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Coping during COVID-19: Curbing emotional eating

Have you just come back from your 6th trip to the fridge? When stressful situations of this magnitude arise, many of us may experience significant changes to our eating behaviours. Emotional or stress eating may happen when we eat, or don’t eat, in a conscious or unconscious effort to suppress, curtail or soothe challenging emotions. These emotionally charged eating behaviours may range from not eating to overeating, binge eating or even constant snacking throughout the day. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic may deepen fears around the availability and cost of food which may significantly affect the eating experiences of many.

Whatever the change in your eating behaviours may be, there are various factors at play, including biological and psychological influences. Food can serve as a distraction from reality or as a self-soothing mechanism when needing comfort during times of uncertainty or emotional pain. Emotional eating may also leave a person feeling shame, regret, or even physical discomfort. If you have experienced changes in your eating behaviours in response to feelings of fear, anxiety or even boredom, the following points may assist you during the lockdown:

1. Identify what you are feeling.

Becoming aware of our feelings helps to identifying the emotions which may be driving our undesirable eating behaviours. Take time to reflect on your own emotional experiences before turning to food to cope.

2. Recognize your emotional triggers.

This gives you the opportunity to reflect on your triggers. Ask yourself when are you more likely to stress-eat and which circumstances precede the behaviour? This equips you to better prepare yourself to respond to challenging emotional states.

3. Practice mindfulness.

Often when emotionally triggered, we engage in eating without really being connected to the experience, while seeking the comfort or distraction that food may bring. By practicing mindfulness, we become more attuned to the present moment and are better able to make healthy, conscious choices about what we eat.

4. Challenge yourself.

Make intentional choices about meals can help establish a healthier relationship with food. A balanced eating plan can help you challenge yourself to cope with any difficult emotions that you may be experiencing away from food. Remind yourself that the emotion will not last forever.

5. Reach out for social support.

While we may be socially isolated, we can still be socially connected. Stay in touch with friends, family, a support group or a mental health professional to help you through this. You are not alone, and support may just be a text or phone call away.

6. Self-love.

Remember, every moment holds the possibility of a fresh start. Be gentle and kind with yourself. What would you say to someone you loved who was struggling with the same thing? Approach your own emotional experiences without judgmental or criticism while acknowledging difficult emotions.

7. Sublimate

Finding a more adaptive manner of coping may assist, even if just to distract momentarily from emotional triggers. Listen to uplifting music, tidy up, meditate, write down what you’re feeling, exercise or simply get some fresh air. Find what works best for you.

What have you been doing to cope during the COVID-19 lockdown?

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