BY SALLY KUZEMCHAK, MS, RD - Registered dietitian
There are a lot of jokes going around right now about stress-baking and snacking through stockpiled food. I can relate, my eating has definitely changed since we sheltered in place weeks ago. I’m cooking heavier meals. I’m snacking in front of the screens. And the only thing stopping me from baking more homemade bread and cookies is the fact that flour’s as hard to find right now as toilet paper.
But I know that behind the jokes are genuine worries about weight and a lot of people feeling guilty about finding comfort in food and eating differently right now. I understand the concern (and I recognize the sheer privilege of having so much food). But I hope that with so many other things to worry about right now, you’ll give yourself some grace. Why? Because we’re in the midst of a crisis, a time when routines are upended and some health habits are bound to change. You may not have the energy to exercise. You may have trouble sleeping. And yes, you may be eating more than usual or enjoying richer foods. And that’s okay.
Here are some things to do right now: Scrap the diet. If you were cutting carbs or fasting before the pandemic hit and are struggling to stay consistent, please let it go. Dieting is an extra stress you don’t need, especially right now. Restrictive dieting is a physical stress to your body and a mental burden. And right now, we’re in a worldwide crisis that delivers stress every day. You need to be strong right now – not depleted – mentally and physically.
Be kind to yourself. “This is an opportunity to practice self-compassion,” says Jennifer Carter, Ph.D., a sport psychologist at Ohio State University who previously worked at an eating disorder recovery center. “Of course you’re having an emotional response right now, which may mean less healthy habits.” Some stress eating and emotional eating is natural right now. (They don’t call it “comfort food” for nothing.) “Get away from the idea of perfect eating,” she says. “Normal eating should be super flexible.”
Embrace the silver linings. There are a lot of heartbreaks and hardships in this crisis. But for many people, there’s also more time to prepare meals and more time to really savor food without feeling rushed. Slowing down while eating can help you enjoy your food even more and recognize when you’re full.
Have faith in routines. This pandemic has drastically changed day-to-day living. You may have more opportunities to eat while being at home so much. You may have fewer fresh foods and more convenience products while doing less frequent grocery trips. But this situation won’t last forever and when it ends and your routine changes, your eating habits probably will too.
Seek help if you need it. While occasional emotional eating is okay, you also need other ways to handle your emotions, whether that means talking to trusted friends or family, taking walks, or journaling. If you feel like food is the only way you are coping right now, seek help from your doctor.