Has Your Eating Moved Off Target Due to Fear, Stress, or Boredom?

We live in uncertain and extraordinary times as our society deals with a pandemic in our midst. The fear and stress accompanying this crisis can drive your eating patterns off kilter. Some of you may be eating (or even not eating) to alleviate negative feelings. Are one or more of these happening to you:

  • Overeating
  • Binge eating, or eating large amounts of food at one setting
  • Grazing, or eating throughout the day
  • Eating much less, or nothing at all when you normally would have eaten

If they are, you might try these strategies to mitigate the effects of fear and stress and their effects on your eating patterns:

Anxiety is often caused by feeling lack of control. Do pandemic events make you feel that the world around you is spinning wildly out of your grasp? If you do feel out of control, try to find things in your life you can control.

To increase your feeling of control in the area of eating, create a list of what you want your eating to look like. This list can be as big or as small as you like. Then pick the most important thing on the list and work to do that. Starting small is a good idea; choose to instill this new habit once a day if need be, until you can do it all day. Continue to build until you can do it more or less successfully every day. Then move to the next important thing on the list. And so on.

An example would be – I seem to be reaching for the cookie jar multiple times a day. Instead, my desired state would be to not reach at all. As a first step, I will only allow myself one cookie out the jar per day.

Removing undesirable snacks out of the house will take them out of sight and out of mind (and out of mouth…?). Consider using this time to do an overhaul of your kitchen cabinets and restock with healthier alternatives.

Not sure if you’ve noticed, but in supermarkets, fresh produce is still coming in, while many shelves of packaged goods are still lacking. Take advantage of this opportunity to shift your snacking habits to real food like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and berries.

This is a great time to practice one of my favorite eating habits, Eating Slowly. Fullness signals in the body take 20 minutes to develop when eating. Many of us eat way too fast, and ultimately results in us taking in a lot more food than we really need. Instead, take a bite of food and put the fork down. Then, take twice as long to chew your food.

Note that a potential positive side effect of this is, you’ll discover what processed food tastes like after you have chewed out all its flavoring. I welcome your discoveries here, and likely it may cause you to swear off Doritos and Cheetos forever…!

This is also a great opportunity to practice “mindful eating.” Become aware of the sensations you feel as you chew. Note the textures, the taste. Consider starting a journal on the feelings that emerge, not only in your mouth but also in the body, emotions and thoughts. The insights that emerge can create greater understanding of your relationship to food, and what triggers deviations in your desired eating patterns.

Increasing your awareness of your behaviors is half the battle; sometimes we don’t even know that our eating has shifted as we go through our days in autopilot, with our minds occupied elsewhere – and in this case, occupied by fear and other negative feelings.

Substitution can be a great way to combat undesired eating habits. One form of substitution already discussed is substituting healthy snacks for processed snacks. Another is simply drinking a glass of water when you feel hungry. Completely calorie free and healthy, filling your stomach up with water will help take away hunger pangs.

Yet another is to make a commitment to do something else when you start to feel the need for snacking. One great alternative is to take a walk outside and get some exercise. Instead of reaching for the bag of potato chips, open the door and go outside for a while. Being outside in nature reduces stress and will take your mind off eating.

Lastly, stress reduction techniques target the root cause most directly, and reducing stress should reduce the need for eating due to stress.

The area of stress reduction is very broad and covering every possible technique would be prohibitive. I encourage you to explore whatever works for you and do more of it! More directly related to our time of coronavirus, consider these tips to combat stress:

Reduce/eliminate news reading. The media unfortunately has not been kind to our stress levels. Consider severely reducing your daily news consumption, like only doing it once per day, or shutting it off completely.

Breathing practice. Your breath is intimately tied to your body’s stress response. Active control of breathing can lower it substantially. It is why you find it integral to many meditation practices.

Take time each day, at least once a day and ideally multiple times a day, to stop what you’re doing and practice breathing. Find a comfortable place to either lie or sit down quietly. Then begin to breathe in a pattern of 1:2 inhale count to exhale count. So start with an inhale of a one count, then breathe out for a 2 count. Do that for a few cycles. Then move to a 2 count inhale and 4 count exhale. Relax. Find what it takes to successfully maintain this pattern. Once you’ve got it, then move to a 3 count inhale and 6 count exhale. Once you’ve got this, then go to a 4 count inhale and 8 count exhale. Hold this pattern for at least 5 minutes. Work up to any desired time you like.

Increase social support. In this time of crisis, we may find our normal social channels are disrupted. Now most of our connections are via video chat or phone. Reach out and maintain regular contact with family and friends who are supportive and do not drain you unnecessarily.

As always, if you feel this is more serious and these interventions aren’t working, seeking professional help may be a worthwhile option.

If you’re interested in more healthy lifestyle habits and knocking down barriers to reaching your goals and desired healthy state, please don’t hesitate to contact me for life/health coaching.