How to stop mindless snacking! EMOTIONAL hunger vs PHYSICAL hunger

photo of white bowl filled with berries
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I doubt there’s anyone out there who hasn’t experienced that 3pm ‘must have a snack’ feeling, or who has had [insert meal here] but then absolutely *must* have something sweet to finish the meal… you catch my drift!

What NOT to do

Now I am 100% not for crash diets and depriving yourself. You guys know what I’m about by now. But for optimum health (and the side-effect bonus you get with that – aesthetic goals!), you need to get back in touch with your body: more specifically, learn to better read your hunger signals.

I am not about tracking macros or calories (I get that some people, especially competitors, find this okay, but personally as an ex-ED sufferer, it’s not good for me, and also for many people I’d argue it takes the joy out of food – but you do you!)

I am not about prescribing set cookie-cutter advice, e.g. “everyone should intermittent fast!”, “everyone should go keto!”, “everyone should go paleo!”

In general, I think that stuff is absolute bullsh*t. Different things work for different people, but personally, I’ve been my healthiest and happiest following my Harley Street nutritionist‘s holistic approach of being balanced! It’s that simple! All the major food groups – lean protein, healthy fats and YES, CARBS! (read more here about why they’re not the devil and how eating more can help you stay leaner!) and lots of fruit and veggies…

No ‘cutting out’ sugar.

No ‘cutting out’ carbs.

No ‘quitting’ X, Y, or Z.

Simply following the 80/20, or 90/10 % rule. The majority? Foods which are as WHOLE and natural as possible (i.e. not processed, in their natural form – this way their chemical compounds and nutritional value is optimal for utilisation by the body, in general terms), and for that other cheeky 20%-10%? Don’t worry, be happy. Have a little bit of what you fancy. My 10-20% tends to be pizza, champagne, and occassionally a chocolate brownie (maybe with some rum, salted caramel or hazelnut icecream involved!)

cheese close up cooking crispy
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Learn the ideal portion sizes

Generally speaking, with a little give and take because, y’know… life (!), each of your 3 daily meals should consist of:

  • 1 fistful of complex carbs (think grains – these are great! But white potato, sweet potato, brown rice are all absolutely fine!)
  • 1 palm-size of lean protein (chicken, red meat [ideally only once a week!], tuna, prawns, cod, turkey, you name it!)
  • 1 thumb size of healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts, fish oils like salmon)

This is your baseline. It’s not something to panic over, but it is a guideline that if you follow broadly, will help you ditch diets and embrace not only healthier living, but a better, more energised body (and over time, if you are carrying excess body fat, if you stick to this and move a moderate amount, you’ll lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way!)

Read more about this in ReNourish.

spinach chicken pomegranate salad
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Snacking – should I eat?

My approach here is very simple.

Am I hungry?

Physical Hunger

What kind of hunger am I feeling? Is it in my stomach? That kind of growling, urgent, physical feeling, that’s a bodily sensation and not attached to the idea of a specific food? Then yes, I should probably eat something.

Emotional Hunger

Am I craving something specific i.e. ‘ooh I really fancy a biscuit!’? Was I hungry before I saw that office email about cake in the kitchen? Am I assuming I’m hungry because it’s a particular time of day (e.g. 3pm, so therefore I just assume I’m having an afternoon slump despite the lack of any physical symptoms)? Is there ANY SENSATION AT ALL in my stomach? No? It sounds like this is mental or emotional hunger. I don’t really need to eat.

If you’re still not sure, ask yourself this:

Would I just as willingly eat an apple/some carrot sticks/ some celery?

If you’re physically hungry, these things will sound fine! If you’re emotionally hungry, chances are you only want a bit of cake, or something “nice”…

In these instances, I think it’s beneficial to avoid snacking. To be clear: there is NOTHING WRONG with eating when you’re TRULY HUNGRY. But one step to optimising our nutrition is avoiding those emotional hunger snacks which are usually sugar-laden-processed-not-that-great-for-us-pick-me-ups.

Is there an alternative to never eating when I’m emotionally hungry?

Of course! You can do whatever you want! Sometimes, if you really fancy it and someone’s brought a rainbow Hummingbird Cake into the office, as long as you don’t do it on a weekly basis, just eat it and enjoy! Life’s too short. This isn’t about a ‘punishing’ or restrictive regime. This is about sustainable solutions and tuning in with your body.

If you’re really struggling mentally and want to snack, replace it. Some great options are:

  • Carrot sticks and hummus
  • Celery and almond butter
  • 2 ryvita with cream cheese & a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • A handful of nuts, a handful of sunflower/pumpkin seeds & a handful of blueberries sprinkled with cinnamon
  • A bio-live yoghurt with added raspberries, blueberries or goji berries
  • A green vegetable smoothie
  • Banana and peanut butter
  • 1/2 banana, a few dates & some greek yoghurt
  • Avocado sourdough / rye toast
  • A small fresh fruit salad with greek yoghurt

How to make the switch

So you’re feeling emotionally hungry… how do you ‘overcome’ the craving?

I like to go through the questions above as a mental checklist. Be really honest with yourself. It’s totally okay if to begin with you struggle to recognise if it’s physical or emotional hungry – after years of eating disorders and alcohol binges it took me years to get back in touch with my body and properly re-set!

Think about the food you’re craving – cheesecake, or whatever it may be. Decide now if this is when you want to use your 20% treats. IT IS NO BAD THING IF YOU DO! THERE IS NO GUILT HERE! Just be honest with yourself if now is truly a mindful treat time, or if you’d rather have a glass of wine, or pizza, or brownie with friends at the weekend, or tomorrow on a solo lunch break with your favourite magazine when you can enjoy it.

If it’s mindful treat time, ENJOY IT. Eat it mindfully. Savour it. Don’t scarf it down at your desk and barely notice it!

However, if you decide this ISN’T one of those 20% treat times and you don’t actually need it…  If you are truly hungry, try swapping it for one of the ideas above, or your own healthier upgrade. Imagine how you’ll feel after eating something that nourishes your body rather than spiking your blood sugar.

If it’s emotional hunger, sit with the feeling for a moment. Identify how you’re recognising it. Identify your reasons. Either say it aloud if you can, or if you share an office and don’t want to sound mad (!), write it down.

“I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because I’m bored”

I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because I’m stressed”

I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because I’ve gotten into the habit of always wanting chocolate with my coffee at 3pm”

“I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because someone just emailed that there’s birthday cake in the kitchen and now I just have to go and see what type it is…!”

I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because I don’t want to be hungry later!” (my fave excuse!)

Once you’ve identified your why, sit with the feeling. Breathe deeply into your belly. Try and wait for the impulse to pass. (This gets easier and happens more quickly with time! I literally rarely have to exert willpower here now, it’s just a habit!)

If you’re still struggling, think about the healthy alternatives listed. Think about their positive impact on the body – maybe the antioxidants in the blueberries which help fight free radicals, reducing your likelihood of getting cancer. And think about how good they taste with cinnamon. Focus on how great healthy food can taste – and eat a half snack serving, as we’re trying to train ourselves out of eating for the sake of it, but it’s totally cool if the reflex takes a while to beat.

Intuitive eating

I hope some of these tips help you re-tune your brain into your body… we’ve been so conditioned by the media and our pesky emotions that often, especially in our culture, food becomes something we scoff mindlessly for the hell of it, and we’re usually not chowing down on kale…!

The key is to address our habits by recognising them, and what drives them, to ensure we don’t obssess and still treat ourselves (remember – 80/20 or 90/10%!) and to adapt accordingly.

No-one is perfect. Literally, nobody. But we can all feel our best if we take care of ourselves, and this is a maybe controversial tool, but a super helpful one to get to a point where we can eat what we want, when we want because we’re eating intuitively – in tune with our bodies’ actual needs, rather than steered by media messaging and emotional binge-prompts.

If you’d like more help with this, the amazing Mel Wells has written two incredible books (one is The Goddess Revolution which helps you ditch diet culture for good and fuel your body and nix your addictions with ease and sass, and one is Hungry For More which delves further into the psychology of food and WHY we turn to food for more than just fuel – read my interview with Mel Wells here!)

*As ever, the usual disclaimer applies – I’m not a nutritionist, please remember there’s no one-size-fits-all and consult a medical health professional and ACTUAL nutritionist for personalised, tailored advice. Do your own research, don’t mindlessly believe cowboys (or girls in my case haha!) on the internet – anyone with a computer can blither on about something… be safe and street-smart, and don’t trust stuff without question – even best-intentioned pieces (like this one!) can make mistakes. But I am essentially adapting advice I’ve received from my nutritionist, with my own spin on what works in my experience, and I am studying a Professional Diploma in Nutritional Therapy, so while I won’t become a nutritionist, I’ll have a qualification enabling me to better advise in a more official capacity.*

Hope you found this useful!

B xoxo

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How to Stay Motivated & fit in workouts with an Office Job

pexels-photo-905336.jpegTired of those generic ‘how to stay fit & healthy and juggle your office job’ posts which say things like ‘meal prep’ and ‘plan’ and ‘tupperware’ and ‘get off the bus or tube one stop earlier?’

I’ve seen loads of them, and although having worked in various jobs (post-graduation office jobs I’ve juggled with my fitness interest have included account management for an online start up that IPOd, marketing for a real estate (mostly) company The Crown Estate, and paralegalling at a city firm, now trainee at another city firm… blah blah blah, but basically I’ve done a mix and various hours and environments and office cultures!) I feel pretty au fait with managing my time – I am almost 27, I’ve had a while to nail this – but I’m ALWAYS keen to learn more, get new tips and see how other people do it.

However, I’m usually disappointed. Telling me to invest in Tupperware isn’t my definition of helpful.

So I figured, what can I write that contributes in a concrete way? There are some generic tips I’ve kind of dismissed above that anyone can give, and to be fair they’re always worth stating. But I think I have a few more I can add in the context of my fitness journey, so apologies in advance for the long post, but I hope some of it is vaguely helpful!

This post is long but covers:

  • Workout scheduling
  • Resisting office treat temptation
  • Finding motivation when you’re busy
  • Making time
  • Top tips to make it easier on yourself
  • Maintaining a healthy mindset

So grab a cup of tea and have a scroll!

  • Assess the time you have available

 

If you work a 9-5 or 6ish job, you have significantly larger chunks of time than those in, say, certain aspects of finance who might work beyond 10pm most nights.

This isn’t a judgement thing – however many ‘free’ hours we have in a day, it never feels enough. I get it. I’ve done 9-5s, 9-7s, 7-10+s in various contexts… and then if you have kids, god bless you I don’t know how you do juggle them with a job, so I appreciate that’s a multiplier of a million in terms of toughness and finding a slot to workout.

But ultimately, you need to be honest with yourself.

Where can you carve out the time that is REALISTIC?

If, like me, you hate mornings, you might be able to squeeze in the odd morning session (I managed to get up at 5.30am for a week to go to Kobox but I had just started my new job so didn’t have late nights at the office and after that week, I wasn’t gonna carry on doing that!) but you won’t stick to it long term.

If you can rarely leave the office before 9pm and have an hour commute home, you probably won’t be an evening exerciser either.

If you have a job where the culture dictates your desk presence during the day, or clients do, you may not be able to do a lunch session. If you have flexibility with work not picking up til the afternoon or your manager/supervisor/colleagues not minding, then maybe there’s your window.

It’s not easy. I appreciate that. But if you’re feeling screwed for all of the above reasons, then I think, personally, the solution is to do workouts for an hour on both Saturday and Sunday, and then snatch a couple more 40 minute workouts where you can during the week (even if you only manage one – that’s 3 workouts across your whole week, which I think should be a healthy minimum!) – force yourself up for one or two mornings, or snatch a lunch time here or take advantage of the one day you can leave work at 7.30pm.

I like to workout about 4 times during the average week – I’m lucky that I can usually squeeze in an evening one (my fiancé works long hours too so it’s fine to be super late home) but usually at least once a week I’ll do a morning one.

That frees me up to either fully rest at the weekend or if I’m on a roll or fancy it I can do 2 more workouts Sat and Sun taking my total to 6.

On a fabulously motivated week where I manage the time then sure, I’ll do 6 workouts a week because I love to. Some weeks I only manage 3 and if I’m particularly slammed, I drop to 2. I tend to feel I don’t have time but I MAKE THEM A PRIORITY. There is no way you can’t carve out a little time for 2 workouts if it matters to you. If it doesn’t… that’s totally okay, don’t do them! Family stresses, serious work crises, bereavements, there are so many legit reasons for the gym to be shunted off your priority list. But I assume you’re reading this to try and fit more in, so that’s why I’m hammering home the point about planning and prioritising and making time. But…

YOU DON’T NEED TO WORKOUT 6 TIMES A WEEK TO BE HEALTHY. I’d say 2 minimum, 3 ideal and any more than that do it because you love it.

My number varies according to my busy-ness, work, laziness, illness, social comittments… but I feel 2 is the absolute minimum as I have a desk job. We need to MOVE to be healthy and while a week of no workouts won’t kill, I think habits are key. Which brings us to…

  • Let’s talk about habits…

If you can have a habitual routine (workouts Mon, Weds, Fri mornings) it makes life easier as it feels less negotiable – you can just do it. This isn’t always possible but a baseline default habit can be SO HELPFUL! Deviate when essential, but if you can have a routine that you stick to automatically, it simplifies things SO MUCH. One to strive for, but also not beat yourself up about if you can’t quite manage it – some jobs are so erratic (or babies or toddlers!) that you’ll just have to seize the moment when it presents itself. Not much you can do. But if you’re 20 something, child free and only working 40 hours a week… no excuses!

Don’t drink diet drinks, fizzy drinks or juices when thirsty – always go for water, herbal tea, and only have these as a TREAT.

Don’t take sugar in tea/coffee – not because it’s ‘bad’ but because it’s added to so many things – save it for a REAL nice sweet treat – that Sunday slice of cheesecake or that Friday champagne cocktail or that flapjack on your department’s weekly bake-off day.

Make it a habit to always take the stairs, and to at the very least go for an hour’s walk at weekends (take the kids or the partner, no excuses!)

Try to at least, if you can’t do that because of work/kids/travel, form some sensible habits that lay groundwork… make it feel compulsory to workout twice a week (unless injured).

These are all pretty generic but I guess the key is re-programming your defaults to a healthier setting. Nothing is BANNED. It’s just about ENJOYING indulgence and recognising it for what it is – indulgence – rather than accidentally consuming excess sugar, empty calories, and skipping workouts because you’re in one of *those* spirals…

The BIGGEST TOP TIP I can give on habits is this one too – sounds cheesy but it’s critical. WE ALL HAVE DAYS EVEN IF WE LOOOOOVE FITNESS where after work we’re like fuck it, CBA to workout. Have a Person (I can’t say buddy, sorry) you can speak to. Mine is my fiancé. I’ll call him (best) or whatsapp if he’s too busy at work and be like I can’t be bothered. He knows me well enough to tell if I’ve trained too much or too little, if work stress would be best alleviated by a workout or a rest day, and so can encourage me to train where it’s best, or let me off the hook where relevant so if I do rest, it’s guilt free.

Because while this is about how to fit in training and healthy eating, it’s not healthy to obsess about it and push yourself too hard. Exercise releases cortisol so adds stress to the body, in addition to all its health benefits, so some days rest may be what you need. Don’t get sucked into the marketing speak of ‘go hard or go home’ ‘never miss a Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday…’

Admittedly, if your partner isn’t super into fitness or wouldn’t be very good at that, then they’re not the best choice. Try a friend. Or get on instagram and join the fitness community there and find a buddy. I’m happy to do it for you (only if I don’t get too many requests!) although the only thing there is someone you know well in your daily life is best for the reasons I describe above with my fiancé.

Some communities you can join on insta are #bbg or #kaylasarmy (where I first got into the fitness community online), #GFG, #tiu / #ToneItUp, or #queenteam.

  • Planning Planning Planning & Booking classes… should I pay & schedule to force myself to go? 

 

Not always, but I’ve found this to be a fab method at times. The key is to know if it will force you to go when you’re feeling a bit bleh, which is good… or if you might have an unforeseen work crisis that prevents you going and makes you feel unfit AND rubbish AND you’ve just lost your money/credits for booking into the bargain.

These can be good for forcing early morning starts if you’re not an early riser like me – having a scheduled class like Kobox makes me feel like I have no choice but to get out of bed (even if I have to set 10 alarms to manage it!) Classes I recommend are Kobox (review here) and Run Junkie (review here).

  • Variety is the spice of life but also…

 

Your body adapts to what you do, so while variety is good to keep it interesting and jolt yourself out of plateaus, if you’re looking for set results you need to be consistent over time. (Does that make sense? Basically, there’s a time and a place for changing things up, sure… but you need to stick to something first to get the results, give your body a chance to make the adaptations). So try (for example) 12 weeks of something before you switch, if that makes sense (that’s not a set in stone number, just a suggestion of an extended period where you might be able to commit to a programme and get results)

The other thing about variety is it’s all well and good but it’s wise to know what you’re doing when you get to the gym. Don’t go and improvise – if I ever do this I have mediocre workouts at best as I feel a bit aimless. Have a plan. Even if you draw it up in notes on your phone en route!

  • And then some mini motivation tips:

These (above) are the big ‘lifestyle’ things that can sound a bit tough to implement but I really recommend trying to get these down for a month or two and it will get easier as it stops being something to try to do and starts being something you do automatically (although don’t beat yourself up for low motivation days – they happen to all of us! That’s what the Person under tip 2 is for).

I think if you can really think about and master some of the above, you’re well on your way to making fitness and health a priority that holds its own against the competing demands of your life. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t smash it every week. But equally the idea of creating the habits and mindsets above is to help you set a fairly constant standard… you’re allowed peaks and troughs like any human being, but that’s your baseline!

Now here are some smaller things that may or may not help you fine tune this regime!

Outfit planning: I like to lay out my fave lulus and choose pretty sports bras etc. the night before, especially if I know I’ve been struggling to feel excited about gym. Sounds stupid, but it helps me.

THEJUSTDOITMETHOD: if all else fails, I swear by a power lip (usually red – fave lipsticks are chanel, dior and Charlotte Tilbury), shot an espresso, put your hair in a messy bun, blast out some gangster rap and JUST GO. You won’t regret it*

(*subject to the usual exceptions – injury etc. Be sensible. Don’t force yourself if its clearly unhealthy!)

The controversial insta scroll: I have a policy of only following people on insta who make me feel empowered and motivated, so a cheeky scroll usually does wonders for my motivation. However, I know social increasingly gets linked with poor mental health. If you feel bad about yourself for going on it, I’d suggest unfollowing anyone who makes you feel that way, and/or considering deleting it altogether.

Make it a date: with friends, the bf/gf, culture is weirdly centred around pub dates, coffee dates and wine bar dates. Find some likeminded friends (see community recommendations above for ways to find some on social media if you don’t have any) and go to a class together then have a smoothie to catch up, instead of necking ten G&Ts in the pub…! Or go for a run in your neighbourhood together. Or drive out of the city and hike together. I love and fairly regularly do all of these options.

Just 20 mins: If you really can’t face it, tell yourself you’ll just do 20 mins. That’s all you have to do. Chances are, 15 mins in you’ll have broken through the block an really enjoy it, and stay for 30, or 40, or 45, or an hour. (I love 40-55 min workouts. I rarely do a full hour these days!)

If in doubt, sweat at home: If making the gym is proving impossible, there are tonnes of workouts online, on youtube, on fitness blender, on this site where you can get a sweat on quickly at home! Any movement is better than none and it doesn’t take loads of fancy equipment. I prefer to go to the gym or a class but if I really really can’t, then 100 burpees, 50 press ups, and playing with my kettlebell at home will get my heart rate going rather than lying like a vegetable on the sofa…!

An App a Day: tech these days is EPIC and  there are so many apps that are free and/or super cheap. I’ve loved the Kayla Itsines app for simple and easy to fit in 28 min workouts, and used it successfully when I needed some fat loss action. But Playbook App has tonnes of trainers on it for just £10 a month, I love Magnus Lydgback (creator of The Magnus Method), the Tomb Raider trainer (he also trained Alexander Skarsgard and Ben Affleck!) and am a subscriber! Also search for Tone It Up, Jillian Michaels, Made with Jade, Grace Fit Guide… there are tonnes!

Resisting office temptation: This is a tough one right? Sweets, cake, doughnuts abound – team birthdays, celebrations… how to stay on track?

My policy is simple. I mindfully assess whether I really want it. 9/10 times my body actually doesn’t want the sugar bombs! Do I really want it? No. Then I say no as a matter of policy. A simple ‘no thanks I’m not hungry’ will do.

Do I want it? Maybe 1/10 times there’s a little sliver of red velvet cake… and maybe I do want it. So I have it!

It’s about working out if you’re eating for the sake of it, boredom, or to appease someone else – those aren’t reasons to indulge! But if it will actually SATISFY YOU then do it! Remember, a simple 80/20 rule. It’s not ‘bad’ to have a treat… unless you’re overindulging and damaging your health by doing it daily!

Read this post if you want comfort food but need some healthy swap suggestions as stress eating isn’t good for anyone!

Lunch habits: a protein and fibre rich lunch will keep you fuller for longer and stop you snacking mindlessly! Include complex carbs, lean protein and lots of veggies. Meal prep can help with this, or check out salad bars like Vital Ingredient for good options. Obviously you can vary things and you don’t need to worry about it too much – but making mindful lunch choices can stop that 3pm slump which half the time is because we’re not nourishing ourselves properly, and half the time is a psychosomatic myth so people have an excuse to grab a daily Twix and tell themselves they need it!

AND FINALLY!

 Working out should be because you want to take care of yourself, not to punish yourself or burn off food or force yourself into a certain body shape. We all have aesthetic goals and preferences, sure, but try to view food and exercise as fuel and training, not dieting and it’s unnecessarily hard-work twin!

Also, I get that its tough in this day and age – we’re all so busy! But unless you’re super gross, you always clean your teeth without fail, or shower. They’re non-negotiables for health and hygiene.

You need to view some degree of movement as a non-negotiable like this too, for your health and wellbeing. Magazines have done a good job of making us feel you only do it to lose weight. I really want to kick against this, and make people see it’s a critical component of a healthy lifestyle, one of the most underutilised tools for avoiding all kinds of illnesses, both mental and physical. So EDUCATE YOURSELF and change your mindset – I’m so glad I have!

To help you, check out:

***

Rhiannon Lambert – Harley St Nutritionist @rhitrition

Hazel Wallace – Jr Doctor @thefoodmedic

Shredded by science – for the actual facts (fully backed up scientific study-based nerdery here!) about training and nutrition

***

Chessie King – influencer and body confidence activist @chessiekingg

Zanna Van Dijk – PT, environmental guru, fitness influencer @zannavandijk

Tally Rye – PT tackling diet culture and looking to change the fitness industry @tallyrye

These are just some examples of sources of good quality information above, and inspiration below (obviously there’s a crossover there, but in terms of science, evidence and qualification, the top 3 are amazing). The other three are just great, healthy, inspiring girls who won’t give you body hangups and are changing diet culture and helping women across the world.

So, sorry for the essay, but I hope that helps! I’ve tried to address all the things I find help me, all the stuff I’ve learned over my “fitness journey” (cringe!) and answer all the questions I get on the regular.

PS. you may also want to read this post on body confidence for those days when you can’t workout or you’re just feeling bleh and this post on sustaining motivation!

PPS. If your relationship is what’s making it tough to fit in workouts (perhaps your partner loves French food for date nights!) then I write about fitting fitness around relationships here.

Love & sweat 😉

B xoxox