With everything going on in the world these days, many of us are finding ourselves stress eating. As I’ve mentioned before, emotional eating isn’t inherently bad (ever celebrated a birthday with some cake?), it’s our relationship to the food that is worth examining.
First and foremost, before trying to stop anything, remember to have compassion for yourself. This COVID-19 era is unprecedented for our generation. When things are this uncertain, it’s natural to feel fear, stress, grief, anxiety and any number of other comfortable emotions.
And if you’re in self-quarantine or isolation, it can make the feelings even more pronounced. It impacts every tier on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
- Physiological: Air, water, food, shelter, etc. This respiratory illness is causing people to go into a panic hoarding everything they can at the grocery store and leaving little for others, and our homes may be at risk if we’re unable to make rent.
- Safety: Employment, resources, health. Stating the obvious even further—millions of us have lost jobs and we’re depleting our resources. For many people, they are being asked to make the choice between protecting their health or going into work to get paid.
- Love and belonging: Our sense of connection, threatened by self-quarantine, isolation, and the ways we usually connect out in the world being shut down.
- Self-esteem: Respect, freedom. With the way our government is egregiously mishandling the situation and not offering valid solutions to all the above problems, we are limited in our freedom, and it really doesn’t feel like the people in power respect us at all.
- Self-actualization: Realizing your full potential. Reaching our goals. We can create new ones in self-quarantine, but the ones you had planned out for your life may be taking a back seat right now.
These universal human needs, according to Maslow, and whether they are met directly correlate to our behaviors and motivations.
With our most basic needs unmet, we’re wired to pursue them any way we can. Notice that base tier includes FOOD. When the grocery store shelves are empty and even the internet is out of stock, it’s going to cause us to worry about when the next meal is coming, even if your fridge is full right now, you may be concerned about next week or the week after.
Food may feel all consuming right now. But now that you see we’re wired for it, I hope you can be a little kinder to yourself when you start to eat in response to stress. There is nothing wrong with you.
LET IT HAPPEN
If your cravings aren’t killed with kindness, you’re probably trying to combat them restriction. Again, this impacts our basic needs, so ultimately you’re going to seek out what feels scarce, even if you’re the one controlling that scarcity by not keeping certain foods in the house or refusing to eat a full meal.
What we resist, persists (in this context, anyway—fight the patriarchy). Restriction leads to binge eating (as your body’s natural coping mechanism to going without food) which causes you to feel guilty and ashamed of your choices, which leads to more restriction, and the cycle goes on.
What if, instead of shaming yourself for giving in to cravings, you just let it happen? What if you embraced your wants and needs and gave yourself permission to eat what you want? I know, TERRIFYING right?
You probably expect yourself to eat an entire package of Oreos. And you know what? You might. But your body is responding to restriction. If we can re-train our bodies to not expect restriction by regularly meeting our physiological needs, that period of eating ALL THE OREOS eventually dies down and they won’t have such a hold on you.
INTENTIONAL EATING VS. EATING ON AUTOPILOT
Giving yourself free rein in the kitchen when you’ve been following food rules forever might feel incredibly scary. But here’s what I tell all of my clients: going into it knowing you’ve allowed yourself this freedom feels a lot different than doing it on autopilot and feeling guilty afterwards.
When you’re functioning on autopilot, you’re not thinking critically about your actions. It’s usually not until after that you start thinking about it and shaming yourself for eating something “bad.”
Give yourself space between the craving and the action to acknowledge its existence. You’re not going to remember to do this every time, and that’s where self-compassion can come in too, but it’s the same with all new habits. You can do a couple things from there:
- Ignore it, which may leave you feeling deprived.
- Examine it. Are you physically hungry? When is the last time you ate? Is there an emotion attached to the craving? How can you soothe that emotion?
- Take action. You don’t always have to eat what you’re specifically craving unless you want to. But take action based off your answers to the questions above. If you’re hungry, eat! If you’re trying to soothe an emotion, what else will make you feel good?
Sometimes what you want is to soothe with food, and that’s okay. The goal is to think about it first. Eat with intention.
“I’m going to eat X and enjoy it” feels much different than “Why did I eat X?? I can’t control myself around food!”
Note: If you’re feeling deprived not because of intentional restriction, but because of food security, budget, or inexperience in the kitchen, I put together this recipe book on meals and snacks to make with non-perishables. The recipes are simple, inexpensive, and rely on pantry foods that are staples in most of our quarantine meals.
WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD?
If food makes you feel good, that’s okay, especially when resources are limited. Now, more than ever, is not the time to be creating rules for yourself or worrying about weight or counting calories. Focus on what’s available to you, affordable to you, and enjoyable, and allow yourself permission to eat it.
Food is meant for health AND for pleasure, though I do recommend having a list of pleasures to choose from so you have more in your toolbox to choose from.
I came up with 20 free and low-cost ideas for self-care on a previous blog that you can turn to when you’re looking for ways to feel better. These are just a place to start, only you know what feels best to you, so feel free to create your own list of what works at this time.
Need extra guidance? I’m expanding my hours to make sure I’m able to accommodate your schedule. Apply to work with me and we’ll schedule a call to discuss your needs and how I may be able to help.