When we first start working with new clients, they often report that they have trouble staying on track when they get home from work, and that the hour or two between arriving home and eating dinner is often filled with unplanned eating. We think that there are several reasons why this is such a troublesome area:
- When they get home from work, they’re tired, and when they feel tired, dieters often want to eat.
- They may legitimately be hungry, and because they’re also feeling tired and drained, controlling their eating is much more difficult.
- They use food as a means to help them transition from work to home.
To help clients overcome these difficulties, we put a number of strategies in place. First, we work with them to institute a planned snack that they eat either before they leave the office or when they get home. We have them portion this snack in advance, which helps them stick to a reasonable serving and be less tempted to keep going back for more. We also make sure that they are eating their snack sitting down, slowly, and mindfully. This is key in enabling our clients to get maximum satisfaction from what they’re eating, which also helps cut down the urge to keep eating more.
Sometime clients react negatively to the idea of eating a pre-portioned snack sitting down, slowly and mindfully. My client, Tom, had the common sabotaging thought, “But I’m so hungry when I get home from work; I just want to be able to eat right away.” Tom and I discussed the fact that sitting down to eat (as opposed to eating standing up at the counter, which is what he usually did) would only take a few extra seconds, and even though he was hungry, he could handle these few seconds. Another client of mine, Jen, told me that she didn’t want to take the time to eat her snack slowly and mindfully because then it would delay her dinner preparation. I had Jen time how long it took her to eat her snack slowly and mindfully and she found that it usually took between five and eight minutes. And, when she spent the time eating slowly and mindfully and really savoring what she was eating, Jen found that she was much, much more satisfied and it really helped her stop eating once she finished her portion (as opposed to continuing to snack until dinner was ready). Jen made a Response Card that reminded her that it was worth delaying dinner five to eight minutes if it meant the rest of her eating day went much more smoothly.
When we have clients who use food as a means to help them de-stress from work and transition to being home, it’s critical that we help them institute other habits to achieve the same end. We remind our clients that it’s not problematic to want to de-stress after work, but it is problematic to use food to de-stress because it causes them to take in too many calories and inhibits weight loss. Even when our clients get home hungry, we work with them on doing a five minute de-stressing activity first, and then having their planned snack. This really helps break the link between getting home and immediately turning to food.
Some of the things our clients do to help them transition are: immediately going upstairs, changing out of their work clothes, and lying on their beds for 5 minutes listening to a podcast; doing some deep breathing or mindfulness meditation in their cars before going inside; sitting on the couch and reading their Advantages List and Response Cards; listening to soothing music for a few minutes; getting home and immediately taking their dog out for a short walk; keeping a magazine handy just for transition times and reading it when they get home; and so on. It’s critical for our clients to plan something to do when they arrive at home, because if they don’t, they’ll keep turning to food.
If you have trouble staying on track after work, consider taking the following steps:
- Plan and portion a snack (if you eat one after work) in advance.
- Eat that snack sitting down, slowly, and mindfully no matter how much you want to rush it.
- Institute de-stressing/relaxing rituals that you do for at least five minutes every day when you come home from work – whether or not you really feel that you need it on any given day. This will help make it a habit and will make it much more likely that you’ll be able to get yourself to do it on the days that you do need to de-stress.