Struggling with my sleep patterns and eating.
June 30, 2014 6:29 PM   Subscribe

I need help with overcoming my stress in order to start eating and sleeping heathily. What are your hints and tips to get my life back on track?

I've been signed off work due to stress for two months now. I'm struggling to get myself sorted in some ways. I'm struggling with my sleep patterns. At the moment I'm going to bed at around 3 or 4am then waking up 8 hours later. I've always been a night owl and start feeling creative at around 10pm, so lately I've been using the late nights to do writing for a book. When I wake up I feel refreshed as I've had a decent amount of sleep. The only problem is that it feels like half the day has gone, even though I'm still getting 16 hours awake. I also worry because when I return to work I'll have to get up at 7am so I feel like I should be keeping to a more normal sleeping pattern.

The other problem is that I'm struggling to eat properly. I'm struggling to find the inclination to cook. I used to love cooking and enjoyed cooking delicious pasta dishes and stews. Unfortunately a few of my co-workers were dieting at the same time that I was trying to change my eating habbits. So it was a constant barrage of "You'll NEVER lose weight eating pasta!" "I thought you were on a diet!" when mentioning eating a bit of pudding, and "Losing weight is the easy part but can you keep it off" when I mentioned I lost weight. I changed my eating habbits a long time ago and lost 35lbs and kept it off for over 4 years. So I know what to do and how to do it. But the attitude of my co-workers ended up making me not want to cook as I started to feel like everything I was cooking was wrong.

I am also dating someone who is terrible for coming round late so I never know when I'll be eating when he comes over. The other night we ended up eating at 10pm. Often when I'm tired I don't have the energy to cook so we'd end up having junk food. Though now I've taken to getting him to cook dinner when he arrives which is helping somewhat. However he also likes to eat out and often wants something nice after. I've gotten used to this and don't have the will power I had when I was younger. I'm also finding gardening, writing etc to be more enjoyable than cooking so I don't want to stop gardening just to cook something. Plus with the odd hours I'm keeping I'm struggling to know when to cook.

I put on weight due to a combination of a knee and shoulder injury that meant I couldn't exercise like I used to, discovering food I liked (specifically mushrooms mixed with gorgonzola and chorizo on a toasted wholemeal English muffin), going out with my partner, comfort eating due to relationship problems a year ago, and being too tired to cook due to stress at work.

I really want to lose weight and get fit again but I seem to be really struggling with the motivation and will power required. So I was wondering if anyone has any hints and tips to help me sort out my sleep, exercise, and eating habbits.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I know this is not what you want to hear, but you need to make yourself sleep on a more traditional schedule so that you are getting an appropriate amount of daylight brain cues. The way you do that is to get up at 7am (this is your "luxury" schedule before going back to work) no matter what. And you go to bed between 10p-midnight. Non-negotiable, and if your partner cannot support your efforts in this they are not a partner. You need to eat in the early evening, and breakfast fairly quick in the morning after you get up, in order to support those brain cues.

Start meal planning, or subscribe to a service that sends you diet-appropriate meal plans. This should help you shop and plan so that every night isn't a long dinner ordeal, and instead you are doing a bigger cook every 2-3 nights and just assembling on the in between meals.

If you're signing off work months at a time because of stress, you probably need to change jobs. In the meantime you need to stop telling your coworkers your personal business because they are toxic. Find an online community for support, use Fitday or MyFitnessPal or something for tracking and social features.

If you are not medicated you probably need to pursue that. If you are medicated and it's making your sleep issues worse, you may need to talk to your prescribing doctor about how to ease some of those side effects.

This requires a certain amount of willpower. If you're suffering from anxiety and depression, it's really fucking hard to get out of bed in the morning, but just that one thing should be Goal #1 every day. Do your best with the rest of your objectives, but get out of bed even if you don't accomplish anything else.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:41 PM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

First off, never discuss your weight loss or diet with your coworkers. No matter what they say, it won't be helpful.

Second, start drinking a ton of water. Drink it before meals. Drink it as a snack. Drink a full glass before eating dinner when you're out on the town with your partner. You'll eat less and be more hydrated and both of those are good things.

Third, write down everything you eat in a little notebook. In ink. If you don't feel like writing it down, you don't really want it, you're eating for other purposes, like emotions or boredom. Or because you don't want it to become part of the permanent record, which is a big indicator that it's something you know you shouldn't eat.

Fourth, enlist your partner in healthy habits. Agree that you'll keep food around to eat if he comes by late at night, but that you want late night dinners to be light to help you sleep well, and keep it simple, like a salad with grilled chicken breast on top. You can cook chicken in advance and keep it in the refrigerator to toss with a salad, and you can also buy cooked chicken at Trader Joe's, etc., so you wouldn't even have to cook it yourself.

Fifth, don't keep junk food in the house. If he comes over at 10 and you only have salad and chicken, you won't eat junk food. When you buy it for yourself as a treat, only buy the amount that is appropriate for one treat, that way you can't over indulge.
posted by janey47 at 6:44 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I sort of forgot my coda, which is: sleep is everything. If you're not sleeping healthily, you can't lose weight. You can't handle stress. Your planning and organizational skills go to hell. Your endocrinological and neurological capacity to manage hunger (and maintain your blood glucose appropriately) fall apart. And bad sleep begets bad sleep (the opposite is also true: good sleep makes good sleep).

You're exhibiting the absolutely textbook sleep schedule disorders that are comorbid with depression, and that is why I say that sleep is EVERYTHING. Focus on the sleep and you will find the other things fall into place so much more easily once you're sleeping more healthily.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:00 PM on June 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think you need to be more rigid with yourself in terms of scheduling. This sleeping routine is going to be really difficult when you return to work so you might as well try to fix it now. Get up at's better than 7am! Or 9am at the latest. Yes, you will lose your late night creativity but if you have to go back to work you need to be prepared. So...bed at midnight at the latest.

The partner thing is ridiculous (no offense, in my opinion, etc). You need to decide "I eat between 6 and 9pm- whatever time works for you" and tell your partner that. Not, ok, whenever you feel like showing up and deciding what and when we are going to eat. No. You need to eat at a certain time, and healthy home made food, ideally. So save him leftovers.

It's not the most fun thing in the world but I think you need more structure and routines. This shouldl help with both the sleeping and the eating.
posted by bquarters at 7:08 PM on June 30, 2014

You might want to look into the Whole30. The program is designed to reset your relationship with food and rebalance your hormones, which play a huge part in sleep. The program's founders also have a lot to say about the importance of sleep. I've had great success with it.
posted by shiggins at 7:51 PM on June 30, 2014

Your "partner" isn't much of a partner if he makes you wait to eat dinner until he can bother to show up. Do not wait for him to eat. It's nice to eat together but if he cares he will routinize his schedule so that you will know when to expect him. Waiting to perform basic self care tasks like eating is not something anyone should ask of you.
posted by sockermom at 8:21 PM on June 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree you're missing structure and that's part of what is stressing you out.Your partner cannot reasonably expect you to let your blood sugar levels plummet while you wait for him to get home before you eat. Can you not just sit and hang out with him while he eats?

As to the sleep... When I graduated I had much the same routine - bum around, write, watch TV till 3 or 4, sleep till midday, rinse and repeat. I can tell you it was extremely painful when I entered the working world!! It is really hard to make these changes overnight and what you need to do is start building in cues to your environment that make you start to get sleepy earlier - such as stop using your computer close to bedtime as the bright light can make you feel more awake, start dimming the lights and turning down the bed and wrapping up for the day. You really need to want to change your schedule, it won't happen if you're feeling forced to do it. I try to find the pleasure in new habits - it becomes much easier to adopt them. So enjoy your sleep time. Read a comforting book. Invest in a nice mattress and pillow.

I completely understand the co-worker thing. I think it is a real shame and also perfectly understandable that you feel scared to eat what you want because you're afraid of judgy comments. There was another recent question by a person whose co-worker was constantly commenting on what she ate. I just wish people could get a life and not talk about food in the workplace. Anyway, I think it is incredibly important for your peace of mind that you do not participate in these conversations and learn to tune them out when they are taking place around you. I also worked with people who constantly talked about food and diets etc, but I just never participated, plugged in my earphones when it got too irritating, and anytime anyone commented on what I was eating, I just said, "I don't do diet or body talk" and left it at that. It took a while though, me not being the most assertive person, but my colleagues leave me alone now.

I am fat and like to eat - I have long since learned that diets are the quickest way to anxiety, panic and self-loathing for me - I am much happier eating what I need to, on a schedule, and trying to focus on activity rather than food. I have really, really benefited from reading articles by the Fat Nutritionist about eating competence and learning how to eat instinctively. Turns out, when you give yourself permission to eat and have confidence in your body's abilities to make the right choices, you eat much better. YMMV, but it has held very true for me, and what I like about her approach is that it assumes that your body knows what it's doing, so it isn't a constant battle against yourself.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:09 AM on July 1, 2014

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