Are You Hungry or Bored?
Losing weight can be infuriating. It can feel like no matter how many salads you eat for lunch, or how many times you opt for fruit instead of fries (which, should that even be legal!?), the number on the scale just does not move. What gives??
I had a client in New York a few years back who wanted to lose 20 pounds. She was ready to make changes and put in the work, so we reviewed her food and exercise habits and made a few swaps. I was actually impressed by her willingness to abandon her beloved blueberry muffin breakfast for something more nutrient dense.
(Our connection to food is deep and complicated, and sometimes weird resistance pops up when we feel like we have to give up something we like in order to achieve something we want.)
After the first few months, she was down eight pounds. Right on track! But then things kinda stalled. So we added in a little bit more cardio, and re-evaluated her meal choices. I also reminded her that weight-loss is not linear, and it moves way slower than we'd like.
Translation: Stay the course, your body will respond over time.
But after the next few months passed with no additional progress, she was feeling understandably defeated. So instead of obsessing about our "plan", I decided we'd have a 10 minute vent session.
(It's important to allow yourself to be frustrated, and also to get it out of your body. This can be done via writing, calling a friend, chatting with a coach, doesn't matter, but acknowledge it and get it out!)
Our vent session started with progress and diet, but then drifted to annoying recent changes at work and waste of time regulatory meetings. All of a sudden she gasped;
"OMG, Tina's desk!"
Tina, her bosses secretary, kept fun sized candy bars at her desk. My client rarely met with her boss, and saying no was always easy, but her team was in the middle of implementing a huge regulatory project, which meant they had multiple meetings a day to report on progress and discuss strategy.
"I'm definitely eating 3-4 pieces a day now that I think about it, but honestly I think it's just because I'm bored. These meetings are rough Jess!"
Oh I get it, I had many boring reg meetings in my finance days.
Once we'd identified this "I'm bored" trigger, we were able to recalibrate and continue on.
Eating out of boredom often derails and delays well intended strategies. It can also be tough to identify because it happens unexpectedly. Unlike "breakfast" or "snacks" that you know you will have each day, we don't often plan for boredom (especially at work).
If you are feeling frustrated with your weight-loss efforts, start paying attention to the circumstances that surround your eating patterns. Here are five tricks you can try.
1. Track everything you eat for a week. Or even just a few days. I actually can't recommend this strategy enough. When you are forced to record everything you eat (and I mean e v e r y t h i n g), it will help you evaluate if you are eating because you are hungry, or just because you are bored. You can either use the Notes app in your phone (for this exercise what and when you eat is more important than portions), or I suggest MyFitnessPal. Their database is huge, and once you get the hang of it tracking is easy.
2. Up your protein intake. Not only does protein require more energy to digest than carbs and fat (higher thermic effect of food, or TEF), it increases satiety hormones, and decreases hunger hormones. Simply put, you are much less likely to overeat (or eat when you are bored) when you have adequate protein. As a general guideline aim for protein to make up ~25% of your total daily intake. If you aren't sure where you stand, MyFitnessPal is great for this. (All my clients who try tracking are surprised by their actual typical macro profiles. Seriously, try it, it's free!)
3. Set eating times for yourself. Pre-determine times of the day for eating and stick to it! You may need to play around with how often or when, but limiting yourself to ONLY specific times will highlight very quickly if you are eating enough, and what your general habits are. I do this sometimes at night, because my "bored triggers" come after dinner when I'm relaxing with Netflix or a movie. If I see people on TV eating (or drinking), I notice that I also want to join in.
4. Eat healthy fats with each meal. This will help you stay full and satisfied longer. It will also be easier to pass on fats and sweets later on in the day because your body won't feel deprived. My favorites are avocado (duh), coconut or olive oil, and nut butters.
5. Drink enough water throughout the day. I probably sound like a broken record about water, but my clients are always surprised what a difference being ACTUALLY hydrated makes, especially with cravings or feeling the urge to snack. Aim for a minimum of half your body-weight in oz or more. You can't really over-do it on the water, so feel free to sip away! (It will also give you an excuse to get up from your desk. You're welcome!)
And friendly reminder, just like I reminded my client, weight loss takes time before you really start seeing results. Like, a LOT of time. More than you feel like is fair.
So don't worry as much about the number on the scale. Focus on daily actions that will lead you in the right direction. It's not sexy day-to-day, but consistently eating better, snacking less, and drinking more water adds up.
What about you? What are some of your "bored" trigger circumstances?