Emotional Eating
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5 Tips to Curb Emotional Eating with COVID-19

Gyms are closed, stress and anxiety levels are running high and the fridge is just a few feet away.

It’s a time of new routines and severe isolation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes choosing healthy food options more difficult. We have to make fewer trips to the supermarket and often essential groceries are out of stock.

All the above means that it comes as no surprise that those who find comfort in food may be finding it a real challenge to avoid emotional eating due to present circumstances.

COVID-19 & Emotional Eating

Finding comfort in food is common. People who emotionally eat (also known as stress eating) often do so to suppress negative feelings. During a stressful situation, we often experience significant changes to our eating behaviours. As the world struggles to curtail COVID-19, overeating due to fear and stress is becoming an unwanted habit for many.

Why do I overeat?

The truth is, there are many psychological reasons why we may overeat when feeling stressed. It can serve as a welcome distraction from the realities of everyday life and a self-soothing coping mechanism during tough times. In fact, our bodies tend to crave food that’s high in sugar and fat when we’re stressed because we require more energy to function when anxious – and carbohydrates are the fastest way to get a quick hit.

On the flip side, emotional eating often leads to feelings of guilt, regret, physical discomfort and weight gain. The real problem is that the original stressors are independent of our eating behaviours. So, until we address the actual reason for stress eating, the desire to binge will continue.

Five Ways to Curb Emotional Eating

If you are finding it hard to stop stress eating in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some tips to help:

  1. Become aware of your feelings

Take some time to sit back and reflect on how you feel and if these feelings are causing you to crave food for the wrong reasons. Think about when you feel most stressed, what is worrying you most today and how your emotions are affecting your life right now.

  1. Know your triggers

The above questions should help you recognise your triggers for emotional eating. Learn when you will most likely want to eat more. These triggers could be anything from being overwhelmed by a new home schooling routine to watching too many upsetting news stories about the COVID-19 impact. Triggers can also be internal; such as worries about finances or how you can work from home.

  1. Avoid your triggers

Be mindful about your eating habits and think about what you will eat and when. Although it’s difficult at the moment, try to avoid your triggers where possible. It can help to ask yourself questions before eating, such as; what can I change about my routine that will help me not to experience feelings of unwanted stress eating?

  1. Get support

Use your support system. While we may be isolated at the moment from our usual routines and social networks, stay in touch with family and friends virtually. Being connected to others is a basic human need and helps us to cope with stress and anxiety.

  1. View each day as a new day

If you had a moment of weakness or a bad day, don’t beat yourself up about it – start again! Being critical or judgemental about past eating is not helpful. Instead, encourage yourself to re-establish a health pattern of eating and stay positive.

It’s important to seek help if you feel that your eating patterns are out of control. Talking to a professional such as an experienced psychologist and dietitian can help you to address both the physical and mental side of emotional eating.

While eating may help ease your emotions initially, it’s essential to address the feelings causing this behaviour for a long-term solution. Why not work with a psychologist to find alternate ways to deal with COVID-19 stress? For all Australians, regardless of your location, you can access a Medicare rebate for psychology sessions with a mental health care plan from your GP.

Struggling with your eating habits? Book your initial consultation today here
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