Pandemic Food For Thought:
Have you noticed yourself slipping into quarantine stress eating?
You’re not alone. Since the start of the pandemic, you have likely noticed some shifts and changes to your eating habits and behaviors. This is due to multiple factors, the first of which is access. If you had been working in a traditional 9-5 office job (or 8 to 6, who are we kidding anyway?), you are not accustomed to being able to reach for anything you fancy from the fridge, freezer, and pantry 24/7. Additionally, availability of foods in your home has maybe shifted. This may be due to changes in frequency of food shopping, adjustments to your grocery budget, the types of foods you are electing to keep in stock, or what you are able to purchase when you arrive at the store. Right now we are existing in a time of heightened stress. As the current pain of the pandemic is felt and the extent of the future fall out remains yet to be determined, emotions are running high. When all of these forces come together and converge, we have the perfect storm for quarantine stress eating.
If this is a pattern that you are recognizing, keep reading before you keep eating.
Before sending the snack or second breakfast in your hand straight to your mouth, take a tactical pause.
Ask the following questions:
Am I physically hungry? Your stomach is smart. Your body will tell you what it needs, how much it needs, and when it needs it. You just need to be listening.
Am I anxious, angry, or afraid? Fill in the blank with the feeling driving the food urge. It is not uncommon for people to turn to food to manage their emotions, but often these behaviors only provide a short burst of temporary relief. The feeling is still there even if it is sitting under an over-filled stomach.
Am I lonely? Many people will turn to food in lieu of a friend. Living within the constraints of social distancing this may be increasingly the case. Consider whether what you are truly craving is connection with another human.
Am I bored? Don’t make eating your pandemic pastime. Create. Do. Listen. Leave the kitchen. Watch. Try engaging your mind and body before automatically defaulting to exciting your taste buds.
Am I tired? Many people are used to turning to food for a quick hit of energy. If you are feeling lethargic or physically drained, you may actually be far better served by a nap than half a jar of Nutella.
An effective strategy for building in space for an eating self audit is to slow down and make space. When you have a food urge strike, set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes. Go do something else in a different part of the house. When the timer dings, if—after that period of time–you are still desiring to eat what you had originally fancied, go for it. You may find, however, that simply building in time to think, observe, and possibly let your physical fullness cues catch up is enough to take the eating edge off.
Now is a time to have all kinds of nutritional grace for yourself. It is okay if everything isn’t green and organic. Eat. In doing so, simply consider how you can make flexible food choices that your future self will thank you for.
An Important Note: People with histories of disordered eating, even if previously resolved may have noticed a resurfacing of old patterns of food behavior. When we are under extreme stress, sometimes we regress to old, familiar ways of coping.
We are under extreme stress. When this is paired with anxiety and possible changes to physical activity and exercise routine, unhealthy interactions with food may emerge. You’re thinking about surviving, so ruminating about weight changes shouldn’t have to be taking up valuable and limited mental real estate. Right now, your brain and your body needs to be showing up in this world with the best that it has. Binging, purging, restriction, using laxatives, and over exercise will tank your immune function. These behaviors will be the antithesis of the resilience your future self needs. If this is something that you recognize within yourself, it is crucial that you seek professional help. Options for telemedicine support are available to you wherever you are. There should be no barriers to access for care right now. If you recognized yourself in this paragraph, you know who you are. Consider this your strong but loving nudge.