Eating My Way Through COVID-19

Since we completely transitioned to virtual care at the clinic, several of my clients have reported an ongoing issue with managing their food intake.

And by most of my clients...I actually mean myself.

Until now, I did not realize or appreciate the beauty of having a structured schedule.

While I complain about it most of the time, I have now realized one of its perks- having a structured schedule keeps me away from emotional eating, since COVID-19 has definitely pushed my battle with constant snacking to an all-time high.

Social distancing has caused both you and me to spend a rather large amount of time at home. Over the past two weeks, I have found myself with a bit more time on my hands, which has led to snacking throughout the entire day...after day...after day.

More often than not, these snacks tend to be either crunchy or sweet (I'll let your imagination run wild with the choice of foods).

I find that unless I am fully engaged in a task, I find my thoughts immediately drifting to what am I going to munch on next?

If the above sounds familiar, not to worry; many of my clients have shared the same concerns. (And by clients, this time I actually do mean my clients!)

While the thought of gaining 19lbs from COVID-19 is definitely not ideal, it is something that can definitely be managed.

As the quarantine lifestyle is new for most of us, be kind to yourself as you learn how to develop a healthy meal + snack routine.

What this could mean is that you might take a bit longer to reach your goals, however, you can still get there nonetheless.

Before we dig deeper, I want you to take a moment and think about this:

What does food mean to you?

Food is a central part of every culture, social event and day to day life. I know for myself, the anticipation of having sushi for dinner will put me in a great mood all day.

What is emotional eating?

Most of us eat for several reasons. This can be due to physical hunger, comfort, stress relief or as a means to reward ourselves.

The simplest way to define emotional eating is to think about eating food to satisfy our emotional needs rather than basic physical needs.

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On our week 3 of social isolation, many of us are feeling many feels.

This includes feeling anxious, trapped, uncertain, frustrated and of course the big one- BOREDOM

During a time like this, it is inevitable that almost all of us will experience emotional eating a few times.

Emotional eating typically tends to be unhealthy foods, because really, who craves for a salad when they are feeling anxious, right?

Unfortunately, emotional eating will not fix the emotional problems, rather it can exacerbate it.

One of our most popular posts is the one we did on how sugar impacts your anxiety, and emotional eating is definitely the root cause of this.

Are you an emotional eater?

Before making any changes, I invite you to take a step back and observe your responses to the following questions:

Do you eat more food when you are feeling stressed?

Do you eat even if you are not hungry or if you are full?

Do you eat to feel better ( when you feel sad, frustrated, bored, anxious, etc.)?

Do you reward yourself with food?

Do you eat to the point of feeling stuffed?

Do you feel out of control around food?

If you have answered yes to most of those questions, it may be that you are an emotional eater, much like myself.

While there is nothing wrong with rewarding yourself with food every so often, eating for the purpose of resolving emotional hunger is not a sustainable long term solution.

In the moment it may feel great to eat the entire box of pizza, however once thats done, you may find yourself feeling more upset for not having strong self-control.

Self control is best utilized when it does not need to be used at all.

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This is exactly why I dont bring chips and cookies into my house.

I admit I made an exception during COVID-19 and am definitely regretting it.

Further, the feelings of guilt just add to the problem, which then lead to reaching for more unhealthy foods to suppress the guilt.

To give you a better idea, here is a quick snapshot of what the cycle of emotional eating looks like.

cycle of emotional eating

Emotional hunger vs Physical hunger

Once we have identified that we sometimes struggle with emotional eating, it is important to then understand the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger.

Cravings from emotional hunger can be very strong which can easily be mistaken for physical hunger, I know I am guilty of this, especially after a long day at the clinic.

Here is a quick guide that helps you differentiate between physical and emotional hunger.

Identify emotional triggers

The next time you wish to order something on Uber Eats, ask yourself this - am I eating because I am bored? thirsty? or stressed?

Identifying your personal triggers is the first step to making any changes to your eating habits.

Here are some of the more common reasons why people emotionally eat.

BOREDOM: This is what's happening to most of us right now. We often find ourselves in a confined space, likely in front of a tv or a laptop, munching on something

STRESS: When we feel stressed, our bodies start producing cortisol. Cortisol triggers our cravings for sweet, salty, savory and crunchy foods. Essentially the foods that give us immediate pleasure.

SUPPRESSING EMOTIONS: Eating foods can be a temporary way to silence and distract ourselves from certain emotions we are experiencing. This can be a very slippery slope because human beings often experience a range of emotions daily, so using food to cope with that, can easily become cyclical.

CHILDHOOD HABITS: Many of us have certain types of food growing up and these often carry into our adult lives. For myself, I grew up eating Indian food at home and as an adult, nothing hits the spot like a good plate of Biryani and a glass of coke to go with it.

SOCIAL EVENTS: During any family gatherings, most of us have an influx of food. It is very easy to lose track of how much we are eating, and also can be difficult to say no, as others continue to eat.

How do I manage my cravings?

Here is a very quick task that you can do before caving into those cravings!

1. Can you delay eating for 5 minutes?


You are still allowing yourself to eat, just asking to delay it will give you some time to reflect on the impulsivity of grabbing that tub of icecream.  

Remember, we all want the things that we cannot have.

2. Check in with yourself

While you are waiting for the 5 minutes, use this time to check in with yourself emotionally. Do you feel like grabbing that tub of icecream because you feel bored, or lonely?

Even if you do end up polishing half that tub of ice cream, you will have a better understanding of why you did it.

That will help you make a better decision for next time.

Mindful Eating During COVID-19

We all have to start somewhere, so I suggest starting by being more aware and mindful of your food consumption and your emotions.

Especially, during the days of self-isolation, my suggestion is for you to be mindful of the impact of boredom on your food consumption.

Conclusion

I have summarized this entire post into 4 steps to help bring more awareness and hopefully bring small sustainable changes to your food consumption.

1. Increase awareness by identifying your triggers. Are you eating because you are at home and completely bored?

2. Once you identify them, look for a more sustainable way to manage triggers. For instance, if you are bored, get up and do a quick dance to your favorite song! Eating through boredom is definitely not a long term solution to manage boredom, it will only lead to further problems!

3. When you experience a craving, take a 5 minute break before impulsively ordering it on Uber Eats. I know the $0 delivery fee is VERY TEMPTING! Putting strong constraints on ourselves just makes us want to do things even more. Sigh...thats human nature 101 for you.

4. Self-control is best utilized when you don't need to use it. Replace junk food with healthier alternatives, which means you will likely reach for the strawberries since you don't have the cookies at home. If you are craving for chips, go ahead and pick up a small individual-sized bag of chips and treat yourself!  

Remember - it's okay to treat yourself, however, if the 'treat' becomes a daily ongoing habit, that's when it potentially can be problematic.

Have you made better food choices once you are more aware of your emotional needs?

You know I would love to hear from you!

If you have a question or would like to hear more about a topic, leave a comment below or flip me an email.

Until next time!

Sarah Ahmed electronic signature

Sarah Ahmed
Co-founder
WellNest Psychotherapy Services