It seems for most of us that the last 2 years have resulted in a state of chronic stress. The stress is understandable, as there are rapidly evolving circumstances and uncertainty, like the ongoing pandemic, climate change, war, and global distress.
One way that people deal with stress is by over-eating or changing their eating habits, subconsciously or intentionally, for better or worse. This may be particularly true during this time if this has been a stress coping strategy in the past. Addressing this problem, I start by encouraging my patients to accept that there are things outside of our control and try to better understand what the emotions are and mean.
To better gauge whether you are engaging in emotion-driven eating, ask yourself – am I hungry or am I trying to distract myself or numb out with eating?
The most important thing here is to understand that your feelings are your data: the information that YOU are communicating to YOU.
Tolerating negative feelings can be difficult. Most of us tell ourselves that these feelings are “too terrible” or unmanageable. Understanding the feelings, for example, of sadness, fear, disappointment, frustration, AND, tolerating them, helps us to know how to strategize, problem solve, find a solution or means of dealing.
During these extraordinary times, many of us don’t have effective strategies to deal with all the unknowns. This can promote more anxiety, boredom, loneliness, and overall discomfort. Moreover, many of us have numbing techniques or ways to distract ourselves from difficult feelings, and emotional eating is one of those strategies that are not likely to be productive to overall health and wellness.
It is most likely we are feeling bored or lonely, and either overly busy with something not that interesting, or not busy at all.
For those of us spending more time at home, creating structure is one way to impose more predictability and routine in a time where there is so much uncertainty.
Schedule self-care breaks as best as possible so that they are built into your routine and not just used when you need them. Some examples of this can be taking 5 minutes to deep breathe in the bathroom or bedroom or taking a 5–10-minute air or walk break, depending on where you live.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, (the modality that I practice and how I counsel my patients), teaches that you can challenge a behavior, (“I am powerless to control my stress eating“), by challenging the belief, (“Is this really true?“), and provides the tools to by control that behavior to reflect that of someone who does feel in control over the behavior.
This is a mind shift and an understanding that we can control our thoughts. Start with a decision like, “I will not eat for two hours before I go to bed.”
Mindfulness is staying present with what you are feeling. A mindful approach to nutrition and diet focuses on empowering oneself to identify the patterns of thought and behavior related to eating, including where you eat, with whom you eat, and when you no longer feel hungry.