Who knew when you packed up your desk and carried your work computer home back in the spring, you’d still be working from home now? But here we are. While swapping morning commutes for workouts and cooking more at home has helped many get healthier, the transition also has downsides resulting in letting some healthy habits slide.
“I think we all had some sort of idealized sense that it would not last this long, so many people became a bit more lax in their diet and physical activity, thinking it was just a temporary thing,” says Susan E. Wilson, RDN.
Since many of us are working from home for the foreseeable future, it’s important to nip unhealthy habits in the bud.
Sometimes you can’t be bothered to get dressed — or you just do the half-dressed thing for your Zoom call. (We see you because we’ve done it, too.) “Sometimes, the act of changing out of your PJs and putting on something you would actually wear to work can serve as a mental cue to help you have a more productive — and healthy day,” says Wilson.
When you’re too busy with work and skip a meal, you set yourself up for blood sugar crashes. Not only will you feel tired and irritable, but you’re more likely to reach for a less nutritious choice or overeat at the next meal or snack. This is where meal planning can pay off: If you have something with a good mix of macros ready in the fridge, it’s as convenient as a handful of snacks and is more nutritious and satiating.
If you’re skipping sit-down meals, you also might find yourself nibbling all day. “Grazing is mindless eating and often leads to unwanted weight gain because you consume more calories than if you’d eaten three proper meals,” says Marissa Vicario, a certified integrative nutrition health coach in New York City. A handful of chips or pretzels here and there may be tasty, but they’re not satisfying. “You’ll constantly search for something else to fill the void,” adds Vicario.
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If you used to bring your lunch to work, you may be in the habit of waiting until you’re ravenous at 1 p.m. and then raiding the fridge or pantry for whatever you can find to quell that hunger. While meal prepping alleviates this stress, you can also try keeping a list on your fridge with what you’ll make for each meal and snack. For example, a tuna sandwich for lunch and a handful of pistachios and an apple for an afternoon snack. “Visual lists can be helpful to keep you on track,” says Wilson. Writing things out, including logging your meals in an app like MyFitnessPal (even before eating) can also help you make small tweaks and better food choices.
Now that meetings are done via Zoom, and you don’t have to walk down the hall to chat with coworkers, you’re likely spending more time seated. Sitting too long has been called “the new smoking” since it negatively impacts overall health. The good news, even just 5-minutes of walking can help counteract those effects. Look for ways to get up and move, whether it’s to refill your water bottle or take a phone meeting while walking. It’s also helpful to think about the times in your day that provide space and opportunity to get active, says Vicario. Maybe you prefer a lunch-time workout rather than taking a break at 3 p.m. when you tend to be busier.
It’s harder to separate the start and end of your workday when you’re no longer commuting. “Boundaries are certainly important, but not everyone can work the same hours right now,” says Vicario. “Be honest with yourself and your employer about what works for you, and then stick to the schedule you commit to,” she says. For example, block off lunch on your calendar and time for a few walk breaks. If some of those work hours come at night, that’s fine — but “not at the expense of the time you’ve delegated for family, movement and self-care,” adds Vicario.
At the office, you might have access to a kitchen or breakroom, but they’re often separate from your desk or workspace. When you’re home, you’re likely closer to the fridge and pantry, making it easy to raid your stash of cookies if you’ve had a stressful meeting. “If possible, set up your workspace away from the kitchen and take regular walking breaks to minimize stress,” says Vicario. If eating is your go-to response to stress, think about other things you can do, like getting into a yoga pose mid-day, brewing a cup of tea or meditating.
When you’re working from home, and the kids are remote learning, you’re likely making them meals and snacks. It can be easy to take a few bites of the kids’ mac n cheese or finish their leftovers. Instead, “plan to eat your own meals and, if possible, sit down and eat with the kids,” says Vicario. “If they have leftovers, save them for later or incorporate them into another meal,” she says.
There are two problems here: One, TV is distracting while working, which can extend your work-from-home day well into the evening when it didn’t have to. And two, it can lead to mindless eating. “This is one of the most common things I speak with my patients about: Not eating when distracted,” says Wilson. “It’s tough to tell if you’re actually hungry or just eating because you’re bored,” she explains. Make sure to turn the TV off — and any other device that might prevent you from focusing on food like your phone — so you can fully be present and listen to your true hunger signals. This ensures you stop when you’re satiated and prevents overeating.
It’s so easy to assume that because you’re working from home, you’ll have more time to prep healthy foods in-the-moment, like cutting up veggies for hummus as a snack. The reality is you’ll probably get too busy, and it’s easy to run out of motivation if you’re weighed down by the stress of the day. That’s why snack prep is key. You can slice veggies as part of your earlier food prep, or buy ready-to-go ingredients, like sliced carrots, bagged broccoli florets, cherry tomatoes or snap peas. Portioning out your snacks ahead of time also helps you avoid going for seconds or thirds.
When you’re spending the workday at home, you’re not socializing as much. That lack of comradery takes a toll on your mental health if you feel isolated, says Vicario. “Finding ways to connect with others and making time for self-care are two ways to combat the psychological toll it can take,” she says. This may mean initiating a conversation with a co-worker outside of your regular meetings, participating in a virtual workout class or calling a friend during your breaks.