Many of us are now at home -- self-isolating, self-quarantining, or (my personal favorite) care-cocooning -- due to coronavirus. We’ve also more than likely stocked up on food in the last few days.
And while being prepared is a good thing, being stocked up can also be a not-so-good thing.
Lots of people are currently finding themselves eating more than usual: grazing, stress-eating, eating out of boredom, confusing cravings for hunger, or eating simply based on any other type of emotional or circumstantial stimuli.
And it’s not just the comfort stuff -- overeating on the healthy stuff is proving problematic, too.
It’s during times of stress that many people turn to food as therapy, whether we realize it or not. People look for comfort in food for both physiological and psychological reasons. We use food as a numbing strategy, where the food acts as a buffer between ourselves and whatever difficult feelings we may be experiencing.
In some instances, emotional eating becomes so common that we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
So how can we understand our hunger cues? During this uncertain, high-stress time, how can we curb those cravings?
Understanding Hunger vs Cravings
To avoid mindless, emotional eating, it’s important to understand the difference between emotional and physical hunger. Before you tear open your next granola bar, take note of the type of symptoms you’re experiencing:
Symptoms of Hunger
- Feeling of emptiness in your stomach
- Gurgling, rumbling, or growling occurs in your stomach
- Feeling weak, dizzy, faint, or light-headed
- Lack of concentration
- Easily agitated
- Doesn't pass with time
- Not looking for a specific food
- Satisfaction comes from a healthy snack or meal
Symptoms of Cravings
- Satisfied by “Feel Good” foods, which are usually high in sugar, fat, and carbohydrates
- You want one food, only one food, and nothing else
- Often caused by external factors (stress, anxiety, memories, smells, people)
- Eating that makes you feel good at first, but guilty later
- The feeling of needing to eat passes with time
- The feeling of needing to eat can occur even after you've recently eaten
- You’re not satisfied even when you’re full
Once you’re aware of the difference between hunger and cravings, you can take the following steps to avoid emotional eating.
Tips to Avoid Emotional Eating
Keep busy. It’s the best antidote for emotional eating. If you’re at home, plan home projects to do throughout the day. Exercise! First thing in the morning sets you up for success throughout the rest of the day. Go for a 2-hour walk around your neighborhood. There are plenty of ways to stay busy during our self-isolation.
Watch what you bring into your home. You have control over what's inside your home. If something is readily available to you -- whether it’s visible on the counter or hidden in the pantry -- it makes it that much easier for you to cave in to your cravings. Make sure you’re only bringing healthy, helpful, whole foods into your home.
Go to the grocery store first thing in the morning to get fresh, whole foods. Shelves are generally stocked overnight; the best selection is usually available early in the morning. Also, know that the supply chain is in good shape. While shelves may be empty at times, this is no reflection of what is actually available; our food supplies will continue to be replenished.
Practice mindful eating. Pay attention to what you’re putting into your body; engage all of your senses as you eat. Mindful eating is about bringing awareness to what you eat and being present with it so that you don’t develop mindless eating habits. It also gives you more appreciation for what you’re eating.
Stay optimistic. Choosing optimism in times like these has been proven to boost immune systems. Choose to find the good in your (uncertain) every day. Find opportunities in your situation. Use your extra time to call old friends, enjoy nature, and do things you normally wouldn’t do.
Most importantly, give yourself grace. Things are changing rapidly -- on a daily basis, if not every hour. We must learn to be nimble and adapt. As we adapt to our circumstances, embrace the opportunities around you and know that you are doing the very best you can with what you’ve been given.