If you’ve been finding yourself eating more than usual in recent times, it’s no surprise. You’ve likely been stuck in the house with a stockpile of food. If you’re working from home, it’s difficult to resist taking frequent snack breaks, and if you’re not working, what else there to do but try out yet another tasty recipe?
All jokes aside, emotional eating is a serious matter. Our relationship with food is complex and emotional, and in times of mental stress, it is common to use food as a self-soothing mechanism. This is one of our most basic coping skills. Starting from childhood, we look to physical comforts to escape mental and emotional chaos. Eating is one of our most basic needs, and ensuring our physical needs are met is comforting in the face of an uncertain future.
But this coping tool can get out of control if you find yourself eating more than you need. While this might not be a problem in the short term, you could find yourself facing unwanted extra weight and deteriorating health if it keeps happening.
While there is nothing wrong with eating to comfort yourself, you may have identified that this is an issue for you and be looking for a way to stop.
We looked into some of the best ways to trip the emotional eating cycle and find peace in other ways.
Best ways to stop stress eating
Stop guilting yourself
Eating more than you intend may be distressing. Beating yourself up about it only increases your anxiety, so take it easy on yourself and remember that you’re under more stress than usual. Try to talk kindly to yourself about this issue as you would a child or a good friend.
Create a schedule
One way to control inappropriate eating is by planning your consumption in advance. Make sure you include healthy treats and snacks that you enjoy. By regularly eating throughout the day, you will reduce episodes of stress or unplanned eating and help stabilize your blood sugar to regulate your mood.
Check in with your hunger
Eating to soothe emotions can be a hard habit to kick, so it’s worth going back to the basics of physical hunger. Try checking in whenever you find yourself gravitating toward the kitchen, and think of your hunger on a scale from 0 to 10.
Here’s how the scale works: five is neutral – you are not hungry, and you are not full. Four is a little hungry; you may be having pangs of hunger. Three is solidly hungry. Two is ravenous, and one is empty. Zero is so starving you might faint. On the flip side, six is satisfied, seven is full, and eight is stuffed. Nine is very uncomfortable, and 10 is sick to your stomach. Try to wait to eat until you are at level three, and stop when you are satisfied (level 6) as opposed to continuing to eat until you are full or stuffed.
Use other coping strategies
Once you’re clear on your hunger and satiety levels, there is the challenge of controlling your impulses during times that you’ve decided it’s not appropriate to eat. Distraction can be the key here.
If eating has been your only coping strategy, try adding some new tools to your toolbox. Make a list of other activities that can provide comfort, distract you, or discharge some nervous energy. These will be unique for every person. Some ideas for coping activities include calling or texting a friend, making a cup of tea, going for a walk, doing a guided meditation, or taking a bath.
Getting some exercise, whether it’s a bike ride or an at-home cardio kickboxing video, is excellent for burning additional energy that might otherwise lead you to stand at the fridge door again. Alternatively, you may need to take some time to slow down and rest. Try to nourish yourself, get enough sleep, and be gentle with yourself.
Pay attention to your feelings
Keep in mind; real feelings are underlying your impulses to eat. Even if you think you are fine, you might have subconscious anxiety, fear, and grief. These types of feelings are normal and unavoidable in unknown and unprecedented situations. Try activities such as dancing, singing, journaling, painting, or talking to someone to express your feelings. Letting these emotions out in a mindful and healthy fashion may help prevent those episodes of stress-driven eating.
This tip may sound obvious, but one of the main reasons behind excessive eating is a lack of hydration. Try keeping a glass or bottle of water handy at all times, and track your hydration with an app. An easy way to tell if you’re sufficiently hydrated is to make sure your urine is pale yellow when you go to the bathroom. You could also introduce special drinks like fresh fruit water or herbal tea, which will serve as a soothing self-care ritual. This will redirect your energy away from emotional eating.
Ultimately, try not to stress too much about a few extra pounds during quarantine. Focus on taking good care of yourself and your family, and enjoy the time you have together without too much pressure to “do everything right” during this stressful time.