Moms are some of the busiest people on the planet, especially if they have jobs outside of the home. Because of their harried lives and hectic schedules, they can easily fall into routines in which they end up taking care of themselves with non-hunger eating and unwittingly pack on unwanted pounds. By practicing some of this simple advice of eating and self-care, they can learn to both keep weight off and lead happier, less stressful lives.
When you’re hungry and want a quick snack, you probably don’t want to stop and take the time to prepare food, so make sure your refrigerator and cabinets are filled with healthful tasty possibilities like fruits, cut up vegetables, low-fat cheeses, yogurts, high-fiber cereals, or peanut butter. That way when you want to grab a pick-me-up, you’ll be sure of eating something that’s not only yummy, but good for you as well.
These four rules are the gold standard for eating:
- Eat only when you’re hungry.
- Choose foods that satisfy you.
- Eat with awareness and for enjoyment.
- Stop eating when you’re full or satisfied.
Sometimes when you think you’re hungry, you’re not. Instead, you’re most likely tired and stressed or even bored. When you’re authentically hungry, food is definitely the answer, but when you’re not, why add on unnecessary calories that aren’t going to address what’s really going on inside of you. Use a hunger scale to determine your level of hunger from 1-10, an empty to a full stomach, and only eat in the middle range. If you’re not physically hungry, food is not the answer. If you’re too hungry, you’re more likely to eat fast, not paying attention to what you’re doing, and therefore overeat.
Sure you can live on low-calorie, low-carb food for a while, but you’ll enjoy food more and eat less of it when you really like its taste. Better to enjoy half a turkey sandwich or a small bowl of whole wheat pasta that’s delish than to stuff yourself with a huge helping of vegetables you’re not in the mood for. That will only lead you to bingeing on food you really want down the road.
Speaking of paying attention to what you’re eating, studies tell us that the more we eat without distractions, the more we enjoy food and the less we eat. It’s okay to have a bit of soft music in the background. Find a place to sit where it’s quiet—no easy feat in a house of energetic children—and focus on the tastes and textures of what you’re eating. Close your eyes, do a lot of chewing, and let food sit on your tongue where your taste buds are so they can send a message to your brain when you’re satisfied or full.
Look for a peak moment of satisfaction when your body says, “Yum!” and you’re ready to move on to pick up the kids from school or take them out to a play date. Use a number scale of 1-10 for fullness and stop when your tummy feels pleasantly filled up.
Sure you want to do your job well and take care of the kids, but be careful about leaving yourself out of the equation. This is the biggest mistake busy moms make is telling themselves they don’t have time for self-care. The truth is that if you want to eat healthy and lose weight or keep it off, you must find time to chill out. Read a magazine, sit in a comfy chair and close your eyes (put on a timer if you’re afraid you’ll fall asleep), call a friend, or write an email. Do anything that brings you pleasure and relaxes you.
Tattoo this on your brain: I do not have to be a perfect partner, parent, or worker. In fact, remind yourself that you don’t have to be a perfect anything because no one is perfect. Rather than try to do everything well, choose where you want to excel and where you don’t. For example, you may be okay being a good or mediocre cook, but want to do your best at listening to your children. You may allow yourself to be just an okay housekeeper, but want to do a great job at being a disciplinarian.
Children learn by what you tell them, but more than that, they learn from watching you as their role model. I had a friend who always made a big fuss about putting her daughter’s belt around her when she was in her car seat, but who never worse a seatbelt herself. One day her confused daughter asked me , “Doesn’t Mommy love herself enough to wear a seatbelt?” Don’t think kids will only learn by how you take care of them. They learn just as much by watching how you take care of yourself.
Did you know that people who don’t get enough sleep tend to eat more the next day? That’s because, they’re throwing their appetite hormones out of whack. When you don’t get sufficient z’s, your body produces more ghrelin, which generates hunger and less leptin, which tells you when you’re satisfied with food. Without proper rest, you’re physiologically hungrier the next day and less likely to register satisfaction and fullness.
I know, your doctor and all the popular magazine articles insist that you weigh yourself in order to lose weight and keep it off. But eating disorders experts know that you’re far better off to focus on what and how much you’re eating than a number on the scale. Here’s what often happens when you weigh yourself: if your weight is down, you feel entitled to eat more and do and if your weight is up, you cut back calories severely which physiologically is likely to cause a binge. Plus, when you’re conscious about food and eat without distraction, you’re teaching your kids one of the best lessons they’ll ever learn. What are you teaching them when you’re a scale addict? You’re certainly not teaching them how to be “normal” eaters.
You’re never too busy to eat healthfully. Sure, an occasional trip to McDonalds rather than have your kids starve to death is fine, but you don’t want to make a habit of fast food. Kids who’ve spent their childhood eating in fast food restaurants tend to carry this pattern into adulthood. Better to shop with your children and discuss foods as you hit the supermarket aisles: what they enjoy, what are healthy choices, how to read food labels, etc. The message you give your kids when you constantly eat fast food is that they’re not worth fixing a healthy, scrumptious meal for.
Many busy moms spend the day telling themselves, “I have no time to eat well, I can’t stop to eat now. It’s okay if I’m hungry cause I’m trying to lose weight. Taking care of the kids or doing my job is more important than eating.” By repeating these lies to themselves, they’re programming their brains to disregard appetite signals and to put themselves last. Some other no-no’s include “I’m overwhelmed. I’ll never get everything done. I have to clean the house. I need to do everything on my to-do list.” Again, these untruths set you up for feeling fatigued and frustrated, and these feelings are likely to lead you straight to the cookie jar. You’re better off reminding yourself that you’re allowed to take a break, that tomorrow’s another day, and that relaxing for a while will help you not turn to food when you’re stressed.
If you’re not pacing yourself well, something will eventually cause you to snap. You’ll start eating the kids’ candy or tonight’s dessert. Or you’ll yet at your kids, your partner, or some stranger all because you’re frazzled. Tune in to your body so that you can sense when it’s stressed. Teach your kids to do the same thing. Take a stress break with them and do a few yoga poses, play a game, do a group shut-eye for a few minutes, or spend some time reading together or alone. Show your kids that taking care of themselves means knowing when to work and when to play, when to drive yourself, and when to kick back and relax.
Busy moms don’t have to sacrifice in order to eat healthfully and be at a comfortable weight. By paying attention to appetite signals and to physical signs of tiredness and stress, they can teach themselves—and model for their children—both physical and mental self-care. Rather than staying stuck in old patterns and feeling frustrated, busy moms can’t help but benefit from taking a serious look at the behaviors that have been preventing them from attaining and maintaining the weight they desire, and the positive steps they can take to improve their eating and self-care.
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