Stop Emotional Eating During The Coronavirus Lockdown
It’s hard not to feel closed in by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown. You feel stressed out. You are bored. Maybe you are angry at your spouse. So you walk a short distance to the fridge, swing open the door and look for a solution. Is it the leftover tapioca pudding? A slab of last night’s lasagna? That pint of ice cream in the freezer? How to stop an emotional eating habit has more to do with mindfulness than it does with portion control.
𝗛𝗢𝗪 𝗧𝗢 𝗦𝗧𝗢𝗣 𝗘𝗠𝗢𝗧𝗜𝗢𝗡𝗔𝗟 𝗘𝗔𝗧𝗜𝗡𝗚: 𝗢𝗩𝗘𝗥𝗩𝗜𝗘𝗪
To short circuit your emotional eating, identify what triggers the behavior and adopt practical strategies to divert to healthier foods and habits. Here are some strategies on how to stop stress eating:
𝟭. 𝗦𝘂𝗯𝘀𝘁𝗶𝘁𝘂𝘁𝗲 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗲𝘀𝘀 𝘀𝗻𝗮𝗰𝗸𝘀:
Have substitutes at hand for your “go to” emotional eating foods. Portion out handfuls of baby carrots or apple slices in plastic baggies and keep them in the front of the fridge where you can grab them quickly. And keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen counter or dining room table.
𝟮. 𝗖𝗵𝗲𝘄 𝗴𝘂𝗺 𝘄𝗵𝗲𝗻 𝘆𝗼𝘂’𝗿𝗲 𝘁𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗴𝗲𝗿𝗲𝗱 𝘁𝗼 𝗲𝗮𝘁:
Keep some flavored chewing gums at hand, preferably sugarless versions. These can help because they involve chewing, an essential part of the eating experience.
Some people find having a hot shower or a soak in a tub can be helpful. Another strategy is creating a playlist of your favorite music. Pop in your earbuds or slip on the headphones and relax into the music until your cravings subside.
𝟰. 𝗕𝗲 𝗺𝗶𝗻𝗱𝗳𝘂𝗹:
Meditation-based mindfulness training, widely available, helps you to become more aware of your eating triggers and behaviors, enjoy your food more, and stop when you are satiated. Inexpensive smart phone apps are available to learn mindful eating—or you could listen to a mindfulness podcast or YouTube video.
𝟱. 𝗘𝘅𝗲𝗿𝗰𝗶𝘀𝗲 𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝗮𝘁:
Going out for a walk or jog can be helpful. Others may find relief with yoga or tai chi. It doesn’t matter how you exercise and stay active, only that you do it. Even getting out in the yard to garden can provide much needed exercise and peace of mind.
𝟲. 𝗦𝗵𝗶𝗳𝘁 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗮𝘁𝘁𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗲𝗹𝘀𝗲𝘄𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗲:
Mentally distract yourself from cravings by playing solitaire or a computer game, catching up on social media and news, knitting or other hobby activities, organizing a messy closet, or doing chores. If your job is temporarily shut down, maybe it’s time to finally clean out the garage or paint the living room.
𝗪𝗛𝗬 𝗜𝗦 𝗘𝗠𝗢𝗧𝗜𝗢𝗡𝗔𝗟 𝗘𝗔𝗧𝗜𝗡𝗚 𝗔 𝗣𝗥𝗢𝗕𝗟𝗘𝗠?
Trigger, craving, action—this is the dynamic of emotional eating. It’s a potent trio because it taps the brain’s powerful ability to form deeply ingrained habits based on repeated experience. Using food to extinguish emotional states or “triggers” can lead to weight gain and unhealthy eating patterns.
“It’s just the way the human brain learns by association,” says Susan B. Roberts, PhD, director of Tufts’ HNRCA Energy Metabolism Laboratory. “And some of us form these unfortunate associations between emotional triggers and eating unhealthy food.”
But the brain is also very good at learning new strategies. “Once you’ve got the triggers identified, then you can work out what you are going to do instead,” Roberts says. “Breaking down a dysfunctional habit really means pasting a new habit over the top of the bad one.”
𝗖𝗢𝗡𝗡𝗘𝗖𝗧𝗜𝗡𝗚 𝗘𝗠𝗢𝗧𝗜𝗢𝗡𝗔𝗟 𝗘𝗔𝗧𝗜𝗡𝗚 𝗛𝗔𝗕𝗜𝗧𝗦 𝗧𝗢 𝗧𝗛𝗘𝗜𝗥 𝗧𝗥𝗜𝗚𝗚𝗘𝗥 𝗣𝗢𝗜𝗡𝗧𝗦
An emotional eating habit forms when a stimulus connects to a behavior. “In the beginning you do it by accident,” Roberts says. “‘You happen to have chocolate when you’re stressed and it makes you feel better. Then your brain forms these connections and they can be hard to get rid of.” So to start, spend some time observing yourself as you slip into the emotional eating behavior. What kicks off the process?
Stress is not the only trigger for emotional eating. Other possibilities include anxiety, anger, loneliness, depression, fear, procrastination, or boredom. Even positive emotions, like excitement or desire, can be triggers.
“Thinking about triggers is a way of getting out of the ‘autopilot’ state of mind that leads to emotional eating,” says Debra Safer, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University Medical Center.
Once the autopilot is turned off, you can start to develop healthier responses to cravings, like substituting healthy snacks for unhealthy foods and using music or exercise to relax.
𝗕𝗘𝗜𝗡𝗚 𝗧𝗢𝗢 𝗛𝗔𝗥𝗗 𝗢𝗡 𝗬𝗢𝗨𝗥𝗦𝗘𝗟𝗙 𝗠𝗔𝗞𝗘𝗦 𝗦𝗧𝗥𝗘𝗦𝗦 𝗘𝗔𝗧𝗜𝗡𝗚 𝗪𝗢𝗥𝗦𝗘
Dr. Safer conducts research to develop better ways to treat her patients at the Stanford Adult Eating and Weight Disorders Program. She uses an approach called dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which was developed in the late 1980s by Marsha M. Linehan, a psychology researcher at the University of Washington.
“The key is not to be judgmental about the problem, because that does not help,” Safer says. “Accepting it is a lot of the solution.” That’s because self criticism leads to discomfort that can trigger more emotional eating.
Roberts also points to the importance of not judging yourself harshly. “If you find that what you planned to do as your substitute behavior and find it does not work, it’s not that you’re hopeless and it’s never going to work,” Roberts says. “It’s just that the substitute you tried wasn’t the right substitute. Just try to keep at it to find something that will work for you.”
𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗕𝗜𝗚𝗚𝗘𝗥 𝗣𝗜𝗖𝗧𝗨𝗥𝗘
Friends — I pray we are experiencing one of those “once in a lifetime” moments. That said, it doesn’t make the unease, fear or isolation we may be experiencing any easier to handle.
Emotional eating is just one of the possible negatives you may experience during this time of physical distancing and isolation. Now more than ever, we all need to be mindful of our own behavior and the behavior we display toward our loved ones. We may all be feeling like a caged animal after weeks of being cooped up at home, alone, with our spouse or significant other, or with our children. And while we love those closest to us, our inability to experience “alone time” right now can cause stress on even the best relationships. And if you are home alone, the feeling of loneliness can become overwhelming without a plan of action.
Communication and respect for other’s space and feelings are critical to our ability to successfully handle this awkward and stressful time spent together. Take more care than usual of your mental and physical health. Mental wellness leads to physical wellness and both combined lead to a healthy immune system and overall health.
Please join and use our Facebook Group, Click Here To Join, as a forum to share and discuss any problems you’re experiencing during this pandemic. It’s always helpful to discuss problems with others rather than keep them bottled up inside.
Together we’ll get through this. And who knows... we may actually grow closer to nature, our family and our neighbors during this unprecedented time. Maybe throughout all of this we also learn to love ourselves more too.
Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing! 🙏❤️
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