A blog post about being stuck in a house with food temptations that you are trying to avoid. How timely. Living the majority of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 in lockdown has been a first, for basically everyone. A few months into this worldwide pandemic, people were joking that they had gained the “COVID-15” and that being forced to socially distance forced them to stay physically closer to their fridge and pantries. All joking aside, our lives have certainly transformed in 2020, and it’s important to acknowledge that whether you gained weight, lost weight, found yourself or lost your mind, you are likely doing the best you can to manage all your feelings and actions.
One thing that many people struggle with is knowing when to stop eating. Another huge issue is the fact that the foods they are trying to avoid are in plain sight! The food temptations are just so… tempting! When I was living at home with my family, I tried to hide the “off-limit” foods so that I would forget they were there. This method works part of the time, but it doesn’t work so well when you try to hide the freshly baked donuts you just bought from the small bakery down the street. The FOMO of not eating them is just too much. And to watch your family eat them?! No way! In reality, I’m a fairly all-or-nothing person. My solution to staying away from food temptations is to simply not bring them into the house in the first place. This is not always in your control.
Food Cue Reactivity
Unfortunately, even before being stuck at home due to the pandemic, food cue reactivity was high in many people. Food Cue Reactivity is similar to Pavlovian appetitive conditioning – it’s basically a strong motivation to eat, even in the absence of hunger. And we have been conditioned to do this, either by ourselves or our families. This theory argues that overeating occurs because certain individuals are less sensitive to internal hunger and satiation cues, and are relatively more sensitive to external cues, such as seeing or smelling food. This doesn’t bode well in the presence of food temptations. Food cue reactivity is fairly easy to pick up. Imagine, if you do that enough times, just like Pavlov’s dog, you will also be salivating until you get what you want! Trying to ween yourself off is a bit trickier.
When I say “off-limit” food, I don’t want you to think I’m categorizing things into a “Good” or “Bad” list. For example, I can’t have dairy. As much as I want to enjoy it, my body rejects it. For me, it’s easier to stay away, even when what I want is healthy for me. Dairy is off-limits for me. Remember to be kind to yourself. Staying away from all your off-limit foods at the same time may mean you look and feel great, but if you can learn to moderate your intake of certain foods, or only buy enough to last you one meal, it may be worth the “cheat”.
Here are some ways you can avoid your food temptations even when they sleep in the room next door!
1. Food Prep
It doesn’t seem like a fun thing to do while you’re stuck at home, but seriously, what else is there to do? I have to admit, I’m not the best example of this. I food prep once a week, but don’t have a set schedule, and I just go off of what I have in my fridge. Personally, I don’t make specific recipes, but I make sure I have enough protein and fat available, as well as a few different kinds of raw and cooked vegetables. We often reach for those food temptations that are convenient and easy, so why not try making your favorite healthy foods as convenient and easy as possible?
Some ideas of healthy prep:
- Sandwiches (All you need is a baguette, mustard, spinach or leafy green, and some cold cuts!)
- Sprinkle salt and pepper on half an avocado. Add an egg or two if you want more protein.
- Fruit on yogurt. I use this recipe and make Grain-free Keto granola and throw that on top of the yogurt for extra fat!
- Pre-made salads OR make sure to prep some cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc. so your dinners just need to be thrown into the oven for 10-20 minutes.
- Make smoothies! Make sure they have as many anti-inflammatory ingredients, as well as lots of leafy greens so that if you do eat something “off-limits”, you can bounce back faster.
2. Eat Fat
Foods that contain fat naturally, such as dairy products and various meats, or foods with added fats are higher in calories than are their leaner or lower fat counterparts. So why am I telling you to eat fat? Because not all fats are bad! Some fats are certainly healthier than others. Include small amounts of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet. Nuts, seeds, and oils, such as olive, flaxseed, and safflower oils, contain healthy fats. They keep you satiated so that you don’t feel you are constantly hungry or going through blood sugar spikes.
3. Eat Protein
Protein is another food that keeps you satiated rather than reaching for those food temptations. Protein is actually more satiating than fat! Depending on the quality or type of protein, hunger suppression may vary. Protein quality is mainly determined by the amino acid composition of the protein, so some proteins are considered as ‘incomplete’ or ‘lower quality’ proteins because they are lacking one or more dietary essential amino acids (9 in total) or have an inadequate dietary essential amino acid balance.
Some great options for protein are:
- Whole sources of soy (tofu, edamame, tempeh, miso)
Making different kinds of foods every week can be exhausting. Sometimes, it’s easier to make the same thing for more than one week at a time, as it doesn’t drain your willpower. As an example, you can easily make salads week by week, but try to use different ingredients each time.
For greens: Romaine, Endive, Kale, Spinach, Asparagus, Arugula, Watercress.
For toppings: Pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds, peppers, tomatoes, Bean Sprouts, Berries, Nuts.
Dressings: Play around with this and make different kinds. Store them in glass jars and they’ll last weeks in the fridge!
By changing up your ingredients in similar meals, your body gets all the nutrients it needs from a variety of different foods, but you don’t have to go digging through a cook-book every time you want to make something. This is coming from someone who does not use recipes often and likes to use what’s already available. If you plan your grocery list based off of a recipe, more power to you! The organization, in addition to food diversity, will mean you get bored less easily, leading you to ignore those food temptations.
5. Get full off activities
For those of us at home (working or not), we may have more time for ourselves. Without the commute to and from work or school, I’m finding I have at least 3 hours that I would have never had before. All this time at home makes it very tempting to eat, drink, and sleep in. Those habits didn’t last long, as I realized I was becoming less energetic, felt lethargic all day, and wasn’t completing my work tasks on time. What do you do when you want to stop yourself from eating everything in your pantry? Distract yourself with something healthy! Here are some healthy distractions that will keep you busy for 15 minutes to several hours.
- Take a walk outside (Even if you walk the same path every day, do you notice anything new today?)
- Read a book (I have never used my library card more than I have in 2020!)
- Take a bath (Using Epsom salts or a bath bomb can be very relaxing)
- Paint or Draw (Find a time to do this with a friend via Zoom)
- Watch a foreign film (Snacking while trying to read captions is super distracting!)
- Dance or do Yoga (burn some calories!)
- Call a friend (or visit if you can!)
- Write in your Journal (Use writing prompts, write a letter to a friend, write a short story, or something that you’re grateful for)
6. Sleep more / Stress less
Sleep deprivation can affect your food choices and lead to you giving in to those food temptations. Yes, even poor sleep. You could be in bed 8 hours a night, but if that sleep is not deep, and you are constantly waking up and interrupting your sleep patterns, you are likely not as rested as you could be. Studies show that even a single night of sleep deprivation changes the levels of our hunger and appetite hormones, leading to increased hunger.
Lack of sleep also affects your brain’s motivation centers when it sees, smells, or thinks of food! Researchers from the University of Cape Town recently analyzed results from seven studies that used various methods to increase sleep duration. When people got more sleep, they were less hungry during the day.* If you aren’t already sleeping well and you notice you are going back for seconds or thirds, perhaps you can improve your sleep hygiene by incorporating some of the following:
- Limit alcohol
- Limit caffeine in the afternoon
- Put away electronics while in your bedroom
- Get natural sunlight in the day and decrease lighting at night
- Don’t eat too close to bedtime
- Create a bedtime routine
The same goes for stress. Cortisol, our stress hormone, increases appetite and may also ramp up motivation in general, including the motivation to eat. Once a stressful episode is over, cortisol levels should fall, but if the stress doesn’t go away — or if a person’s stress response gets stuck in the “on” position — cortisol may stay elevated. This could lead to a day of mindless eating if you don’t find ways to relax your mind and body. Taking deep breaths or meditating for 10 minutes can help bring your Parasympathetic Nervous System, so you can go from Fight-or-Flight to Rest-and-Digest.
7. Postpone rather than Deny.
Rather than abstain completely from eating off-limit foods, you could consider simply postponing eating said food for a while. For example, I know after dinner I always want dessert. However, my stomach may be saying the opposite. I like to postpone having any food after dinner by an hour. If I’m still hungry after that hour, I’ll eat dessert. Most of the time, this isn’t the case, and I usually feel too full or have forgotten and moved onto something else. By postponing rather than denying yourself those food temptations, you still give yourself the options of all the things you’d like but understand you’re making a more informed, and conscious decision. It’s empowering to know you have the choice to eat whatever you want but have learned to read and respect your body’s wants vs. needs.
8. Toss it!
Out-of-sight is out-of-mind, right? Not necessarily. Throwing your food out is the last resort, in my opinion. Sure, you could just not have the food in the house, but then what does that mean when you do encounter that food again in the future? This all-or-nothing mentality can be good in some ways, but detrimental in others. For example, if you’re an alcoholic, it’s best to keep alcohol out of the house. But, understand that alcohol and food are not necessarily the root cause of your addiction. Getting to the bottom of your addiction through therapy or journaling can truly help you come up with ways to have the best of both worlds in some cases. Imagine a life where you can have your cake AND eat it too! Now, go get it!
If you’re struggling with resisting those food temptations, try out some of these strategies! Let us know how it goes!
Chelsea has been active most of her life, which led her to become a Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor for the past 7 years. Health and Fitness are not solely dependent on movement, though, and with that understanding, she addresses her client’s other needs, such as diet, mindfulness, and stress management.
When she is not training clients or teaching Yoga, she is finding new activities that keep her mind and body active, such as rock climbing, hiking, listening to podcasts, or playing Board Games with friends. She is constantly working towards: Finding natural solutions to live as long as possible, inclusive Yoga for all body types, and aiming to find mindfulness in everything she does.