Q. I started a new job a while ago and realized that I have gained 20 pounds. I have a new sleep schedule and found myself having candy at 3 p.m. to wake myself up. Is there a solution that doesn’t involve adding extra time to my morning or evening routine by packing a lunch? Also, watching my colleagues, I have to wonder: What is the impact of skipping a meal like breakfast or lunch or delaying dinner until 9 p.m. or so?
A. This is dispiriting. So let’s see what we can do to turn this around.
Write on a piece of paper your daily work schedule. Highlight the times that you feel yourself slowing down. Compare those down times to your food intake.
Typically the down times will come one to two hours after a high carbohydrate meal or snack, or four to five hours after you last ate a proper meal like breakfast or lunch.
Our bodies need glucose, or blood sugar. It’s the gas that runs our engine. If you run low on gas, your engine is not going to work as efficiently. This includes storing carbohydrate as fat for times when your body perceives you are starving (like a missed meal). You need to keep your body and engine fueled up. Do this by eating protein, fat and carbohydrate at intervals throughout the day. One benefit to keeping ahead of low fuel is that you’ll make healthier food choices by staying in control of your appetite. This also plays a part in weight management.
To get yourself sorted out is going to require thinking about your work schedule. If you are going to be rushing in the morning, think about breakfast foods that can be made ahead of time.
Breakfast should contain a good protein source. This really helps to keep hunger at bay in the morning. An example would be hard-boiled eggs. Boil up a dozen on the weekend and have them ready to go in the fridge.
It takes less than five minutes to make a piece of whole-wheat toast, and your egg is waiting for you. If you don’t care for eggs, try some peanut butter.
Alternatively, a lot of people enjoy a protein smoothie in the morning. This can be made ahead of time in a blender. Put the blender attachment in the fridge overnight and after a quick “re-blend” in the morning, you’re good to go.
Avoid high-carbohydrate breakfasts and afternoon snacks like pancakes with syrup, toast and jam and candy. The carbohydrate will raise your blood sugar, which will come crashing down a few hours later, leaving you hungry and fatigued.
If it’s lunch time and you haven’t eaten for four or five hours, you need to eat. Make a healthy selection like a sandwich on whole-wheat bread with a piece of fruit and a non-soda beverage.
Alternatively, think about what you make for dinner and make extra to freeze for lunch.
By midafternoon, your body rhythm is telling you to have a nap, and your blood sugar is low. Sitting for five minutes, getting hydrated and having a protein or high fiber carbohydrate snack will revive you. When dinner time comes, you won’t be starving and tempted to overeat. Try keeping a jar of peanut butter at the office and smear about a tablespoon on a sliced apple. Baby carrots dipped in peanut butter, a small handful of nuts, or an 8-ounce protein smoothie would also work.
A component to all of this is our fiber intake. Always choose high-fiber carbohydrates. It will help blood-sugar control by slowing down absorption of glucose into our bloodstream so we have a consistent flow and not a sudden rush. Fatigue will nearly always follow a sugar rush.
Dinner is important and eating it earlier in the evening is better for weight control. Avoid long stretches without eating so you have more control over the food choices you make.
Another component to weight gain could be a disrupted sleep schedule.
During sleep, our bodies produce and regulate hormones. Two of these hormones, ghrelin and leptin, can influence appetite and satiety cues. Research is showing that disturbed sleep patterns can lead to weight gain. Maintaining good sleep habits is an important part of weight management.
Bottom line: When you are busy at work, you need a food strategy. This means planning ahead and not leaving yourself open to the temptations of the office candy jar.
Manage your food and your body will more efficiently manage your energy and weight. With all this efficiency, maybe your boss will thank you with a raise!
Ally Gottfried is a registered dietitian at the Community Cancer Center in Roseburg. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.