Not to minimize anything, but this year has been….different. It’s the obvious stuff, and the murder hornets, and the fact that Keeping Up With the Kardashians is ending, and a lot of people are working from home for the first time ever. Along with great power (having virtually no commute and not having to wear real pants) comes great responsibility—like making sure you remember to feed yourself properly at meal times.
Working from home has absolutely flipped the traditional eight-hour day on its head. It’s nice in many ways, but it has also definitely complicated everyone’s relationship with food in one way or another. Kimberly Arnold, a nutrition and well-being coach, said that there are both positive and negative aspects of the new work norm.
“On the one hand, being home means you are eating less fast food and restaurant-style meals, which tend to be higher in calories, fat, and sodium. At home, there are also less options to choose from,” she said. “Food is constantly available at home. If you haven’t planned out your lunch, you are more likely to pick at different foods while you stand in front of the pantry or refrigerator trying to decide what to have.”
Because of the ever-changing chaos that is 2020, food can also be a source of comfort for some, so it’s important to recognize those behaviors before they become potentially problematic, Stephanie Mara Fox of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating explained.
“Food can be there when we’re bored, stressed out, uncertain, scared, nervous, and worried. Others have found they have more time to cook for themselves with not having to commute and drive around as much,” she said. “If an individual had a joyous and creative relationship with food before the pandemic began, this time may be a gift to deepen their relationship with their food. If an individual was already struggling in navigating their meals with ease, this time may feel additionally intense being stuck inside with food.”
To her point, many people found a new love for baking during the start of the pandemic—remember all the banana bread recipes and sourdough photos on your Instagram feed? But once the novelty of staying inside went away, people have struggled with creating a consistent schedule for eating meals (particularly lunch) when the work day involves sitting in front of a computer for hours. That’s why blocking off some time to eat and leaving your at-home workspace for meals is important for your eating habits and your mental well-being.
“I really recommend taking proper breaks while working from home to eat, rest, and exercise,” Serena Poon, a chef, nutritionist, and founder of Culinary Alchemy suggests. “Constant work can cause burnout and with it a whole host of health problems. I usually recommend establishing specific areas in your home for different activities.”
Although this may sound difficult, particularly if you live in a smaller or shared space, but it can be done with proper planning. Take the time to assign one area of your room for working and a totally different zone for meals. This helps your brain differentiate what it should be doing in a specific space, Poon explains.
The same thought process should go for kids, too, especially if you’re working from home while your children going to school virtually. Alisha Grogan of Your Kid’s Table is a licensed pediatric occupational therapist that helps parents make mealtime more enjoyable for children, particularly picky eaters. Just as you should step away from your computer and work space to eat, your kids should be encouraged to do the same to avoid over-eating and stimulate in-person socialization.
“When we, or our kids, eat in front of a screen, it’s almost impossible to eat mindfully. Meaning we aren’t paying attention to how much and what we’re eating. We eat faster and don’t chew our food as well, which can cause indigestion and acid reflux. When the food is gone, we wonder where it went because we were eating on autopilot,” Grogan said.
This sort of “autopilot” eating can make people more likely to go back for more food when they aren’t actually hungry. To be proactive about this, you can set boundaries for yourself and your kids that make mealtime totally screen-free for 20 to 30 minutes. Coming together at a central table to eat is also good for establishing a routine and making good choices.
For an easy-to-follow guide to the new normal (ugh, I know!) WFH lunch, refer to these steps compiled from our experts:
- Set aside time for your lunch time, between 15 to 30 minutes is ideal.
- Choose balanced meals that will prevent the “post lunch slump” like lean protein, fresh fruits and veggies, Greek yogurt, seeds, and whole grains.
- Listen to your body, meaning eat when you feel hungry and stop when you feel full.
- If you have children at home, make sure they are setting aside time for their meals as well…you can always prepare meals in a lunchbox the night before if that’s best for your lifestyle.
- Make mealtimes totally screen-free to avoid overeating, burnout, and to give yourself a break from work.
- Be conscious of your posture when eating, as slouching in front of a computer or phone can lead to bloating or digestive discomfort.
Above all it’s necessary that we all remember that every person’s relationship with food is different and requires individual care. Given the state of our current world and its ability to change overnight, don’t be too hard on yourself if your typical eating habits have changed, too. As Poon said: “This has been a stressful time full of uncertainty, change, loss, and more. Please be kind to yourself about any new eating habits. Self judgement or degradation will only make you feel worse.”
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