On Eating Less

Have you found yourself stress-eating over the last several weeks?  Eating more snacks because you're sitting more, or because you're bored?  You're not alone.

Apparently, sales of snack and comfort foods are soaring as we all stay at home, and articles about the "Quarantine 15" (pounds gained during this time) abound.  (Full disclosure: I've gained 4 pounds as of today.)

But you don't have to obsess about a diet or resign yourself to being heavier at the end of quarantine.  We may be buying more shelf-stable foods and desiring meals that are quick and easy to put together, but that doesn't mean we have to compromise our energy and our immune systems by eating poorly.

I'm simply going to focus on eating less.

Call it The Minimalist Diet.

Now, I'm not talking about truly depriving myself of calories my body needs to maintain and repair itself.  I'm talking about a simple reduction of portion size to two-thirds to three-quarters of what I would normally eat, and a reduction in the number of times I eat per day.

I won't have to count calories or carbs, or even give up pasta, potatoes, or baked goods.  My husband is going to join me – would you like to, as well?

6 Tips for the Minimalist Diet

1.  Create structure.
Get up in the morning, shower, and get dressed, even if you're not going to leave the house.  Make your bed.  A habit of sitting around in your pajamas will make it easier to snack.  You may be home all day, but you shouldn't eat all day.  Don't nibble on seven mini meals – set times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and stick to that routine.

2.  Move around.
I have a bad habit of starting a writing project and then sitting at my desk for three hours before I get up and move.  Then I feel sluggish and stiff, and it's much harder to make myself take a walk around the block.  If you normally commute or go to meetings, use that time to walk, dance, do yoga or stretches, or do some bodyweight exercises.

3.  Stock strategically.

  • If pasta is your go-to comfort food, buy whole-grain varieties and tomato-based sauces.  Go light on the cheese.
  • Keep low-sodium canned soups on hand for quick meals, but stay away from cream-based varieties.  Lentil, split pea, minestrone, and chicken vegetable are all better choices.
  • Keep comforting and filling yams and baking potatoes on hand.  Remember that they are powerhouses of nutrition; it's the butter, sour cream, and bacon bits that pack on the calories and fat.  Try topping them with sautéed onions and mushrooms, low-fat cottage cheese, or a variety of herbs and spices instead.
  • If you really want to have chips or cookies with your lunch sandwich, buy only one variety at a time.  Stocking up on six kinds will just tempt you to eat more.

4.  Limit snacks.
If you feel hungry between meals, drink a glass of water or tea (thirst sometimes masquerades as hunger).  If you're still hungry, eat an apple, an orange, or a cup of berries.  Clean the kitchen after dinner and don't eat anything else before bedtime.

5.  Serve smaller portions.
You don't have to measure it out – just eyeball it.  Serve yourself 65%-75% of what you would normally take, and don't have seconds.  If you decide to have dessert, take half of what you would normally eat (one cookie or one scoop of ice cream instead of two, for example).  Use a smaller dish, and eat slowly.

6.  Make "I want to be healthy" your mantra and goal.
This is a stressful time.  Don't add to it by either worrying about your weight or sitting on the couch and eating all day.  You know that bag of trail mix may look yummy, and you also know you'll feel horrible if you gorge on it.  You want to stay healthy and you want to feel good.  Give your body nutritious food and limit the treats.

The idea is that by not making any foods off limits, we'll never feel deprived.  By limiting quantities, we'll appreciate each bite more.  We still get to eat our favorites, just in a smaller amount and at a specific meal time.  

When you slow down and savor each bite, you may notice that you feel full even when you eat less.  I know that I often eat so much that I'm uncomfortable, simply because I keep eating until my plate is empty.  If I serve myself a lot, I eat a lot.

If your stomach growls, don't panic and reach for food.  Especially if you carry a little extra weight, you're in no danger of actually depriving yourself of needed calories.  There are still people in the world who have to worry about getting enough to eat every day – you and I probably aren't part of that group.

Our bodies (and the planet) would probably be healthier if we learned to be satisfied with a little less.


  1. I missed TV snacks. So I bought a food scale and eat 1 ounce of potato chips as we start watching TV. That's enough to feel like I indulged without eating a whole bag at a sitting. No sense of deprivation here.

    1. Great idea, Linda. Rather than eating out of the bag (which encourages binging), serving yourself just a little and making it last lets you enjoy a treat without going overboard.

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