How to Prevent Overeating When You’re Working from Home

Updated: Mar. 30, 2022

Cynthia Sass, a Los-Angeles based registered dietitian, shares her tips to navigate working from home without overeating.

Whether you’re self-quarantining or your local or state government is asking you to shelter-in-place due to the coronavirus pandemic, you’ll be at home—working if possible—for the foreseeable future. If you’re one of the many Americans who is used to going to work, being homebound has likely upended your usual eating routine. Having constant access to food, and being more stressed than usual can be a recipe for overindulgence or overeating. If you haven’t quite settled into your new routine, here are four key tips I share with my clients. Each is designed to help you navigate this new normal⁠—without also expanding your waistline. Plus, check out these fat-burning foods to help you lose weight.

Create an eating schedule

Developing a consistent routine lays the foundation for balanced eating. If you’ve never been a breakfast person, now is the time to start this healthy habit. A 2020 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that diet-induced thermogenesis, the energy your body expends digesting and metabolizing food, is more than twice as high at breakfast compared to dinner. This research is evidence to support the longstanding advice to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper. The researchers noted that in addition to burning more calories in the a.m., volunteers who ate a larger breakfast and smaller dinner experienced better blood sugar and insulin control. And when study subjects ate a smaller breakfast and larger dinner, they had increased feelings of hunger throughout the day, especially for sweets. Take the time to make a more substantial, healthy breakfast before you start your workday. Stop for lunch about five hours later, and prepare a lighter dinner three to four hours after lunch. Allow at least three hours between dinner and bedtime for proper digestion. This practice will also support quality sleep.

A middle-aged woman sitting in the kitchen at the glass tableFiordaliso/Getty Images

Don’t eat while you work

It’s tempting to nosh while you’re typing, listening in on a conference call, or responding to emails, but it’s best to take a break. A 2020 study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that distracted eating affects taste processing, and increases the susceptibility to overeat. Stick to your set eating schedule, and hit the pause button on work, as well as your phone, TV, or other diversions, while you enjoy your meals. It may feel unconventional, but simply eating without multitasking can help you eat more mindfully, and better tune into your body’s cues, so you can enjoy your food, and stop when full, rather than stuffed or sluggish. Check out these mindless portion control tips.

Prioritize whole foods

Right now it’s tempting to gravitate towards convenience products and comfort foods. But in addition to being stripped of natural nutrients and fiber, highly processed foods can wreak havoc with your metabolism and waistline. A small 2019 study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, tracked 20 inpatient adults who were provided with either ultra-processed or unprocessed diets for 14 days each, in random order. Researchers found that access to the ultra-processed foods led people to consume an excess of 500 calories a day and subsequent weight gain, compared to the unprocessed fare. In other words, you may be more likely to stop after eating one apple and a small handful of almonds, but more prone to devouring an entire bag of chips. During your grocery runs, incorporate a few can’t-live-without goodies, and plan meals around fresh or frozen veggies, lean proteins, like beans, lentils, or fish, good fats, including extra virgin olive oil, avocado, and nuts, and smaller portions of whole food carbohydrates, including fresh fruit, whole grains, and starchy veggies.

Find alternative ways to cope with stress

Reaching for food to self-soothe is human nature. But an ongoing pattern of using food to deal with your emotions will undoubtedly lead to weight gain, drain energy, disrupt sleep, and even weaken immunity. If you find yourself craving splurge foods too often, commit to testing out alternative ways to get through this crisis. I know it’s not simple. But sticking to your eating schedule, eating mindfully without distractions, and prioritizing whole foods can help you identify when you’re being drawn toward the kitchen not out of hunger, but because of emotions. And that awareness can allow you to test out other ways to cope. Connect with a friend, participate in an Instagram live guided meditation or yoga class, listen to music, read, draw, dance, or simply watch a funny video. Being at home may give you the freedom and flexibility to test out new skills and foster healthier habits.

We’re going to get through this. Focus on balance to maintain mental and physical wellness, remain productive, and move forward—one day at a time.

Next, try these 30 healthy eating habits that could make a difference.