore, is bringing all your focus, thoughts, and consciousness to the food or meal in front of you. This means paying attention to your body signals, your thoughts, feelings, and your food. When you eat mindfully, you tend to eat less and and only eat when you are hungry.
Are You a Mindful Eater?
• I eat when I am driving.
• I watch TV, play on my phone, or read while I eat.
• I eat at my desk while I check emails or continue to work.
• Sometimes, I am surprised to see that I have eaten most of my meal.
• I finish a meal and feel unsatisfied or really full.
• I generally do two or more things at once.
• When I am bored, stressed, or angry, I go and find something to eat.
• I finish my meals in 15 minutes or less (time your next meal to see!).
If you practice any of the above behaviors, mindful eating is an important first action step for you. Mindful eating takes lots of practice. Good thing that you have many chances every day to try it out.
Engage Your Senses
We often think about food just in terms of how it looks and tastes. But using all our senses when we eat will increase enjoyment AND mindfulness of the meal enabling you to control overeating.
Sight: Put your meal on a nice plate. Garnish your meal. Dim the lights or use candles.
Taste: Play around with condiments, spices, and new flavors.
Sound: Listen for that crunch when you bite into food. Play relaxing music to encourage slower eating. Turn off your TV.
Touch: Eat with your hands. Cook with your hands. Notice the texture of food in your mouth.
Smell: Hold your nose to see how taste changes. Temperature and how much you chew both impact the smell of food. Studies also find that alcohol makes food smell better. So drinking while we eat will encourage you to eat more.
Eating in this way is the first step. You can do it immediately without going shopping or changing what you are eating.
2. Strict Meal Timing
Eating on a schedule might be the most important step in any weight loss program. And like mindful eating it’s something you can do now especially if you are sheltered at home during this pandemic.
You may have heard of intermittent-fasting (where you only eat during certain hours everyday) it’s a great way to control your eating and may people cut calories doing it. But when intermittent fasting many people fail because they are still not eating at the right times for their biology.
When Does Your Body Want You To Eat?
Our fat burning, hunger signaling, and cell repair (think anti-aging) are all controlled by natural circadian rhythms that happen at night!
When everything is working properly, we are supposed to burn fat from 12am to 8am, while we sleep. This is controlled by the hormone called leptin which also signals us to stop eating when we are full. If leptin function is impaired by eating food too close to bedtime, this fat burning window becomes shorter (because we will still be digesting food and figuring out where to store calories for the first half of the night) and fat burning will be reduced to 4 hours or less.
It’s also important not to have food in the evening (and get to bed as early as possible) because from 10pm to 2am our body produces the anti-aging growth hormone GH. GH is responsible for converting fat to muscle, normalizing blood sugar, and regenerating the liver and body tissues like the skin. If we are still digesting food at this time, we will have impaired release of this hormone and start looking older and flabbier! No thank you!
And in order to prevent diabetes and give our bodies proper insulin signaling, you should wait 3-4 hours in between meals.
When Should I Eat?
The optimal time to eat is between 6am and 6pm.
What? No midnight snacks? No popcorn with that movie at night? Ideally, yes.
You can do this. It’s actually easier to do than you think if you get on a strict schedule and eat protein and fat at every meal. Your body becomes used to being fed at certain times and you gives you the proper hunger cues.
This is my personal eating schedule:
- Breakfast at 7:30 am.
- Lunch at 11:45 am
- Snack at 2:45 pm.
- Dinner at 6:00 pm
While you are adjusting to this new schedule, you might find it hard at first not to eat at night. If this is the case for you, snacking on a carbohydrate-free snack can help get you over the hump. Try a hard boiled egg, a scoop of peanut butter, or some beef jerky if you must eat in the evening.
And if these times are out of the question for you, then stick to some that will work for you.
3. Controlled Grocery Shopping
Once you get how and when you are eating under control with mindful eating and meal timing, you can move onto controlled grocery shopping. Hey, if you don’t buy it, you can’t eat it!
This is where lists come into play. Don’t skip making a grocery list! It is so, SO important to pre-decide what you will be eating. You don’t need to know what recipes you are going to be cooking, although this can be helpful.
For the most part, stick to buying whole foods: fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, and grains. Minimize the prepackaged foods and the alcohol purchases. Been baking a lot? Stop buying those ingredients, too.
Once I stopped making and eating cookies, pies, and homemade breads and started eating more vegetables, I found the energy to get start doing other more fulling things than eating (like blogging!)
Take this time of sheltering in place as an opportunity to buy and eat the foods that bring you health. It’s easier now more than ever to have the motivation to quickly shop off of your list and get out of the store as fast as possible. Or to completely cut out those impulse buys you can try ordering just things on your list for home delivery or curbside pick up.
Changing your eating habits is a cycle. It might not go as planned on your first try. Take another look at the change wheel at the top of this post. Remember that we learn something new every time we take action and are able to jump from one step to the next more quickly the next time.
Need more help? Don’t hesitate to schedule a free consultation with me.