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Working from home has many benefits, but can be bad for your waistline

Working from home has its benefits and its challenges - namely the refrigerator.

Dr. Lakshmi Kannan, an endocrinologist with Lehigh Valley Health Network, explains how stress affects the brain and offers some tips on how to eat healthy and manage weight.

Our bodies are sensitive to stress, whether it’s emotional or physical stress, Kannan said. Stress affects the neuronal and hormonal responses within the body, often causing our brains to seek pleasurable activities.

Stress also impacts our hunger. For some people, they lose their appetite when they’re sad or angry. For others, they turn to food to get the comfort they need.

“Your body is craving something positive, and food clearly gives you that positive feedback, but it’s not necessarily healthy,” she said. “If you’re not mindful, your involuntary brain is going to take over.”

Kannan said it’s very important to control those emotions and look for other activities to replace food. This could mean taking up a hobby or returning to one.

“Do you like to walk? Do you like to draw? Are you artistic? Do you like to read?” she said. “Maybe take the down time to improve and learn new things.”

Whatever it is, it should be something that takes time to do and is something that the person enjoys doing.

Here are some tips to stave off the cravings and find pleasurable activities.

1. Freezing is a great option. It preserves food to be eaten slowly at a later date.

2. Gardening is a positive activity and produces healthy food.

3. Eat healthy snacks that are high in protein and fiber. They should be nutrient dense, not energy dense.

For example, eat nuts, low-fat yogurt, cheese, whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies with a yogurt-based dip. Don’t eat butter-based dips. The lower the fat the better and avoid sugar.

4. For evening snacks, choose those that are 100 calories or less; no starches or fried foods. Or try to avoid them altogether.

5. Select naturally colorful fruit and vegetables, no dyes. Colorful fruit and vegetables have more nutrients. In fact, the more colorful it is, the more nutrient dense.

6. Plan meals.

7. And stay away from sugar, salt and processed starches.

“There are certain foods that are preferably avoided, especially during times of stress again because they are highly palatable; they’re tasty, and they have addictive potential,” she said. “These have a chemical effect on your brain, especially on the appetite center, and they ask for more. Now we are getting out of the physiology of true hunger and appetite and moving into cravings and pleasure and eating for other purposes.”

Kannan said it is best to eat the largest meal of the day in the morning, followed by a light lunch and an even lighter dinner.

“The earlier you feed your body in the day, the better it is for weight maintenance. If you can start off with a good breakfast that has good carbs, whole grains, that’s what I mean, with a ton of protein and a light lunch and a light, very early dinner, that would be a great road map for weight maintenance,” she said.

She explained that our bodies have a sleep-wake cycle that applies even to the internal hormones. Food affects the body differently depending on the time of the day.

“There is a time factor when it comes to weight loss,” Kannan said.

The old advice to not eat anything after 7 p.m. is actually true.

“If you can, eat an early dinner, which is four hours before bedtime. It takes four hours for food to empty out of your stomach on average, so if you can go to bed with an empty stomach, that is best,” she said. “The ballpark time would be don’t eat after five.”

When eating takeout food or fast food, Kannan recommends getting meals that are grilled or baked, not fried. Look at the calorie count and the serving size. The meal could be 1,000 calories for a single serving and actually contain multiple servings.

“You want to be mindful of the portion size,” she said.

Also look for the nutrient count if possible, and select meals that are low fat and have low processed starch.

If weight loss is on the agenda, then use the nice weather and go for a walk, jog or some other exercise.

“In general for health and for weight maintenance, you want to get into the habit of intuitive eating,” she said.

This means eating in response to the body’s internal needs, and not out of habit or because it’s a certain time of day or social gathering with food.

“If you can respond to your hunger cues, realize when you’re full, stay away from these addictive ‘foods’ that are going to go beyond these hunger signals,” she said, “That’s going to give you a healthy habit for life.”

Working from home has its benefits and challenges and could lead to emotional eating. METROGRAPHICS
Dr. Lakshmi Kannan