Attack of the Afternoon Munchies and Couch Potatohood
November 7, 2017 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Help me lose weight by avoiding stress-related junk food eating and getting back to exercising.

I am going through a very stressful period of indefinite duration. I have previously lost weight successfully in the past but I've fallen off the barrel due to unfortunate long term life issues I have trouble coping with.

I have taken to eating crackers or potato chips in the middle of the afternoon on a regular basis.I don't tend to eat in the morning or after dinner but the mid-afternoon is my nemesis. A combination of drowsiness, work anxiety/boredom and life stress peaks around this time resulting in an uncontrollable urge to overeat junk.I am not usually hungry, just craving the taste/sensation of eating junk.

I only crave savory food and I have tried to replace the junk with healthier alternatives like nuts or tea but it turns out nothing gives me the same brain rush that the crispy fat savoriness of the chips/crackers give me.With other foods, I either feel unsatisfied (tea/veggies) or will only eat if I'm really, really starving (healthy food like nuts). Going cold turkey makes me really low and restless.

I can't step away from my work desk to take a bath or exercise(I have never gotten a runner's high anyway) and toiletries/perfume are out of the question due to sensitive skin issues.I tried meditating but have never been able to stick to it.

Eating is literally my only pleasure and joy in life and I depend on it to get through difficult days.It is the only thing I look forward to on a day-to-day basis when everything else in my life is going wrong. I do make art and post it online but it feels more like an obligation than anything.My budget is limited so I can't really throw money at the problem.

Is there anything I can do to keep me from eating which doesn't take too long away from my work and require to me to step away from my desk? That is not unhealthy and is free/very cheap? I really cannot afford to get any fatter for my health.

Related: I have fallen off the exercise barrel too. Back when I was taking adult ballet classes regularly, I was able to keep my weight under control through diet and exercising outside class because I wanted to train for pointe work. Sadly,I had to quit classes for financial reasons before I reached that dream and no longer have a compelling goal or reason to stay slim.I miss dancing tremendously and have the NYC Ballet workout dvds but it's not the same as taking real classes which I can no longer afford and I have problem doing the hour-long workouts regularly due to lack of time.I am someone who finds most types of exercises (e.g. running) incredibly boring,meaningless and tiring.
posted by whitelotus to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Reading your backstory, the first thing that comes to mind is natural yoghurt. I personally love the flavour of the regular ones, but if you can't stand it, then a strawberry or blueberry etc. one would still be good. A small pot of natural yoghurt is full of protein, so it'll fill you up nicely without having to eat loads of it. It also has less than half the amount of fat than a regular bag of crisps, so it's not like most filling junky snacks either. I'm in the UK, so I buy organic Yeo Valley yoghurt like this: but I'm sure there is other stuff out there like it if you're in the US or another country.

Exercise wise, I'm in the same boat as you (apart from doing ballet). I don't get a buzz from running or that kind of stuff. Through years of personal experience in starting and subsequently quitting my own exercise regimes, the best method (the one I'm currently using) is the one that gives you more than one motivator. For example, I have pain in my shoulders at the moment, so I do particular weights to increase the muscle and stability of them. This a: reduces the pain in my shoulders and b: I can see that my muscles are getting more defined than the droopy things they were before and these two items are enough to motivate me to continue with it.
posted by sockpim at 8:46 AM on November 7, 2017

Would air-popped popcorn fill the cracker/chip niche? For some reason hard boiled eggs work for me, too and are far less calories than nuts or chips or crackers. Also, on preview, plain yogurt is very satisfying, too.

In terms of exercise, can you fit in active transportation, i.e.walking or cycling? Getting exercise going to and from work is more meaningful.
posted by TORunner at 8:47 AM on November 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

If eating is your one pleasure in life, I don’t think it’s going to work to take away your one pleasure. I think you should start there and don’t worry about eating patterns afterward.
posted by pintapicasso at 9:17 AM on November 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Can you play in-browser games at your desk, or use a smartphone or other device (if you have one)? A little dopamine break might serve as a substitute boost, and if you can find the right time-limited-yet-addictive little freemium check-in game for your tastes, it might help give you little breaks to look forward to.

Another snack that might work as a replacement: roasted seaweed! Under 50cal a pack, typically (usually about 20 sheets), and packs are usually less than a dollar at Trader Joe's or similar. They're not super-filling, but they're crispy and oily and salty and savoury and munchy, like crackers or chips. You can get a big box in bulk; it works out to like $0.75/pack and it's easy to store at your desk.
posted by halation at 9:22 AM on November 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest yogurt also. Full-fat, for tasting like a "treat" and satiation. I don't know where you're located, but my favorite is the Siggi's Triple Cream, which is not excessively sweet.
posted by praemunire at 9:33 AM on November 7, 2017

If you're thinking that yogurt may be too sweet - try yogurt cheese, which is dead simple to DIY. You just need some plain yogurt, a fine mesh sieve and a coffee filter. Stuff the filter in the sieve, dump in the yogurt, and set that over a bowl and let it sit for like 8 hours. That drains a lot of the remaining whey out of the yogurt, and you're left with a really thick, cream-cheese-y sort of stuff. Then you can season that with a little salt or some chopped herbs, and if it's really thick, then you can roll it into little balls and drop them into a jar, sprinkling in some more chopped herbs now and then, and then covering the balls in the jar over with olive oil and that lives in your fridge. Or just pack the spread into a jar and that lives in the fridge too.

You'd need crackers or some kind of thing to eat it with, mind you, but adding the yogurt to the crackers would fill you up faster and you would end up not eating as much crackers.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:40 AM on November 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I also stress-eat salty carbs, and anything involving willpower just doesn't work if I'm super stressed. What has been working for me lately is a "snack box" - once a week I go to the grocery store, get three or four kinds of my favorite snacks, and re-bag them into daily portions. I throw each day's snacks into a big tupperware bowl and when I'm feeling snacky, that's my ration.

It works because I get to feel indulgent, I get to eat several *different* things every day (without finishing a whole bag of anything) and because the portions are premeasured so I don't have to exert any effort to stop. It's not explicitly an attempt to limit calories or carbs, but I did find that when my binges were controlled as to volume, the cravings faded and I have shifted away from potato chips and candy to rice cakes, popcorn, those delicious freeze-dried pea things, and dried fruit. I also keep salty nuts and cheese around and don't limit those, because I'm waaaay less likely to overeat them.

This is not a solution; the solution is lowering your stress levels. But this has done a good job of keeping me in a reasonable holding pattern.

(Oh, and for exercise? Gym buddies. I outsource my willpower there, too, and it works fine.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:43 AM on November 7, 2017 [13 favorites]

Roasted seaweed was going to be my suggestion too! It's so crunchy and salty and savory. You can find it in a few different forms, but my favorite for chip replacement is if you can find it individually wrapped in a big tub. The process of unwrapping each piece keeps you from eating a bunch at once and prolongs the snack experience without increasing the snack content.

Similarly, sunflower seeds are good for this kind of thing too, although spitting out the shells might be a little uncouth in an office setting if that's a concern. There's also roasted kale chips, which you can find premade these days but if you have the time and energy you could make yourself.

If food is your only pleasure in life these days maybe roll with that? Maybe spend ten minutes in the afternoon planning what to make and eat for dinner or breakfast the next day, including a detailed shopping list and step by step instructions so you can follow along when you're not able to improvise? And then you'll be able to go, "well, this spreadsheet is killing me but I'm going to have slow cooker lamb meatballs for dinner". Or something else that helps you derive happiness via food that isn't you eating junky food right that very second.

Also if you're in the northern hemisphere get a full spectrum bulb for a desk lamp in case you might be doing the classic wintertime hibernation routine in addition to all the other stress.
posted by Mizu at 10:04 AM on November 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think you should eat something light-- maybe green tea and a single-serving bag of those Calbee shrimp chips or Pirate Booty. Then go burn it off walking. You may find the little jot of food boosts your energy and works out to a net benefit. Al least it feels that way to me.
posted by BibiRose at 10:05 AM on November 7, 2017

If you try to take away your one pleasure in life, you are setting yourself up to fail. You are having a really rough time, and you have a coping mechanism. It's not the greatest coping mechanism in the long run, but trying to remove it is only going to increase your pain. You can't do that long term. No one can. Is there a way to bring more non-food related pleasure into your life? I've started doing this, and after a few months, I found myself craving junk food less. Another possibility is to keep the chips/crackers, but add something else. Eat your chips, but have an apple first. Maybe that way you will eat fewer chips. Maybe you won't. But you really need to take care of yourself emotionally.

Excess weight is not great for your health, but neither is stress. It will be easier to deal with the food issues if you feel like you have something else going in your life.
posted by FencingGal at 10:14 AM on November 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

What if you were eating some chips or crackers, but with a healthy and flavorful spread like hummus or some seasoned avocado?

I really enjoy nice, exotic, funky cheeses. Far to strong to gorge on but lots of fun to find and try, and healthier than fried things.

You briefly mention tea, but I wonder how much water you're consuming. It helps with so much. If plain water holds no interest, consider plain seltzer or water with a little drinking vinegar (there are multiple AskMes about this).

For exercise, I find that making it a natural part of stuff I need to do works better for me than a gym, at least for now. Pick a place you need to go that you can get to by walking if possible, and walk there, or find a place you've never been and walk there (like that fancy cheese shop you'll be looking for). Take public transit.
posted by koucha at 10:17 AM on November 7, 2017

Some keto/low-carb/paleo enthusiasts fill the cracker and chip void with pork rinds.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:22 AM on November 7, 2017

Mid-afternoon burnout is not uncommon. Can you step away from your desk to take a walk outside for a little while? Even 15 minutes does a lot to improve my mood and focus. so even if you do end up snacking, it's offset by some physical activity.

I also find running to be boring. You might try body weight exercises (lots of examples on youtube) that you can do for a quick bursts at first and build up to more if you enjoy it. Getting stronger tends to make me more motivated than the long slow process of ramping up cardio stamina.

Nthing drinking lots of water or tea.
posted by ananci at 11:03 AM on November 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to break that same habit, following weight loss surgery. I've found that pork rinds (as suggested above) fill that salty-crunchy niche. I found some flavored nuts at Aldi, Chili Lime Cashews - crunchy, flavorful, leaves a little zing in your mouth. I also snack on crunchy fruits/veggies like a Honeycrisp apple, cucumber, etc.
posted by jhope71 at 11:27 AM on November 7, 2017

Salted nuts. Peanuts, almonds, whatever you like. High in fat, but relatively healthy fat, and the protein is satisfying. Maybe also try wasabi peas, the heat keeps me from eating too many at a time.

You know to keep water handy, I'm sure, but it really helps to have some water to help that feeling of fullness. And even a short walk at lunch, esp. if you can get outdoors
posted by theora55 at 11:41 AM on November 7, 2017

Rather than avoiding eating, maybe start with portion control. Crackers aren’t bad for you—a serving of crackers with cheese or hummus is filling and should provide a little energy boost. Can you have your snack in the break room, or next to a window? Even a few minutes of standing up and being somewhere besides your desk might boost your mood.
posted by epj at 1:28 PM on November 7, 2017

Thanks all who answered! I have picked restless nomad's rebagging answer as the best answer for now. What usually happens now: for example I had a pack of flavored rice crackers yesterday (I do not eat healthy crackers like crispbread just senbei-type crackers. I detest rice cakes though) and I had planned to eat only half of it but I wasn't able to stop until I was three quarters through :(

I'm going to go to the fancy supermarket and buy Korean gim(seaweed) that comes in small packets (I hope one pack per day is fine iodine-wise) and some other snacks (whatever is within my budget) and rebag them in daily ziplocs. I just realized that my afternoon stress munchies only hit me on weekdays and not weekends when I don't have to work and am busy with other things so maybe Mon-Fri ziplocs.

I've seen pork rinds on sale but they look scary,will the fat be ok? I eat yogurt for breakfast already but they are not crispy/savory enough to satisfy me snack-wise.Same goes for dried fruit and many, many other healthy snacks I tried. I am already harried enough planning and freezing my weekday meals so I'll like snacks that are ready to eat.

I do walk some for errands but I don't enjoy walking in the city and it's too easy to hop onto the train instead.I enjoyed ballet because I felt beautiful and graceful dancing and most exercises just make me feel fat, out of shape and bored instead.I have some too-light coated Kettler weights (the ridiculous kind used in ladies' aerobic classes, maybe 1.5kg per weight) so I am thinking maybe I should do some bicep curls before I allow myself my daily bag o'junk.I thought of getting a proper set of free weights before but given my historical lack of self-control I am afraid they would end up just cluttering the house.

Does anyone have any ideas for free non-food pleasures?
posted by whitelotus at 8:03 PM on November 7, 2017

A combination of drowsiness, work anxiety/boredom and life stress peaks around this time resulting in an uncontrollable urge to overeat junk.I am not usually hungry, just craving the taste/sensation of eating junk.

I only crave savory food and I have tried to replace the junk with healthier alternatives like nuts or tea but it turns out nothing gives me the same brain rush that the crispy fat savoriness of the chips/crackers give me.

Ok, so you eat when you're not hungry and you crave "junk" food.
I strongly, strongly suggest you read "Fat is a feminist issue" by Susie Orbach. I've been where you are and this book helped me understand (beyond tons of other stuff) that eating while not hungry served to mask other urges and distanced me from the capacity to take care of myself. Eating out of "mouth" hunger was (and still sometimes is) for me a way to digest (or indigest?) uncomfortable emotional issues. The problem isn't food in itself, it is the power, the expectation I gave to it (to comfort me, to distract me, etc.). Addressing our relationship to food is not an easy path but to me it was the only one that helped me be at peace with food (ALL kinds of food, not some), with my relationship to it and with my body.
And in my experience if you want to eat X, don't eat a lighter, "healthier" version of it, because you'll end up eating this version in addition to X in the end.
Oh, and another very helpful ressource, a free one, is the blog by Katie Seaver.
Good luck!
posted by Ifite at 5:17 AM on November 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I’ve been in your situation before, and in addition to food being the only joy in my life, the carbs provided a good mood enhancer. I decided I’d rather be fat than even more depressed, until my life came together again. In my case straight carbs, rather than carbs plus fat, often worked okay, so if you haven't already, you can try experimenting with unbuttered popcorn, baked chips, etc.

Once my life improved the eating was a habit instead of a Need. This book and its follow-up were at my library and they have good ideas; which ones you take away from it will depend on your personality.

Regular sex is honestly the biggest thing that keeps me from overeating EVERY day.
posted by metasarah at 7:29 AM on November 9, 2017

metasarah, I have ordered 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food and will read it soon. Unfortunately, the stresses in my life are of a long term nature and I'm just not sure if my excess weight will cause health problems before there are any improvements in my life situation.
posted by whitelotus at 12:42 AM on November 10, 2017

You need to make sure that you try to sleep for 8 hours per day.

A bunch of research - nicely summarised in Matthew Walker's book "Why we Sleep" (MeFi post here) points to a sharp increase in our cravings for easy calorie fix foods if we are missing just an hour or two of sleep per day. This is because sleep shortage plays about with your production of the hormones Leptin and Ghrelin - and these, in turn, affect appetite control. Sleep deprivation is also linked with production of higher levels of endocannabinoids. As you might guess from the name, these are the same chemicals that help give people the munchies when they are stoned. If you sleep for just 5 hours on a particular night, then this research indicates that these cravings will tend to add about 300 calories per day to your food intake, over what it would have been otherwise.
posted by rongorongo at 9:56 PM on January 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

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