Have you ever noticed how the day-to-day transitions we all experience can contribute negatively to our weight loss plan?
Think about the transitions in your day or week: going from work to home, from dinner time to bedtime, or from the workweek to the weekend.
Each transition presents a unique challenge for our brains to switch gears. We often find ourselves using food to help make that transition. It’s a tempting time to grab an unplanned treat from the pantry or enjoy a glass of wine after a hard day at work.
Let’s talk about how you can navigate these transitions while staying committed to your weight loss plan.
Emotional eating during transitions
Many of my clients, and I’m sure many of you, find these transition times are the stickiest ones when it comes to food and eating.
These are the times that my clients find themselves challenged the most to keep their commitments when it comes to eating and taking care of themselves.
So many of my clients get caught up in eating unplanned chocolate in that hour between work and dinner or overeating while having two glasses of wine after the kids are in bed and no one needs them anymore.
Whether it’s after school, before dinner, at bedtime, or Friday night, if you are finding that these are the times that you’re eating off-plan, overeating, or leaning on food or drink for comfort, and it isn’t contributing to success with your weight loss goals, then it’s time to figure out what’s going on and strategize how to set yourself up for success.
Your brain needs a break
Think of the different hats you wear throughout the day, the roles you fulfill that demand different things of your brain and all of the tasks you face in a given day.
My work life runs the gamut from teaching coaches and students, coaching clients, marketing, administration, content creation, financial planning, solving tech issues, scheduling, responding to emails, researching, self-reflection, continued education…and that’s just work.
I’m also the mom of three very different children in age, temperament, and needs. I’m the CEO of my household and partner, consultant, confidant, and friend to my husband. I’m a daughter, a friend, a neighbor, and a member of a church community.
Living my life, taking care of my responsibilities, and managing it all requires a lot of my brain. There are a lot of different tasks for it to balance.
It’s no wonder that my brain wants a break between work and home, between client calls and kids, between the workweek and the weekend.
That’s why these are the places where we often use food to help us create that break.
Why using food as a transition signal doesn’t always work
Our brains are looking for a sign that one thing is over and the next thing is starting. It craves a delineation between one set of expectations and the next.
This is why you may find yourself grabbing your phone and scrolling social media at the end of a client meeting or immediately wanting chocolate as soon as you pull into your driveway after work.
Your brain knows what’s coming. It knows that you will open the door and be met with another set of demands or expectations. It’s looking for relief from the pressure, peace from the stress, or an escape from the overwhelm.
Food has played that role poorly and at a cost—but still, it has worked in the past. Your brain has logged it as the transition solution that helps you feel better.
But if you’re on a journey to lose weight or enjoy better health, then chocolate after work, popcorn and wine after the kids are in bed, or throwing a plan out the window and overeating on the weekend is not the most helpful solution.
It’s a temporary and mediocre solution at best.
If we want to up-level our health by losing weight and taking better care of ourselves, this transition trouble spot is one we want to make easier.
3 steps to stop emotional eating during transitions
1. Identify your transition trouble spots and understand why they are presenting a challenge.
Do you notice a pattern of night eating or going to food after the kids are in bed or the day is done?
Do you notice you are relying on your habit of two glasses of wine after work?
Do you notice you’re eating sugar in the afternoon when the kids are getting home from school?
Do you notice that you’re counting down to Friday night and a “break” from planning? Do you use that as an opportunity to eat all the things?
Once you’ve answered these questions, try to identify what your brain is looking for by engaging in these behaviors.
For example, do you need relief from stress, a pressure valve release, a break from the day, an escape from the perceived chaos? Or maybe it’s a desire to create a feeling like fun or joy.
That is what we want to zoom in on.
What do my brain and body really need in these moments?
2. Plan in some transition rituals that contribute to your success to serve as alternatives to the current habit.
I want to mention that eating at night, drinking two glasses of wine after work, eating sugar in the afternoon, or off-plan on the weekends are not inherently bad or problematic choices.
They’re only a problem if the results of those behaviors don’t align with your health goals.
Suppose these behaviors are contributing to weight gain, inhibiting your weight loss, disrupting your sleep, causing an energy crash or irritability, or causing physical discomfort. In that case, you may want to look into some alternative solutions.
If you want some quality alone time and peace at the end of the night after everyone is in bed, it’s not the food that will do that job.
What do you really need? What will serve you?
Maybe it’s unloading all of your thoughts onto paper and then reading a novel for a few minutes before going to bed. Perhaps it’s a few minutes outside, breathing some fresh air with a warm cup of herbal tea. Maybe it’s Netflix in your comfiest PJs.
What makes alone time quality for you?
What thoughts generate the feeling that you’re craving at the end of the night?
What is standing in the way of you leaning into those thoughts and creating that feeling for yourself?
Your brain does a much better job of creating lasting wellbeing than food ever will, especially the kinds of foods we usually reach for at night.
After work is also a big transition trouble spot for many of my clients, which makes perfect sense. Your brain is in one mode at work, and home life is a different mode.
So think about your current ritual in this transition time, starting from when you leave work to come home.
What rituals do you have at work to close out your day?
How are you typically feeling at the end of your workday?
What happens next?
These details are important because another effective way of addressing any transition trouble spots you’re noticing is to build on or expand what’s already happening.
Your transition rituals don’t have to be long, drawn-out, or complicated. The purpose is just to take a break to reset and recharge for whatever is next. This way, you do not have to go from zero to 60 anywhere during your day.
3. Look for moments to reset throughout the day.
Having these moments of reset is something we can do throughout our day as a preventative measure to help ease the challenge of our transitions.
Clinical psychologist Michelle Frank says,
“Concentration and focus are renewable resources, but they need to be recharged. It’s really important to give your brain time to reset and refocus throughout the day.”
Suppose you find yourself looking for a pressure valve release at the end of the day or in the transition from work to home.
How can you incorporate some reset and refocus time into your day at intervals so that the pressure isn’t so intolerable when the transition rolls around?
The idea of transition rituals isn’t just adding in a whole bunch of new activities in place of the old ones.
I love this wisdom from Anna Borges of SELF magazine:
“The key is to be intentional about when and how you do these things. If it were as simple as taking breaks or carrying out a specific routine, we wouldn’t have an issue in the first place.
Putting purpose and thought behind how we move from one thing to another, whether that’s starting, stopping, or switching between tasks, can put us in the right headspace to stay on track.”
Transitions don’t have to be trouble spots
These food solutions your brain has been relying on to navigate transitions have become habits over time. Your toddler brain believes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
This is why we keep doing the same things, employing the same temporary solutions for these transition trouble spots over and over.
This is where we want our adult brain to get involved. Your adult brain has a much more big-picture view of what broken is.
If these temporary solutions are not aligned with your long-term goals, they’re broken and need fixing.
Transitions in your day and your life don’t have to be trouble spots if we can come at them with an understanding of what it is we really need and approach solutions with intention.
If you are ready to start your permanent weight loss journey, watch my free video on how to lose the first five pounds — and keep going.