By Evan Lynch B.Sc./PG Dip,
Sports Nutrition Specialist & All Real Nutritionist.
The new norm, meetings with a short and tracksuit bottoms, answering calls in your hammock, setting up your laptop on what was your make up desk, and finding yourself eating a tub of Ben & Jerries at noon. Wait, what was that last point? It doesn’t sound right, or normal at all – the reality I have seen since COVID has struck, is that we have adapted mostly well to working from home, but our diets have all but fallen apart. I saw an evolution in thought through the pandemic, initially people felt it would be an excellent time to nail their nutrition, as they would be in total control of their environment, have more time to prep etc., but as the pandemic dragged on the sentiment has changed, and people see that just because something should be easy in theory, doesn’t mean it will be.
We know how to eat healthily, we know what it looks like, what foods we should go for, we know why we should do it. So why don’t we? The answer is the same as to why physicians smoke – it has nothing to do with our goals, knowledge or background, it is a symptom of stress and a coping mechanism that many of us don’t realize we have. Let’s take some time to talk about why working from home has you eating ice cream for breakfast and not eating a vegetable for days on end, it may not be what you think.
When working from home, for the most part, you are in charge if your own routine within reason, and you have more spare time than ever before. Most people are bad at putting routines onto themselves, think of it like this – you are a terrible boss and employee at the same time in your own mind. The point is this, when you are in charge of your routine and in a comfortable environment, you will default to what you are comfortable with, not necessarily what you should do. This may mean a breakfast roll for breakfast, or some cake, and more biscuits than you ever have before, because you can. One thing you can do to break this comfort cushion is to dress up like you are going to work, and make a clear delineation that you are working, and not lounging, you will be surprised how much more business like you may be with your diet.
When it comes to routine, if this is something you are finding difficult, it may be a good idea to set a routine of some sorts – this could be setting an alarm to go for a walk, or multiple alarms for meals & breaks, either of these actions force you to start to think about the structure of your day. What can be nice if you live with family or housemates, is to agree a time to have a meal together, and to take turns cooking, with an agreement to keep it healthy, this will help to keep you accountable, and when another person is involved, this brings about a social etiquette contract, which we will look at in the next point.
Take two settings, you, watching a film in your living room at night, and you walking up the main street of your local town/city – in which of these spots are you more likely to eat out of a tub of ice cream, or to eat a big share bag of crisps? 99.9% of people will say their living room – because there is nobody there to observe or judge, and it is a relaxing environment. There is a social stigma and etiquette in play that prevent you from eating copious amounts of junk food in public, it tends to be a private, shameful affair for many. You are in your home 24/7 now and more anxious than ever with a pandemic, new work from home norm and all the stresses that go with this, you are more likely than ever to comfort eat.
Comfort eating is an emotional affair, something you do when you are stressed, bored or anxious, nowadays we are mostly one of these things, most of the time. How can we deal with this? First things first, try not to find yourself being more than a 7/10 on the hunger scale, and always have healthier snack options in the cupboard (protein ice cream, protein bars, popcorn, sugar free soda, frozen yogurt etc.) – both these tactics ensure your cravings are never spiked and if they are, you have a bunch of better choices to make before you pick a poor choice. It can also help a lot, when cravings kick into play (which they will), is to set a 20min timer on your watch or phone, if you make it through that period without acting on your cravings, they will go away. You can differentiate cravings from true hunger with a specificity test – if you want a specific food item, you are not hungry, you have cravings.
To help you get through your work day, you can steal my pro tip, which is to make a graze plate, a plate you stack with a bunch of highly nutritious or antioxidant rich foods to nibble on during your shift – my go to includes mixed berries, an apple, some dark chocolate and mixed nuts. This prevents you lurking into the kitchen for the highest calorie thing you can lay your eyes on. To summarize how you can manage your diet better when working from home, number one, be business like, you are not on holidays all the time, stop acting like it. Number two, set some times and activities to build your day around. Number three, pay attention to your cravings and beat that comfort eating urge, and finally, try my graze plate!
If you want some individual advice on this topic or your nutrition in general, feel free to reach to me on Instagram @elynchfitnut and keep an eye out for me on the All Real social media platforms for Q&A’s, talks etc.
To support Evan's work, you can use his All Real discount code here.