Dr. Deb Thompson is a registered psychologist, certified Integral Master Coach™ and longtime colleague of Françoise’s. They met over 23 years ago while working as clinicians at a University Student Counselling Service and subsequently shared a private practice office for many years.
In this guest blog post, Dr. Thompson share’s tips gained from her many years working with clients in the field of body wellness. You can find out more about Deb on her website or follow her on Facebook.
As a psychologist/coach and course facilitator specializing in weight wellness, I’ve noticed time and time again how over-eating in the evening is such a common and maddening challenge. I also know this terrain personally, as someone who struggled mightily with food, self-care and weight from my teens to late 30’s.
Are you frustrated by the wheels falling off your wellness bus after work and/or at night despite nourishing yourself fairly well during the day?
Our Inner Critics can attribute this to weakness, but I encourage your Inner Mentor to get more grounded in knowing that our evening over-eating arises from the perfect storm of being hungry, depleted and/or churning with emotions.
Here are ten tips for circumventing these vulnerabilities with some new or renewed habits, practices and mindset moves:
1. Don’t arrive home ravenous!
Plan and pack or buy a snack for late afternoon because high, high hunger is high, high risk! When our blood sugar is dropping and our bellies are growling, our primal brains direct us to mow down, which can make for chunks of cheddar or handfuls of trail mix that not only derail our dinners, but also our wellness over the long run.
Snacks with some protein, such as whole grain crackers with hummus, a hard-boiled egg or cheese string, almonds with an apple, Greek yogurt or a decaf latte, will stick to your ribs and see you through your commute and transition to home. Higher fiber foods like apples or popcorn can be filling too.
See if eating in a planful way during the late afternoon helps you eat less in the evenings, and thereby, helps you to eat less overall. It almost always does!
2. Prep a snack
Alternatively, prepare a snack to be ready for you when you get home — a kindly gift from earlier-more-energetic-you to later-whipped-you! If you have kids, this can also help you get through what I used to call the “Arsenic Hour” when everyone is hangry.
Cut up veggies or fruits with different healthy dips are handy, as well as helpful for getting in our seven or more recommended daily servings of produce.
3. Disrupt your pathway
Aside from a planned snack, don’t mindlessly head to the kitchen as soon as you get in the door or you are off duty for the night. Go to a different room, do something different — even a few minutes of belly breathing, getting into comfies, or washing your face can break the auto-pilot pattern of cruising the cupboards or fridge.
As Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — creating the gap is key!
4. Take a few minutes to transition
In this space, take a few minutes to transition — after work, change your clothes, put on upbeat or chill music, bring in nice scents with lotions or essential oils, create your own shifting gears ritual…
You may have to train other people to leave you alone for a few minutes, especially if those people are wee ones, but it can be done. You can also create a non-food ritual for exhaling at the end of your second shift… once you are off duty for the evening (more on this in Tip #8).
5. Meal planning for success
A little meal planning and preparation can go a long way to ensure faster and easier healthy suppers on busy work nights… you don’t have to be Martha Stewart, but having veggies ready to stir fry or roast, planned-overs to warm up, a soup or stew or chili in the slow cooker, or a sheet pan dinner ready to assemble in minutes are all golden.
Again, re-frame this as an empathic gift from the person that you are on Sunday afternoons to the person you sometimes become by Tuesday 7pm when you are more depleted, hungry and feeling worn out. Try to keep perfectionism out of the equation to avoid tipping into all-or-nothing thinking or what has been called the “what the hell” phenomenon where we overeat to deal with our emotional frustrations and feelings of self-blame.
Having a sticky note reminder of some quicker-than-take out and healthier-than-cheese-and-crackers options, like scrambled eggs or ready-made soup, is also helpful.
6. Process your thoughts and feelings
The emotional residue of our days often rumbles through us into the evening, and it is so very tempting to soothe, numb and reward with food (and wine!).
One strategy is to use free writing to honour and process thoughts and feelings — set a timer for 7 minutes and write without pausing the pen (or editing — this is a *dump* — not journaling or essay writing!) to help process your day…let it rip, say *anything*… vent, rant, complain, yearn.
When the timer goes, aim to have your Inner Mentor extend kindness and empathy to yourself, as well as see if there are any *Actions* or *Don’t forget* items that need put on your To Do list. Then shred or burn the papers over the sink, wash up and exhale.
Cultivating compassion for having done your best… as well as showing yourself kindness and generosity for the true complexity of the challenges of our work is also a powerful component of this practice. For further strategies for lessening the grip of emotional eating, check out these downloadable resources:
Four N’s Instead of Food as Friend [PDF]
Meeting Emotional Needs without Food [PDF]
Getting support, such as through coaching, counselling and the excellent courses here at TEND also helps with reducing the burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma that can leave us overly vulnerable to turning to food as a (lousy) “friend”.
7. Build a Nourished Life
Indeed, everyone benefits from support to build nourished lives such that we have less depletion and stress to prompt us to over-eat after work or at night. This can include creating more belonging, boundaries, a less taxing workload, play/fun/hobbies, rest and sleep, regular enjoyable exercise, emotional supports, and especially: alignment between our core values and our actual lives.
Building a nourished life takes time, and guidance/supports, but it’s important that we put some energy into the prevention of being spread thin, not just coping with it.
What’s ONE thing you might do this week to move the needle a tiny bit on behalf of more movement, rest, play, or connection? You could get to bed 20 minutes earlier, you could do a 15 minute yoga video in your living room, you could plan a coffee date with an old friend, you could sign up for art lessons, you could explore options for coaching or counselling.
8. Curate a Menu of Alternatives
Ok, back to more directly disrupting the habit of eating at the end-of-day when you are finally off duty… it’s helpful to develop a menu of alternatives to snacking or imbibing.
Perhaps a bath, a good book, magazine, podcast or show on Netflix? Colouring, crafts, games or texting? A warm drink? Some puttering or light tidying up or getting things ready? Or if this last one feels like more work (which may prompt eating as an escape or reward), then leaving those tasks for morning?
Looking over your menu can help you choose what will soothe, restore and calm you tonight.
9. Enjoy a Low Calorie Treat
For end of day, you may like to plan for a yummy-to-you low calorie treat (eating at night is not necessarily problematic unless it involves EXTRA calories)… winter seems like a wonderful time for a baked apple (here’s a microwave recipe).
It’s helpful to keep high temptation treats like chocolate, chips, ice cream, cookies, etc. either out of the house, or at least out of sight and hard to access… as we do tend to eat more in response to availability. Forbidding these foods is not necessary (and often really backfires into all-or-none yo-yo-ing), but often having single serving options, planned treats when eating out, and healthier alternatives such as popcorn instead of Doritos; broth, decaf or herbal tea instead of wine; or Fudgsicles instead of Hagen Daz are very supportive.
10. Reconsider the Division of Labour
If part of your evening over-eating is related to feeling beleaguered and exhausted regarding the division of labour in your home, it can be helpful to have a series of conversations about who does what when with your partner/family. Teaching kids to pitch in can be an investment that pays off in the long run.
If you live alone, get creative in how you might outsource some work such as cleaning or getting more ready-made foods from the grocery store, and/or have chore or cooking parties with other single friends. Finally, most of us can also lessen our weariness (and vulnerability to emotional or “Eff It” eating) by softening our standards, letting go of impeccability and embracing imperfection with more compassion.
For more, check out this webinar with Dr. Deb Thompson and Françoise Mathieu on how to curb emotional eating [from December 4th, 2017]