How To Stop Stress Eating During The Pandemic
This pandemic has been stressful, to say the least. With everything going on, many of us have resorted to stress eating to try to dull the pain, ease the anxiety, or just to feel alive again. Although stress eating is normal when you’re under pressure like we all are these days, it’s still unhealthy and can have serious consequences to both your emotional and physical health. Put the french fry down, and read on for more information about why we’ve all been stress eating, and how to stop it.
What Is Stress Eating?
Stress eating, also known as emotional eating, is a pattern of eating not for nutritional value or hunger, but for the sole purpose of trying to feel better emotionally. Maybe we’re stressed, depressed, or just feel empty inside – and we inhale comforting, tasty food to try to feel better.
Most of us have probably fallen into stress eating at some point in our lives. Think sobbing while eating a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s after a breakup, or munching on Flamin’ Hot Cheetos late into the night because we’re anxious about work.
When we’re stress eating, we’re not paying attention anymore to our stomachs’ actual hunger cues. We’re letting our emotions and moods dictate when we should eat. There’s science behind it: when we’re chronically stressed, the level of cortisol in our brains goes up – which makes us more motivated to eat. High cortisol also makes us crave sugary or fatty foods.
That means that often, we keep eating even when our stomachs are saying, “That’s enough! I’m full!” – because our brains are saying, “Hot Cheetos are the only thing that can numb this pain.”
As opposed to physical hunger, emotional hunger (which leads us to stress eat) comes on suddenly. It comes from the brain instead of the stomach (you think about wanting to taste food instead of a rumbling in your tummy) and it usually causes you to crave a specific food rather than food in general.
To some extent, stress eating is a normal part of human life. And as long as it doesn’t get completely out of control, you can get away with eating your feelings now and then.
The problem is that it can get out of control – and quickly. And when you get in the habit of stress eating, it has some pretty serious health consequences. People who eat based on emotions are more likely to be overweight and have low self-esteem, not to mention have feelings of guilt and regret. You can also experience things like stomach pain and nausea because remember: your stomach doesn’t actually need (or want) the food.
Listen: We’re All Stress Eating During This Pandemic
Things have been incredibly stressful for over a year now. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in most of our lives. The anxiety, the uncertainty, the financial stress, the social isolation, and even grief and loss. It’s the understatement of the century to say that we’ve all had a lot to deal with over the past year.
On top of that, most of us have had our usual, healthy coping mechanisms taken away from us. Go work out at the gym? Can’t do that. Go get brunch with our closest friends? Can’t do that either. We suddenly have no healthy outlet for our stress and sadness. Can you blame us that we’ve all resorted to eating our feelings?
Research has shown what we all could have guessed: we’re not only facing a global COVID epidemic but a widespread mental health epidemic as well. We’re more anxious. We’re not sleeping as well. And we’ve traded in our healthy behaviors for junk food. It’s been reported that consumption of sugary foods and drinks has gone way up during the pandemic. Also, about 27% of us have gained weight since the lockdowns started.
There’s a reason why stress eating is so widespread. Food, especially good food, does bring a certain level of comfort and happiness. The problem is that this relief is only temporary. Sure, those 2 dozen hot wings may have tasted good at the moment, and they may have even brought a smile to your face. But you’re probably not smiling a month of nightly hot wings later, when you’ve gained 20 pounds and you’re left with the same sadness and anxiety that you started with.
5 Tips To Stop Your Pandemic Stress Eating
We’re not here to judge anybody. It’s been a tough year, and we’ve all fallen prey to this pandemic in one form or another. But if you’re ready to kick stress eating to the curb and get your healthy life back again, here are some tips that might help.
- Self-Awareness is Key
The real problem with stress eating is that most of us do it without even noticing. You just wanted to binge your favorite show, and before you know it, that entire pizza is in your stomach.
Try practicing mindful self-awareness. If you haven’t heard about the practice of mindful eating, read about it and start practicing it. Whenever you’re eating, remove distractions (like your phone) and just eat. If you’re aware of the present moment as much as possible, then it’s less likely that you’ll stress eat unconsciously.
- Boredom is Your Enemy
Many people, when asked why they stress eat, don’t say that it’s because they’re depressed or lonely. They say it’s because they’re bored.
Boredom is your enemy when it comes to stress eating; try to fight it as much as possible. Pick up a new hobby, journal, dance – anything to keep yourself from getting too bored, if that’s what you think is causing your emotional eating.
- Make Sure to Sleep Enough
Another big negative effect on our mental health during this pandemic is that we’re all sleeping less. But not getting enough sleep is associated with an increase in over-eating, so it’s important that you try to get regular, deep hours of sleep.
We should all aim for between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try putting down your electronic devices at least one hour before your head hits the pillow.
- Avoid Triggers
If you don’t have Hot Cheetos in your house, then you’re less likely to eat Hot Cheetos in the middle of the night. Sure, you might get desperate and drive to the store to get some, but at least you put a gap there in which you can stop and think about what you’re about to do – and if it’s really worth it.
Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, sad, or bored. Make a list of items you need to cook healthy meals before you go, and stick to it. You can only stress eat the food that’s in front of you – so don’t put unhealthy food in front of you.
- Forgive Yourself
Lastly, be kind to yourself. You’re not the only one in the world who’s struggling with stress eating right now. Sometimes, being hard on yourself about it can turn into a vicious cycle. You overeat, you feel terrible about it, and then you eat some more to try to feel less bad about it – and on and on.
Whenever you do stress eat, forgive yourself. Remember that people all around the world are struggling with the same exact problem. You’re only human, and right now you’re a human living in a really messed up world. Vow to do better next time, and move on.
Takeaway: Stress Eating is Common But Unhealthy
Stress or emotional eating is a common phenomenon that’s become more prevalent during the pandemic. However, it only leads to feelings of regret, guilt, and consequences for your physical health at the end of the day.
Follow these tips and stop – or at least cut back on – your stress eating. Let us know how it’s going. As Shanice always says, we’re rooting for you!
The content found on WittedRoots.com is provided for informational and educational purposes only. Absolutely no content to be found on WittedRoots.com is intended to serve as a substitute for the diagnosing, examining, and/or treatment performed by a qualified health professional. To learn more about our policies, please click here.
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