five-step strategy for avoiding emotional eating, even during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Long story short, this is a time without precedent. Even if you’ve never been struggling with emotional eating, Covid-19 pandemic stress, school closures, layoffs, and staying at home directions can cause you to turn to food to cope with. The emotional desire to eat is natural. From birth we are pretty much taught to use food to fix our feelings. We bond with sweets, prepare celebratory meals, and distribute food to neighbors in times of need
Yet it’s special to continuing emotional feeding. In times of stress, an unchecked pattern of eating your feelings, such as Covid-19, can wreak havoc with your mental and physical energy, disrupt healthy sleep, weaken immunity, and increase health risks. The good news is you can systematically untangle food and emotions. Here’s a five-step plan that I’m using with my clients to promote a more healthy eating pattern, even in challenging situations.
1 Tune in the cues of your body
The first stage is to tune into your body to tell the difference between body hunger and mental hunger. Physical hunger has physical symptoms, like a growling stomach. If you feel hungry, but have recently eaten or have no physical signs of hunger, check in with your feelings. In a 2019 study published in Frontiers in Psychology , researchers say that there are four basic emotions: happiness, sadness, fear and anger. My advice is to identify the primary emotion you ‘re experiencing so that you can address it in ways that don’t involve food. For example, if you’re angry, doing something physical can help, such as cleaning, organizing, or at-home workouts.
2 Make the connection between feelings and eating
he second step is to further explore the ‘whys’ behind your eating choices, and the four-emotion concept can help. For example, do you find yourself eating crunchy or chewy foods when angry, and creamy, comfort foods when sad? If you’re not sure, start a food-and-feelings journal. In addition to tracking what you eat, record your hunger and fullness levels, and your emotions. The idea isn’t to police yourself, but rather learn about your relationship with food. Once you’re aware of your ‘whys’ (as in, I’m reaching for ice cream not because I’m hungry, but because I’m sad), you can consciously test out alternative coping tools.
3 Create an eating schedule
Step 3 is all about organizing your time. fFor most of my followers , the risk of eating emotionally is higher on weekends when they have more free hours. Without a doubt, your usual routine has been derailed by the coronavirus. Try to set up some kind of structure as best you can. Eat meals around the same time every day, about three to five hours apart. In addition to preventing mindless munching, a consistent dietary routine helps to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as starvation hormones.
4 Eat without any distractions
The fourth step is to commit to mindful eating when you’re sitting down for a meal — don’t multi-task. Sit at a table instead of in front of your TV or computer, and eat without checking your phone, reading, or any other distracting activity. While it may feel uncomfortable at first, my clients, who do this once a day, find that they are better able to feel hungry and full, and that they feel more satisfied after eating.
5 Please Just be kind to yourself
The fifth and final stage is to do something for yourself in a sort of giving thanks, being kind and employ positive, gentle self-talk. Bullying yourself about emotional eating only heightens emotions, which can increase the drive to eat. If you finish polishing off a bag of cookies while watching the news, think about why rather than beating yourself. If you could go back and do the rest of the day, what would you do differently? Change isn’t linear, and that’s all right. Sometimes a step back can be a learning opportunity that changes how you deal with a similar situation the next day or down the road. It is this step-by – step process that leads to sustainable change and the adoption of alternative ways of coping.
Finally, it’s OK to have special treats. It’s not realistic or even necessary to banish certain foods from your home — it’s all about how you eat them. Build your favorite goodies into a meal and indulge yourself, not spontaneously. The goal is not to restrict yourself, but to create a balance that feels much better than deprivation or over-indulgence.