Three Things You Can Do When You Feel Like Eating, But It’s Not Time To Eat

Intuitive eating is a great concept, but we find that for many people who have struggled with their eating, their intuition can be unreliable. It urges them to eat when they’re bored. It tells them to eat when they’re stressed, anxious, celebrating or angry. Their intuition doesn’t differentiate between hunger, being tired or having a craving. For this reason, we work with many of our clients on eating according to a set schedule throughout the day. In doing so, they rely on the clock and their predetermined eating structure to tell them when to eat, not what is going on internally.The witching hour

Because of this, many of our clients find themselves in the position of wanting to eat but it not being time to eat. What motivates this desire to eat? It could be one of 100 different things: hunger, stress, boredom, fatigue, anxiety, anger, wanting to procrastinate, sadness, loneliness and so on. Here are three things that we work with clients on doing when they want to eat but it’s not yet time.

  1. Mindfulness Meditation

My client Jason found that his mind often strayed to what food was in his kitchen mid-morning. He’d already had a good breakfast, and lunch usually wasn’t for at least another hour or two, yet Jason found himself with very strong food cravings many mornings. Jason and I discussed what was typically happening around the time of his food cravings, and he realized it was usually right around when he was figuring out his work schedule for the day and trying to figure out how to accomplish everything he needed to do. We determined that the desire to eat wasn’t about hunger, it was about stress and/or having trouble getting work started. Jason came up with the strategy of doing a 10-minute mindfulness meditation every day after breakfast and before he started work, to help get centered and focused for the day. He found within the first week that this made a huge difference in getting through the mornings without wanting to eat.

  1. Go for a walk/get some exercise

My client Rachel found that she had developed a food “witching hour” – usually around 4 or 5 p.m., during which her food cravings were very strong and she had a hard time not going into the kitchen and eating snack after snack. Like many people, Rachel is now working from home and we realized that much of her “witching hour” food cravings were not actually about a craving for food, it was Rachel’s brain craving a transition from her work day to her evening. In the past, Rachel would walk home most days (which took her about 25 minutes) and without even meaning to, that walk was likely the signal that her workday was over. We decided that every day (weather permitting) at 4:30 Rachel would go out for a walk (or do yoga inside if she needed to). This way, not only would she be out of the house and away from the kitchen, she would be giving herself a transition between work and home and getting in some exercise.

  1. Read Response Cards and do a distracting activity

My client Jen was struggling to maintain control over her eating in the evenings. After dinner and getting her kids to bed, Jen would settle in front of the television with her husband and just want to eat and eat. For Jen, we did two things. First, we instituted a set evening snack time of 8:30 p.m. This was the midpoint for her between settling in for the evening and going to bed. When Jen was tempted to eat before her snack time, the first thing she would do was read Response Cards and remind herself exactly why it was worth it to her to wait. Then, she would do an activity. While watching TV with her husband was great, it still left enough of Jen’s mind idle, and when her mind was idle, it turned to food. We decided that while she watched TV, she would do another activity to fully engage her brain, like an adult coloring book, knitting or playing a game on her phone.

If you are struggling with wanting to eat too often throughout the day, consider if any of these strategies might work for you, too.

Working from Home

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking to most of my clients about how to manage their eating now that they’re all working from home. While there are eating challenges when people work in an office (break room goodies, lunch meetings, tempting restaurants close by), working from home and being near the refrigerator and pantry all day can be hard to manage.

The number one biggest strategy I’ve been working with my clients on is follow an eating schedule. Without the structure of a day in the office to guide their eating, many of my clients found themselves wandering into the kitchen multiple times a day looking for a snack (boredom, stress, wanting to procrastinate, etc.). Without some type of eating schedule in place, every time they thought about eating – and right now they’re thinking about eating a lot – they have to make the decision whether or not to eat. Every time a food thought pops into their Cutting board of healthy food.head, they have to ask themselves, “is this hunger? Is this just boredom? Should I eat? Should I try to wait?”

Having to engage in those questions over and over throughout the day can get exhausting and leaves a lot of room for error. When they follow an eating schedule, every time they think about eating, they just look at the clock. If it’s time to eat, they eat. If it’s not time to eat, they don’t eat. They don’t have to worry about figuring out whether it’s hunger, or a craving, or emotions welling up, or boredom. It just doesn’t matter why they want to eat. If it’s not time to eat, they don’t eat. Period.

My client, Rachel, started following this eating schedule last week:

  • Breakfast: 7:00-8:00
  • Lunch: 12:00-1:00
  • Snack: 3:00-4:00
  • Dinner: 6:00-7:30
  • Dessert: 8:30-9:30

In session this week she told me that following her schedule made a huge difference in helping her feel in control of her eating. She said it took so much stress off of eating during the day because it was so clear cut when it was time to eat and when it wasn’t. On one day when she started thinking about food around 11:00am, she said to herself, “It’s not time to eat right now. Lunch is in an hour, go find something distracting to do and it will be here before you know it.” On another day when she wanted to eat around 5:00pm, she said to herself, “You just had a snack an hour ago. This isn’t about hunger, it’s about feeling stressed. Go take a walk, that will help me destress just as much as eating would.”

While following an eating schedule puts restrictions on when you can eat, most people actually find it incredibly liberating because it frees you from having to make food decisions all throughout the day. If you’re struggling to control your eating right now, follow an eating schedule! Figure out what times it makes sense for you to eat throughout the day and whenever you want to eat at an unscheduled time, remind yourself that your next meal or snack isn’t so far away and find something else to do.

Nighttime Struggles

In session this week, my client, Rebecca, told me that nighttime (specifically the hours between dinner and bedtime) was hard for her lately. She found herself having to continually fight off cravings, and it was wearing her down. I asked Rebecca two questions: 1) Did she have a plan for exactly what she’d eat in the evening? and 2) Was she craving things that were in her house currently or things that she’d have to go out and get? Rebecca told me that she didn’t have an exact plan for the evenings (she used to make one, but that habit had somehow dropped off her radar), and that she was craving food that was in her kitchen.

Those answers did not surprise me, and I predicted that they were both at the root of her trouble. First, not having a strong plan in the evening (especially since evening has historically been Rebecca’s ice cream servingshardest time) is a recipe for trouble. If she didn’t know exactly what she was going to eat, then it’s no wonder she was having lots of cravings because everything in her kitchen felt like an option. During her quiet moments, her mind was invariably scrolling through the possibilities of all the things she could eat, and cravings were the inevitable result. Going back to planning in advance exactly what she would eat in the evening will hopefully cut out a lot of the cravings. Her brain will know exactly what she’s going to eat, and therefore can focus on one food instead of many.

Second, the fact that Rebecca craved food currently in her house likely made her cravings a lot stronger because the food was right there, easily within her reach. Cravings for food outside the house are generally easier to resist because of the effort involved in going to get them (no instant gratification!). I asked Rebecca if, in addition to not planning her evening snack, she had also lapsed into bringing too much junk food into her house. Rebecca realized that she had.

For a while, she was good at keeping things like ice cream and cookies out of her house. It wasn’t that she didn’t eat these foods, but on nights she planned to have them, she brought in single servings at a time. Keeping her house a craving-free environment was critical to Rebecca’s early success in curbing her constant nighttime eating. Again, it’s no wonder that Rebecca was struggling so much in the evening – she had way too many tempting foods right at her fingertips. Rebecca agreed to get rid of the junk food (and/or ask her husband to keep the things he wanted to have in his home office) and go back to bringing in single servings.

With these two action plans in place Rebecca felt much better about her ability to return to more peaceful evenings!

Halloween Survival Guide

Halloween is just around the corner! It’s important to start thinking about what plans and Response Cards you need to navigate it successfully!

Regaining Dessert Control

Today I had a session with my client, Melissa. For the past few months, Melissa has been working on not having dessert before dinner. This is a necessary skill for Melissa to implement because, like a lot of dieters, Melissa encounters dessert all day long.

Off-Track Mode

Dieters get into “off-track mode” when they get off track, the scale has gone up, and they believe they are helpless in the face of their weight problem.

Two Minutes Versus Sixteen Hours

Jen realized that she was sacrificing around 16 hours of feeling good for a maximum of two minutes of enjoying a taste – not a trade she wanted to make!

Changes

Lori told me that two nights ago she had a big work dinner and she was still feeling proud of how well she stuck to her plan. It was at a Mediterranean restaurant, and like all her work dinners, it included a lot of food.

Plan Extra Calories!

Liz realized that a lot of the time she wasn’t planning her extra calories in advance, which ultimately meant she didn’t have as strong a plan for weekends as she did for weekdays.

Eating Without Information

This week I had a session with my client, Lauren. Lauren told me that while she had a good week, one day she ended up going way over her allotted calories.