We have all been there. Arriving home from work feeling weary, stressed and hungry we raid the fridge for food. When we begin eating like this, it is hard to stop and the last thing on our mind is the thought of preparing and cooking a healthy dinner. Afterwards, we feel dismayed, angry or sad about our eating behaviour. And, you don’t need to be a nutritionist to know eating like this regularly may lead to weight gain.
How then to stop comfort eating in the evening? How do you find the energy to prepare and enjoy a healthy evening meal without eating whatever you can get your hands on as soon as you get in the door?
4 STEPS TO STOP COMFORT EATING IN THE EVENING
1 Recognising Hunger: A surprising realisation might be that raiding the fridge in the evening is due to hunger. Genuine hunger. See if this scenario sounds familiar in your life:
You skip or eat a light breakfast of toast or cereal with a cup of tea/coffee. Lunch is often a sandwich, with crisps, a fizzy drink and perhaps a piece of fruit, eaten at your desk. Maybe you have a biscuit with elevenses or at 3pm with a cup of tea or coffee. Often it’s 6pm or later before you get home. Is this you?
If yes, then your calorie and nutritional intake during the day is less than you need. Deprived of enough calories and nutritional content during the day, your natural and powerful survival instincts kick in and the need for food overrides any conscious intent to eat healthily.
Many years ago, a Health Coach asked me to notice and record how hungry I was, scoring it out of 10, where 10 was totally stuffed and a 1 was very hungry. At the time, I thought I was never hungry, so I was surprised to find there were times when my hunger was a as low as a a 2, and that at the other end of the scale, I was at times eating too much. I know if I get too hungry today, I am more than likely to eat too much at my next meal.
To help you notice your hunger levels, download this complimentary hunger chart.
It’s often a hunger score of below 3 which provokes a raid on the fridge, so it’s learning how to stop this. Two things to help: If your breakfast is currently cereal or toast, change to a breakfast that contains more protein. Ideas for this might be to have a protein smoothie, or porridge with nuts and seeds, or an egg with your toast – see my breakfast recipes for ideas.
Also at 4pm, introduce a protein snack to take the edge off your hunger. Some ideas for a protein snack include: an apple or pear with 6-10 raw nuts, humous with crudities, a hard boiled egg, a celery stick filled with a nut butter, or a light protein smoothie (reduce quantity of my recipes by one-third and omit the oil).
2 Reduce your stress. I know this is much easier said than done, but stress triggers a host of different chemical changes within your body, which can easily lead to weight-gain. Stress causes adrenaline and cortisol levels to rise, which directs more blood into your limbs, whilst moving it away from your digestive system. This makes for a sluggish digestion. This ancient stress response, preparing the body for flight or fight, still happens today, even though we rarely need to take this action. Cortisol also raises blood sugar levels (to give us more energy) which can lead to sugar cravings. To read about the stress response in more detail please see my article: Can stress cause weight gain? 5 tips to stay calm and slim
3 Shower and change. When you first get home, especially if your commute time between work and home is short, your mind is still in work mode as you walk through your front door. To help your body reset into home mode, it helps to shower and change your clothes. This simple act can have a profound effect on your stress levels and a more relaxed, refreshed you is more likely to make better food choices in the evening.
4 Batch Cooking. I am a great fan of batch cooking as it means I always have a selection of meals in my freezer. On a day when I know I’m going to be too tired to cook from fresh, I can still enjoy a healthy, home-made meal, simply by lifting it out of the freezer at breakfast time—then it will just need reheating when I get home. For batch cooking choose recipes that freeze well, then prepare and cook them (I often make between 12-18 portions of 2 or 3 recipes). Cool, portion and freeze them.
Finally, be gentle with yourself. Know that changing your eating habits takes time. Instead of beating yourself up for not being able to stop comfort eating in the evening, choose one step that you will know will help you. Focusing on just one small step is how you make bigger changes happen.