A recent Bloomberg report showed an interesting trend; sales were up — way up — for all types of comfort foods, including popcorn (48 per cent), pretzels (47 per cent) and potato chips (30 per cent) compared to a year ago. 

What is it about isolation, stress and the disorienting way each day blends into the next that has people reaching for salty snack foods as a form of comfort?

Honestly, it’s less about hunger than it is about how we use food.  

We use it to self-soothe.

To numb ourselves against our anxieties about the unknown.

We use it to distract ourselves from the stress and unresolved emotions we’re experiencing.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying food during a rough time, but when it becomes our ‘go to’ to quell boredom, stress and to manage our emotional experiences, it’s worth taking note.

 

What is Emotional Eating

‘Emotional eating’ is the term people often use when talking about snacking on comfort foods especially when they are not truly hungry.

In those moments what we are really looking for is comfort in our bodies and our lives and we are using food to distract or cut ourselves off from our emotional state, rather than because of hunger.

The problem with emotional eating, you may have discovered, is that it doesn’t work.

In the moment it brings you temporary relief, but once you’re done eating, you might even feel worse.

Eating can all too easily become a strategy for coping with a low mood, anxiety, boredom, stress, and anger.

During this crisis, when we are spending more time in our homes, it’s understandable that we may be relying on food as a coping mechanism more often than we ordinarily would.  This is not to say that you should never rely on food for comfort, but that it is important to have an awareness of why you are reaching for food and a to have a range of coping strategies in addition to eating.

Slow Down & Check in 

Before you reach into your cupboard or fridge, slow down.  Take a few breaths and check in with yourself.  Are you really hungry? 

Or, is there some other emotion that is coming up for you?  

Maybe you are bored, anxious, frustrated or worried.  

First, slow down and take a few deep breaths.  Try breathing in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 6.  Take at least 10 breaths. 

 

Try Something New

If eating has been your only coping strategy, it is good to add new tools to your toolbox. Consider trying out some other activities that you can turn to, rather than food, to help you soothe, distract, or discharge some emotional energy. These will be unique to each individual.

Here are a list of some new things you can test out:

Creative:

Learn to play guitar, bass or ukulele 

Learn to play piano 

Learn to drum

Practice drawing skills

Improve your painting skills

Physical Activity:

Yoga

Spin Bike Run

Interval workouts

Mindfulness Apps:

My favourite mindfulness apps

Read a new book or listen to a podcast

Connect with Others

We are wired for connection with others and isolation is psychologically very difficult.  While we cannot be physically close to our friends, family, teammates and colleagues, we can connect virtually.

My son is doing strength training with his swim team; something I never would have imagined possible, but it has been very helpful for maintaining a routine and connection with people who are important to him. 

Who can you connect with in a creative way? 

Coffee and FaceTime a friend?

Wine and dinner online with someone special?

Netflix watch party? 

 

Be Kind to Yourself

Research shows that the more the more understanding and forgiving we are of ourselves, the more motivated we are to do what we need to take care of ourselves, including eating well. 

Self compassion can also help guard against the feelings of failure that can arise when you ‘hijack’ your best efforts to eat well.  Self-compassion can help you get back on track rather than beating yourself up. 

Here are some helpful reads here and here on practicing self-compassion

Seek Help

 You do not have to go through this time alone. Even if you live alone or have limited means, there are resources and supports available to you.  I am currently  providing online services to help clients gain the skills and the tools they need to handle the stress and anxiety of COVID-19 more effectively. I’m offering reduced fee spots for those that have been impacted by job or income loss during this crisis and the option of 30 minute focused sessions to help keep you on track, if longer appointments won’t work for now. 

Marcy is a Clinical Social Worker in Halifax, NS who specializes in helping women who are feeling stressed and overwhelmed learn to cope more effectively and find balance in their lives.  If you’d like to book a free 15 minute consultation with Marcy click here. Or call (902) 702-7722 to schedule.

Marcy Daniels MSW, RSW

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