When I ask women what time of day they most often break their boundaries, I usually get one of two answers: either mid-afternoon or evening. Since I’ve already done a couple of podcast episodes on how to end evening eating, today I’d like to talk about how to stop overeating in the afternoon. Let’s begin by looking at why this is a tempting time of day.
Who struggles with afternoon eating?
While anyone can struggle with overeating in the afternoon, here are the most common groups of people:
- Stay-at-home moms
- Homeschool moms
- Retired people
- People who work from home: entrepreneurs, writers, etc.
I think the reason these groups struggle the most is because we’re actually at home in the afternoon! Chances are good that people who work outside the home would love to start eating at 3:00 in the afternoon but their jobs prevent them from eating at that time. Although if you often pop down to the vending machine at work or in your college dorm around 3:00 in the afternoon, you know the struggle to stop overeating in the afternoon.
Why do we feel like breaking boundaries in the afternoon?
If we want to stop overeating in the afternoon, we need to first find out why we’re tempted to eat in the afternoon. This will be different for everyone, and also different on each day of the week. You may find that you eat for all of the following reasons. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons we’re inclined to overeat in the afternoon.
- We’ve already used up all our willpower for the day. In my interview with Drew Dyck on how to increase self-control on the Christian Habits Podcast, Drew said that we each have a limited supply of willpower. Towards the end of the day, that willpower starts to dwindle–so what we could have said no to in the morning, we may not have the strength to say no to in the afternoon.
- We’re bored. Often we’ve been busy all morning working or spending time with the kids and by mid-afternoon we’re bored. We want some excitement in our lives!
- We’re physically tired. We may also be plain old tired and in need of a nap! The problem is that we’re often either not in a situation where we can take a nap, or we’re in a situation where we can take a nap but for whatever reason we don’t do it. When that happens we feel like eating because we think a snack will perk us up.
- We’re tired of working. Sometimes we’re not physically tired, we’re just tired of working. Tired of always being on task and always responsible. If we don’t feel like we can justify taking a break, we’ll be tempted to eat in rebellion.
- We’re emotional. If something happened earlier in the day to upset us and we didn’t take the time to process our emotions, those emotions will keep getting bigger and bigger throughout the day. Soon they’ll be so big, they’ll spill out and cry, “Let’s get something to eat! WE NEED A TREAT!!!!” That often happens around 3:00–and sometimes earlier!
- We’re procrastinating. Another reason we eat in the afternoon is because we’ve been procrastinating some terrible job all day and one of our best coping techniques for procrastination is to eat. Until we actually do that job, we’ll probably feel like breaking our boundaries and eating.
- We’re beating ourselves up for what we didn’t get done that morning. Often when we procrastinate, we have a tendency to beat ourselves up. We say, “You got nothing done today, you lazy oaf!!” This just makes us want to open the fridge and eat everything in sight to drown out the sound of our failures.
How do we stop overeating in the afternoon?
Now that we’ve seen the reasons for afternoon eating, let’s look at some solutions that will help us stop overeating.
- Try not to have treats in the house. (Depleted Willpower) If we don’t have treats in the house, we’ll be far less likely to break our boundaries at 3:00 when our willpower is depleted. We could still drive out and get those treats, but often we’re so tired we’re unwilling to make the effort to drive anywhere. Another option is to ask your spouse or roommate to hide the treats from you until they get home from work. If you do that, though, don’t get mad at them if they don’t tell you where they are when you call to ask! The minute you do that, they won’t want to hide them anymore. They could also take them to work with them if you’re the type of person who searches for the treats until you find them.
- Take a break and do something fun. (Boredom) This doesn’t have to be a major fun event. It could be as simple as turning on some great music and dancing to one of the songs, bundling up the kids and going on a walk, calling a friend for a visit, or reading a few pages or a chapter in a non-addictive book. If you have more freedom, you could have a bath or run out and do errands (if you enjoy errands). Anything you can do to give yourself a change of pace from normal life will help you avoid eating due to boredom. Another thing that helps is to change your expectations – life is not a vacation! The more we learn to enjoy regular life and work, the happier we’ll be. For more on how to overcome boredom eating, listen to this podcast episode: How to Stop Boredom Eating.
- Take a nap or do some exercise. (Tired) So often we think food will perk us up, but it will only perk us up if our body needs food. If our body doesn’t need food–or if we’re feeding it unhealthy food–it just makes us more tired. One of my friends used to go to our local coffee kiosk to get a beanaccino (a white chocolate frappe) for a little pick me up in the afternoon. After a week or so, he discovered that every time he did that, he was energized for about 30 minutes and then had a big crash. So while the 30 minutes was nice, it wasn’t worth the rest of the afternoon of being tired. Taking a nap or getting a little exercise will do wonders to give you the energy you need to get through the day. For more help to stop overeating because you’re tired, click here: 8 Questions to Help with Tired Eating
- Take a mandatory break. (Tired of working) People who work in an office take breaks throughout the day. They talk to co-workers, take phone calls, and even check their emails. They also have a lunch break and some of them take two other 15-minute breaks. Yet those of us at home sometimes think we need to keep working ALL day. That’s crazy! Not only is it stressful, it’s also unproductive because we don’t get the reset that a good break gives us. To remedy that situation, take mandatory breaks–even if you feel like you can’t. Those breaks may look different for the stay-at-home mom than the empty-nest entrepreneur (not quite as cushy with kids afoot), but they can still be wonderful and refreshing. If you work at home, consider having a hard cutoff time for the day’s work, then celebrate being done and go do something else. If you’re not trying to force yourself to work when you shouldn’t be, you’ll be less likely to break your boundaries because you’ll no longer need to eat in rebellion! An added advantage is that it gives you the fresh start that Drew Dyck talked about in my interview with him on how to have self-control. If you take a mandatory lunch break for example and a little time with God at that point, that could do wonders toward giving yourself a fresh start and replenishing your willpower for the afternoon, which will help you stop overeating.
- Renew your mind. (Negative emotions) If something has happened to upset you during the day, the sooner you renew your mind the better. Take some time to truth journal, go for a prayer walk, or do the questions from I Deserve a Donut or the Renewing of the Mind Project so you can get rid of those negative emotions. If you get rid of the emotions that make you feel like eating, it will be much easier to follow your boundaries during the afternoon.
- Break dreaded jobs into a series of small tasks and start on the first task. (Procrastination) If you’re tempted to eat because of procrastination, the best way to get rid of the temptation is to just do the task and get it over with. That said, we all know how hard that is to do! It’s far easier to focus on one small step than the whole huge task. Pull out a sheet of paper and start writing down little action steps. You may have three or you may have ten. Each action step should be easy enough that you can make yourself do it. If you’d like more help with procrastination, check out my Bible study on procrastination.
- Give yourself grace. (Beating yourself up) Self-condemnation is a tool of the enemy. He uses it to get us so discouraged and hopeless that we want to give up. We think, “What’s wrong with me that I can’t follow my boundaries?” But here’s the truth: we all struggle in some area of our lives! No one is perfect and we all fail daily in many ways. So if you’re struggling, this is nothing shocking or terrible. It’s life as a frail human being and life as a sinner. Go to God for help, confess your sin if you’ve been sinning, and then move on, walking in the grace, strength, and hope that God gives.
I hope these tips have given you some ideas of what to do when you feel like breaking boundaries in the afternoon. The next time you feel that way, begin by asking, “Why do I feel like breaking my boundaries?” Then look at the list above for suggestions on how to get back on track.
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