How to Combat Overeating & Excessive Snacking When Working From Home

Are you finding yourself in your pantry more often than you would like to admit? Or feeling out of control when it comes to regulating the frequency and amount of food that you consume have consumed when working from home?

If this is you, you are not alone! In the last month of social distancing, I have received several messages from clients stating that they are experiencing extreme sugar cravings or stopping in their pantry every few hours. There are several triggers for these choices but the most common boil down to: boredom, stress, uncertainty, and a very accessible pantry.

Rather than beat yourself up, practice self-compassion and read on for tools that you may find beneficial moving forward.

Feeding your Gut Microbiome

For some people, snacking 1-2 times per day can be a great habit! It can enhance your nutrient intake and help stabilize your blood sugar levels, energy and mood. The concern with eating too frequently is that it can provide an opportunity for less nutritious foods to become staples and may not be optimal for the gut microbiome. A key beneficial group of microbes in the gut are called Akkermansia which help decrease inflammation, enhance health of the intestinal lining, and produce short chain fatty acids. Research has shown that less frequent consumption of food may help promote the growth of Akkermansia, in addition to other beneficial bacterial groups such as Lactobacillus. These results have also been demonstrated with intermittent fasting.

Eating more nutritious foods also feeds beneficial messages to your cells and your gut microbiome. This is important, especially now given that supporting your gut microbiome has also been associated with enhancing mood and combating anxiety and poor mental health. In addition to supporting mental health, eating more nutrient-dense foods may also enhance your immunological health and upregulate its ability to attack and remove various pathogens.

During your time at home, use the following tips to try to align your daily choices with feeling your best.

12 Tips for Regulating your Food Intake

1. Prioritize Whole Foods 

Times of social distancing do not give you the green light to stock up on candy, soda and processed foods. Excess intake of refined carbohydrates and added sugars may suppress your immune system, in addition to contributing to weight gain—especially when it comes to visceral adiposity or the fat around your belly—which sends pro-inflammatory messages and is associated with an increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease.

Keep processed foods out of your house as much as possible. If you feel obliged to stock up on treats for your kids, store them in the basement or the garage where they are not in regular sight. This especially works well if you have a second refrigerator in the basement. Keeping those foods out of sight can truly help get them out of mind. You’ll also want to stock up on whole food non-perishables like quinoa, lentils, chickpea pasta, and canned salmon. Some of my favorite pantry essentials are Tolerant lentil pasta and Brami lupini beans.

2. Balance your Meals to Promote Higher Levels of Satiety

Make an effort to consume three balanced meals per day to keep you feeling satiated and less dependent on snacks. In my virtual nutrition clinic, I use what I call the BeingBrigid Plate Method to educate on how to build a plate. It looks different for different people but, generally speaking, it starts with half a plate of non-starchy vegetables, a palm size of protein and a few thumbnails of healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil.

Loading up on vegetables that contain fiber helps slow down gastric emptying and the breakdown of carbohydrates in the small intestine which leads to lower surges in blood sugar levels. This process helps to increase compounds that signal to the hypothalamus that you are satisfied. Protein is also a very satiating macronutrient that serves as a building block of our lean body mass, which is important for metabolism. Finally, healthy fats help slow the absorption of foods. 

If you are spending more time being sedentary compared to your normal activity, cut back on carbohydrates in your diet. Furthermore, avoid eating carbohydrates all by themselves—especially in the highly refined snack form such as pretzels and crackers. Try to always pair carbohydrates with a healthy source of protein and fat because this helps slow down the absorption of nutrients, keeping you fuller for longer and decreasing the spike in blood sugar.

3. Avoid Eating Anything That Is Not in a Bowl Or On a Plate

When you are living at home, it’s easy to stop by the pantry on the way to the bathroom and pour a handful of crackers into your hand. This would be absolutely fine if the process did not repeat itself six times in one day, which is more often the case.

Avoid eating any food that is not served in a bowl or on a plate to help prevent handfuls of mindless food consumption. This makes it easier for you to develop an awareness around the portions that you are eating. 

4. Make Vegetables Just As Easy to Snack on As Chips

The goal is make vegetables just as easy to grab as chips. This will help you increase your intake of vegetables when hunger strikes instead of loading up on more processed snacks.

Pre-chop vegetables like bell peppers, celery, and broccoli and keep them in the refrigerator with hummus, dairy-free queso or guacamole for an easy grab.

5. Consider Trialing Time Restricted Eating

This is the concept of restricting your eating window to 8-10 hours during the day. For example, you may consume food from 10am to 6-8pm and then abstain from eating overnight from 6-8pm to 10am. For some, waiting a few hours after waking up to eat your first meal can significantly help to reduce cravings throughout the rest of the day. As an added bonus, restricting your eating window has been associated with human growth hormone stimulation, cognitive enhancement, and autophagy which is the body’s way of resetting your cells.

What works best for you is going to be individualized, so trial out a few different eating windows and pay attention to how you feel best. If you are currently experiencing particularly elevated levels of poorly managed stress right now then this is likely not the right time to start.

6. Start a Food Symptom Journal for Accountability and Awareness

Food diaries as a whole are one of the most reliable ways to hold yourself accountable. When researchers look at those who are most successful with maintaining their weight loss long-term, tracking food is a common behavior. If you have no idea how many calories or macronutrients you are consuming, then you might benefit from a tracker like MyFitnessPal.

In my virtual nutrition clinic, I use a very specific tool with my patients called a Food Symptom Journal. A Food Symptom Journal allows you to focus on when you eat, what you eat and how you feel as a result rather than being so focused on the numbers. It allows for you to think of food less as numbers and more as information. This can be extremely beneficial for developing an awareness around how certain foods make you feel.

To participate in this process, you can create a notebook or journal where you record when you eat, what you eat, how much you eat (serving size) and any reported symptoms after the meal. This might be the perfect time to enhance your understanding of which foods contribute to your digestive problems, joint pain, or other symptoms. 

7. Drink Herbal Teas or Infused Seltzer Water When You Are Bored but Not Hungry

Hydration is so incredibly important for regulating your food intake, in addition to delivering oxygen to your cells and enhancing energy and bowel regularity! The body has a hard time distinguishing between whether you are hungry or thirsty, so be sure to drink throughout the day. If you are bored but not hungry, opt for making an herbal tea or infused seltzer water to give yourself the taste you are craving without overindulging.

I’ve been drinking seltzer water with 2 tbsp organic apple cider vinegar or fresh lime juice. Some of my favorite herbal teas are lemon ginger, turmeric, peppermint and cinnamon. You can also make my Anti-Inflammatory Cinnamon Lemon Ginger Tea! This is a great way to add polyphenols that help lower inflammation and help you pass on eating out of boredom. 

8. Meal Prep and Pack your Meals or Snacks in Advance

I often say: if fail to plan then plan to fail. If you are finding yourself in your pantry throughout the day or struggling with serving sizes then consider putting effort into planning/portioning your meals and snacks in advance. Structure your meals and snacks as if you were working at the office when planning at the beginning of the week. If you experiment with a few different recipes on the weekend (see next tip), then you can pack them in individual serving size Tupperwares that help you portion your meals in advance. You may also benefit from Primal Kitchen new frozen meals that are set to release this spring. Click the link to enter your information and be the first to know when they are distributed to stores near you.

9. Experiment with 1-2 New Recipes Per Week 

Use this time to experiment in your kitchen and develop an arsenal of recipes that you can rely on when life gets busy again! This tip is key! Finding new recipes is not only a fun activity for the entire family, it is also a way to keep your diet exciting and versatile. Bonus, this tip goes hand in hand with the tip above, so use this time to explore delicious new recipes and meal prep for the week ahead. Aside from, some of my favorite websites for recipes, are listed below:

Real Food with Jessica for Paleo + Low FODMAP recipes

Nutrition Stripped for Gluten-free, Dairy-free Plant-Based recipes

Ali Miller RD for Ketogenic recipes

Dr. Hyman for Gluten-free, Pegan recipes

10. Make Your Snack a Mini Meal

People get confused about what constitutes a snack. Snacks don’t need to be chips, cookies, crackers, or anything from a bag. Structure your snacks like mini meals to get more micronutrients and phytochemical and feel more satisfied. You are much less likely to overeat real and whole food snacks!

Add a source of protein, a healthy fat, and something that contains fiber. This could include a hardboiled egg with carrots, celery with almond butter, or even a smaller portion of your dinner leftovers. You could also try my Cinnamon Power Balls for a sweet snack.

11. Move your Body

I’ve been working from home for the last 1.5 years and in the first several months, I gained about 20 pounds. One of the main obstacles that I had is the lack of steps that are naturally incorporated into your day. When you work from home, there is no such thing as getting steps that are built into your routine. Getting 10,000 steps in becomes incredibly difficult when the only built in steps are from your computer to the bathroom or the kitchen. You must go out of your way to move. Aim for getting 1-3 walks per day to help move your body, get your blood circulating, and feel better. Also, schedule home workouts like they are an appointment.

Some of my favorite at home workouts include:

Cleveland Yoga Live Stream classes

Train for Life from Pursuing Health (code for a free month trial: PHealth30Brigid)

TMAC Fitness Home Workouts

12. Re-engage in your Meditation Practice

You will be more likely to turn to food when you do not give yourself space to process emotions. Engaging in a mindfulness practice is always beneficial but that’s especially true during emotionally taxing times. A primary benefit of meditation can be creating space for yourself and becoming more mindful of your thoughts and actions. A 2014 systematic review found that mindfulness meditation was an effective intervention for both binge eating and emotional eating. What works for you will always look different than what works for other people. But you can try to experiment with a daily meditation routine or completing a daily gratitude journal by listing five things you are grateful for every morning.   

If this was helpful, pass it along to friends and family members that you think would appreciate hearing from you! Also leave a comment below to let me know which tips you will try to incorporate into your day to avoid overeating during your social isolation?

Jamie Foti Contributed to this Article.