You're sitting at your home desk, focused intently on the project due to your boss by 3 p.m., when it happens. Suddenly, your mind starts wandering back to its favorite subject: snacks. The pantry is calling your name and who are you to ignore its pull, even if you did just eat lunch 45 minutes ago? Before long, you find yourself elbow deep in a bag of chips despite never feeling hunger pangs.
While going to the office provides structure, many people struggle with the freedoms that come from working from home, especially if it's new to you. Not only do you have more access to food with the kitchen right there, but grabbing a bite to eat is a common coping mechanism for stress and anxiety, not to mention that food is a perfect distraction from tasks you're trying to avoid. But those mini bites throughout the day add up your calorie intake in a big way, while also affecting your blood sugar and energy levels.
Instead of using the kitchen as a temporary escape portal, focus on these easy strategies to help you avoid empty calories.
1. Eat Mindfully
Before you run straight to the kitchen at the first sign of boredom, ask yourself a simple question: Are you hungry? Be honest with yourself. If the answer is no, question the motivation behind your sudden urge to snack. Are you stressed or anxious, bored or looking for a distraction? Does that banana bread on the counter just look delicious, or did you just see a commercial for your favorite chip?
Before you give into your temporary instinct, first try drinking some water. Dehydration is often cleverly disguised as cravings, so sometimes grabbing a cup of water will stop those grazing thoughts. Take your H2O to the next level by adding a few slices of lemon or cucumber.
If you still feel hungry after rehydrating, it's probably time for a meal--but a meal you eat mindfully. When you are ready to eat, step away from all your distractions. Turn off your laptop, put a pause on emails and focus on enjoying each bite. Give yourself the permission to focus on your food now and you'll avoid feeling hungry 10 minutes after you finish eating.
2. Get Moving
Between hitting meetings, swinging by a co-worker's desk to ask a question and making the trek from your car or subway station to your building, working in an office provides some unexpected ways to get in some extra steps. At home, though, most of your commuting is simply to and from the bathroom or kitchen. Despite movement taking a backseat at home, it's still important to move and more often.
If you find yourself glued to your chair, commit to moving around at least once per hour. It doesn't have to be a workout; simply taking a lap around your house or yard or doing some bodyweight squats will help get the blood flowing and increase your energy. Use conference calls as an opportunity to stand up, or use your lunch break to take a leisurely walk around the block.
3. Meal Prep and Plan
Mindless eating can turn a good calorie day into a very bad one. With your fully-stocked kitchen just a few steps away, it's common to make more frequent trips for snacks when you're feeling bored, overwhelmed or stressed at home. However, just as you would plan out your lunch and snacks at the office, so too should you plan out your at-home meals. Aim for at least two full meals, and don't go too long in between meals to avoid overeating. Packing your breakfast and lunch the night before can help keep you accountable and on track.
Working from home gives you a unique opportunity to refine your cooking skills, as well. To keep things interesting, find a new recipe each week, one that doesn't require a lot of prep but does deliver delicious, nutritious results. Switch up your salads with unique toppings and homemade dressing, and always aim for a plate that's half vegetables, which are full of fiber and will fill you up without all the extra calories.
When the snack monster comes out, remember that you are more likely to overindulge if you have an endless supply in front of you. To avoid finding your hand at the bottom of a suddenly empty bag of chips, pre-portion your own snacks using Tupperware or Ziploc bags. Nuts, fruit, crackers or hummus can all go into portions that will satisfy your craving without going overboard.
4. Be a Nutrition Nut
As you work on your perfectly planned menu, surround yourself with nutritious options. After all, you can't inhale a box of Oreos if they're not taunting you from the pantry. Fill your kitchen with nutrient-dense foods that are high in fiber and protein, such as whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, seed, low-fat dairy, eggs and avocado. While empty calories from processed foods like cookies, chips or high-sugar beverages provide temporary comfort, they aren't worth the productivity-busting sugar crash later. Fuel your body right, and you'll be rewarded with high energy levels and productivity power!
5. Replace Temptation
If temptation is unavoidable, remove the temptation from your mind completely. Start by making a list of alternate activities to prevent mindless eating. Anything that will make you happy should go on the list. Post it in a place you will easily see it (we recommend the fridge or pantry door), and use it as a reminder that there are other activities you can do to break up the day and skip the snacking.
Another tried and true option? Brush your teeth after eating. Having a clean mouth is a signal to your body that you are done eating; without it, you might be inclined to keep grazing even when your stomach is satisfied.
Intentional eating is something that everyone struggles with, but the temptation to snack becomes heightened when working from home for many. Start adjusting your mindset when it comes to eating breaks by implementing one, or any combination of these five tips, and you'll soon be reaping the benefits of a properly fueled body from a properly balanced diet.