Ask a Health Coach: How to Stay on Track After Hours
You know that black hole of time between work and bed? There’s nowhere to go, nothing new to watch, and a bottle of wine (or bag of chips) calling your name from the other room. Call it the pandemic happy hour or straight-up boredom, but if you’re using your after hours time in a less-than-ideal way, check out this week’s post from PHCI Coaching Director, Erin Power. And keep your questions coming in our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook Group or below in the comments.
Ann Marie asked:
I don’t have a problem eating healthy during the day, but I can’t seem to control myself after dinner. I just feel ravenous, even when we’ve made a healthy meal. I try to hold out but once my husband goes into the kitchen for a snack, I’m right there with him. And once I start, I can’t stop eating!! How do I tame my late-night cravings?
I think it’s safe to say that your eating cycle is off, Ann Marie. What do I mean by eating cycle? It has to do with your circadian rhythm.1 People used to eat during the daylight hours and fast at night. But with our new normal, there’s a good chance you’re burning the candle at both ends and just grabbing a coffee or quick bar or yogurt to fuel yourself during the day – and then feasting at night. You’ve totally moved away from your body’s natural rhythm.
Why does this matter?
Because your circadian rhythm controls everything from your appetite to your body temperature to your hormones – even how fast you heal from wounds.2
This study looked at the behaviours of night-shift workers and found that they have a 43% higher risk of obesity than their 1st shift counterparts. 3 The culprit? Circadian misalignment. Researchers had participants who worked the midnight to 6am shift complete a self-administered questionnaire about their occupational history, socio-demographics, habits around food, smoking, alcohol drinking, leisure-time physical activity, sleep patterns, and mental stress.
Of the 3,871 participants, 26.8% were overweight and 83% were obese. They were also more likely to smoke and drink more alcohol.
My guess is that you’re on autopilot most of the day, totally oblivious to your hunger cues. And once your body perceives that it’s made it to the end of that day, it shifts into ravenous mode. In general, your body doesn’t have a lot of need for fuel at this time of day, so eating your largest meal at suppertime, then snacking all night is actually out of alignment with your biology.
So how do you get your circadian rhythm back on track?
- Eat your biggest meal during the daylight hours. I like to start with a satiating protein rich breakfast. If the idea of eating within the first few hours of waking doesn’t sound appealing at all, you’re likely still full from dinner the night before, so begin tapering the size of your last meal (including snacks) for a few days and you’ll notice a change.
- Reduce the size of your eating window. And stop eating earlier in the day. Researchers compared the results of groups who ate from 7am to 3pm and 7am to 7pm, but consumed the same number of calories.4 The group whose window ended at 3pm had dramatically lower insulin levels, reduced blood pressure, and a significantly decreased appetite. More information on Intermittent Fasting here.
- Stop grazing throughout the day. I’m a huge advocate of always answering hunger with a meal versus grabby something snacky. Make it a habit to sit down (and slow down) for your meals, ensuring you’re in a parasympathetic state so you can properly digest your food.
My glass-of-wine-a-night habit is getting a little out of hand. I used to have a glass here and there, but lately I’ve found myself pouring multiple glasses every night. Think I need to go cold turkey? Or do you recommend a healthier substitute?
I can’t tell you how often I’ve gotten questions like this – especially over the past 9 months. While in the past, you might have had a commute or trip to the gym to decompress from your day, now there’s no real distinction between work and leisure. There’s no change of scenery and no change of people to interact with. Enter wine (or whatever your escape of choice happens to be).
I don’t necessarily think you have to go cold turkey, unless you’ve noticed that alcohol in general is a problem for you.5 And sure, there are always healthier alternatives.6 But if you enjoy having your nightly glass of wine, I’ve got a few strategies to help you reel it back in.
- Support your body with nourishing food. Preparing and enjoying a satiating meal can help you tap the breaks on filling up on less-than-nourishing choices. Alcohol turns to sugar in the body, so loading up on protein and healthy fats can keep those cravings at bay.
- Drink a non-alcoholic beverage first. Got a favorite alcohol-free drink? Pour a glass of bubbly water or kombucha before diving into the adult version. You might find that you don’t even want your drink of choice afterward. But if you do, go for it! Heck, you can even use a wine glass if you feel like being fancy.
- Distract yourself. Seems simple enough, but if you’re bored or stressed or not sure how to spend your downtime, finding a way to change your situation can keep you from polishing off a bottle of cab. Even though you’re probably home all day, I’m sure there are areas of your house that could use some attention. So, start a load of laundry. Iron that pile of clean clothes you’ve been staring at all month. Or clean the clutter off your desk.
Between the pandemic and the holidays, the kind of stress we’re under is unprecedented, so it’s natural that alcohol plays a role here, but it doesn’t have to derail your entire evening.
Even though I’m working from home, my days are packed and the only time I have to work out is after dinner. Problem is, I’m so exhausted by then that all I want to do is lay on the couch. I’m not overweight and my fitness level is pretty good. I’m wondering, how bad is it to take a break from exercising for a while?
If your fitness level is generally good, taking a few days or weeks off isn’t going to impact your muscle-to-fat ratio that much. That said, there are tons of studies like this one that prove daily exercise can improve your immune function, which is especially important right now.7
There are several theories out there about how exactly immune function is improved, including claims that exercise makes antibodies and white blood cells that fight off colds and viruses circulate more rapidly, that it helps pathogens get flushed out of the lungs and airway, and that it slows down the release of stress hormones, which decreases your chance of getting sick.
While you might not need it from a physique perspective, it would benefit you to move your body to protect against all the things that are going around right now.
Physiologists from the UK’s University of Bath recommend regular, moderate intensity aerobic exercise, like walking, running, or cycling, with the aim of achieving 150 minutes per week.
But I get it. After a long day of video calls and managing your work and at-home tasks simultaneously, you feel drained. Being hunched over in front of your computer doesn’t help either since it compromises your posture, your breathing, and the oxygen getting to your brain. So, in addition to being more aware of your ergonomics during the workday, here are some things you can do to feel more energized after dinner, even if you don’t feel like it:
- Eat a little less at dinner time. When your digestion is working hard to break down everything you ate, you’re going to feel fatigued afterward. Try eating about three-quarters of what you normally put on your plate and see if it moves the needle on your energy.
- Take five slow deep breaths. Stand tall and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth five times slowly. You’d be surprised how much more alert you are after about a minute.
- Reframe what you call ‘working out’. You don’t have to break a sweat or lift heavy to notice the benefits. Try integrating microworkouts into your evening routine or do jumping jacks while you’re waiting for the next Netflix episode to load.
There’s no doubt things are different right now, but you have the time – you just need to muster up the energy, which I know you can do.
How do you manage your “afterhours” hours? Tell me what works for you!
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