When you're trying to lose weight, this is the hour you need to watch out for, writes Lee Suckling.
Everybody knows the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It's supposed to set you up for success. Similarly, a lot of us think the most important hour of the day is that first hour awake. Shower, coffee, cereal, news… you know the drill because you've just done it today (and maybe you're still doing it right now). Start the day energetic and really to take on the world and you have the best chance of achieving it, right?
I don't deny the first hour after you wake up each day is essential to get down-pat. It's not the most significant hour of the day, though. The hour immediately after you finish work is.
Between 5pm and 6pm is when you'll either go to the gym, or eat a whole bag of chips. It's when you will run errands before shops close, or go to a bar for a drink. Getting the balance of this hour right so you can achieve what you need, want, and should do requires planning.
Let's talk about post-work exhaustion. It happens to everyone. You've worked really hard all day and you feel like you DESERVE a break, NOW. You want to clock off physically and mentally from your desk. It's during this period of exhaustion that we decide whether or not exercise is important today, or if we'll "just go tomorrow". It's when we agree we have enough energy to cook a nutritious meal, or if a fast-food drive-through is sufficient.
Some people are able to be disciplined and take the healthy, routine-based option like heading to the gym, tackling the housework, or planning a healthy, vegetable-filled dinner. This requires a significant amount of willpower and often you have to push yourself through your exhausted mood and still make positive decisions.
What prevents you from overcoming that mood? Sitting down. Once your bum is on a couch or a barstool, you're stuffed. This physical action is the psychological kiss of death of your post-work productivity. In order to utilise the most important hour of the day, you simply cannot sit down. Got it?
I know my daily hunger pangs absolutely peak around 5.30pm. This is the precise moment I crave savoury snacks like crackers and cheese, and because I never plan to be starving at this time, I'll eat whatever convenience food I can get. Half a box of Huntley & Palmers later, regret ensues. The solution? Prepare something to eat post-work as part of your daily meal preparation, and don't deviate from it.
Pre-cut carrots in the fridge and ready to eat, a bowl of fresh fruit, a protein bar… when you walk in the door, force yourself to eat something you have already prepared. You won't ruin your appetite for dinner – in fact, it will set you up for the best food and drink decisions for the rest of your night.
How do you ensure you won't pike out of exercise in this utmost important hour of the day? I recommend getting your training kit ready early in the afternoon. An hour or so before you leave work, pull out your running shoes from your bag and make sure you can see them.
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Doing this means you'll have a workout in mind long before you start it. Once it comes time to do it, you're mentally committed.
It is a good idea to get changed into your workout gear at the office, not at the gym, so changing your mind en route is harder. Setting a specific time you'll leave your desk and sticking to it is vital too – staying at your desk just 15 minutes longer than you originally planned is an easy way to throw your exercise plans away, and just go home to the sofa and Xbox.
Got errands to run after work? If possible, get them done at lunchtime instead. Popping in to the supermarket is far more pleasant at 1pm than at 5.45pm. Same goes with trips to the bank, post office, or anywhere else administrative. It will take you five times as long in the hour after work than any other hour of the day, because everybody else has the same idea (and same inability to plan).
Lastly, if you're going to have a drink after work – whether at a pub, bar, or at home, how do you ensure it's just one? We all know a glass easily turns into a bottle. The strategy here is for that first drink to be small. Enough alcohol to satisfy your post-work craving for a drink, but not enough to give you a slight buzz. It's when the former turns to the latter when caution gets thrown into the wind and your hour after work leads to bad decision for the entire evening.