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Let’s face it, this September feels different, like no other from our recent past. Everyone has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, in one way or another. With change comes grief and a sense of loss for the way things used to be.
The struggle with emotional eating during this stressful time of COVID-19 is real. Food is emotional. We celebrate with food, we connect with food, we mourn with food. Every rite of passage involves a sharing of food, a breaking of bread. Food builds community and is central to survival. Food is an integral factor in our sense of comfort and security.
The uncertainty of CoVid has us all feeling a little unhinged right now. Mental health indicators like rates of anxiety, depression and suicide are skyrocketing during these tumultuous times.¹ People are leery of their neighbours, half the world is in lockdown and there is incredible economic uncertainty. People cope with stress by turning to distracting activities such as taking on extra work, organizing, or exercising or self-medicating with addictive substances like alcohol, marijuana or food (or combinations of the above) Both people with food issues before the pandemic and people whose relationship to food was normal are struggling right now. It is been called “pandemic eating.”
Let’s be honest, food is the safest, cheapest mood-altering drug available. From birth onwards, food is used to soothe, comfort and distract. But carrying extra weight has its own health implications, so it is important to engage strategies that are healthy for your mind, as well as your waistline.
Here are some strategies to help you reframe and re-engage your eating habits during these times:
- Practice self-compassion. Be gentle with yourself (but not too gentle). Accept that your diet may not be perfect. Not every day will be as trying as the next and some days may require extra kindness with oneself. Remind yourself that making good choices most of the time is good enough. Strive for progress, not perfection.
- Don’t diet. Now might not be the best time to put yourself on a restrictive or elimination diet, unless absolutely necessary for health. Removing groups of food or severely restricting calories may impact your mental health you are not expecting and heighten your sense of deprivation.
- Up your protein intake. Eat more protein and eat it with every meal. Eating more protein on its own reduces caloric intake and stabilizes blood sugars.
- Reach out for support. Use the buddy system to check in with a friend or family member who might be facing the same struggles as you.
- Don’t label foods as “good” or “bad”. Comfort food provides comfort, and right now, we could all use a bit more of that.
- Eat mindfully when at all possible. Savor each bite, regardless if you are consuming a meal or a treat. Eat foods that you truly enjoy.
- Create new routines. Establish some structure in your day and try to eat only at designated mealtimes, instead of grazing throughout the day.
- Find some non-food strategies to nurture your emotions. For some it’s spending time with a loved pet/person, for others activities like joining a book club, daily meditation/yoga, or cultivating a hobby.
- Laugh daily. Humor is the best antidote to emotional eating. Watch comedy clips on YouTube or read a funny book.
- Seek help. If you are experiencing worsening anxiety and/or depression, seek professional help.
May we all find the courage and strength to get through this time with grace, kindness and patience for ourselves and others.
1.Leo Sher, The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide rates, QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, , hcaa202, https://doi.org/10.1093/qjmed/hcaa202