I had recently a lot of enquiry about how to manage overeating or deal with stress eating as we are currently living an unprecedented situation.
Many of us are asked to stay home to stop Covid-19 from spreading. And when home, we hand up eating more or being drawn to certain type of food.
Urges to eat some specific food on regular basis is a sign of stress eating. If it has happened to you regularly in the past, it requires additional support in the long term, beyond managing the situation in the moment. Most people I’ve talked to recently though experience these urges and overeating due to the current social context of being at home.
Below, I share with you a few guidelines I’m applying for myself that are worth considering for all.
The urge of eating food that are not serving us is related to a dopamine hit in the brain. Dopamine is the chemical that mediates pleasure. In times of stress, our brain is geared to keep us happy and motivated. That’s how we are driven towards behaviours that will trigger dopamine release. This is called “attention bias”, when we end up focussing on only one thing: the trigger of this dopamine release (can be cookies or pasta). We end up with cravings until we get that reward. Because the brain is involved it is complex to retrain. However, there are a few tangible actions you CAN do in the moment:
a. Recognize we are living a rough and unusual time at the moment. The shelves at the supermarket are empty, we are told to distance from others, we are out of routine by working from home… Denial in the short term gives your mind the opportunity to adapt to an unknown situation but in the long term it may prevent you to deal with the problem.
b. Recognize your patterns of overeating or eating more often. How many times in these circumstances, you end up in front of the pantry or fridge, without realizing it? Mindfulness will help you develop the skills necessary to manage this situation.
c. Remind yourselves this is a time to support your immunity. Nourishing yourselves with lots of nutrients is the best you can do. As our circumstances have changed, we can make use of the vegetables available to us, and come back to the kitchen to learn, prepare, cook and enjoy new foods.
d. Recreate a routine. Fill your agenda as you usually do. Swap the coached exercise session with some movement in front of a youtube video, keep meals and food intake on the same rhythm, have a sleep routine, set clear work time and book time for rest.
e. Swap a deprivation mindset to an empowered mindset: when cravings happened, change “I can’t eat that” to “I don’t eat that”. Suddenly, your emotional state change from feeling deprived, irritated or frustrated to feeling in charge, aligned, and strong.
f. Get the convenient foods that do not serve your health goals out of sight. It is always easier to avoid temptations than to resist temptations! Get help from people around you. If you know you are craving specific food right now, ensure you get healthy alternatives.
g. This situation is new for all. Find ways to calm your nervous system down, so you are not seeking the dopamine reward to calm you down. This is a great time to start practising and experiencing breathing techniques, self-massage and meditation.
h. Ask for help online if the situation is not manageable. Find some support in your community or with a health professional.
I hope you find your way for health during this time of change.