Help! I’m eating my lockdown emotions | HerCanberra

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Help! I’m eating my lockdown emotions

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Coronavirus. Pandemic. Quarantine. Work from home. Lockdown. Stay at home. Lose job. Home school. Stress. Uncertainty. Disaster.

Cue: Emotional eating.

Emotional eating happens to all of us on some level. Some of us struggle with it more than others. However, there has never been a time like this.

When I closed my physical nutrition clinics a few weeks ago and converted the team to operating the business fully online, the biggest issues that my dietitians mentioned that they were (and still are) helping their clients with is emotional eating. And we get it. We’re emotionally eating too!

In the past two weeks, I’ve eaten many a favourite food: Mac and cheese in a box. Mint dark chocolate. Blue cheese, crackers and wine. Doritos and Mexican dip. Creamy chicken and bacon (this epically delicious dish my mum used to make). Bacon and eggs. Brownie.

Even as a nutritionist, I don’t believe that any of these foods are inherently bad for me, however, if I continue to make a pattern of it, I’ll consume way too much energy, from fat and sugar and nowhere near enough nutrients. However, I’m sad and by golly, yummy foods make me feel better. What about you?

Emotional eating is a learned behaviour and is defined as: the tendency to overeat in response to negative emotions, such as anxiety or irritability.

In a nutshell, emotional eaters have difficulty tolerating and managing negative moods and grabbing something fatty, salty, or sweet to eat is an effort to cope or overcome an intense mood state.

Grabbing your favourite food to eat because it makes you feel good is not necessarily the same as feeling complete disinhibition and binging when you feel stressed. There’s a spectrum of behaviours here.

However, regardless of what you experience, you are not a good or bad person based on your tendency to emotionally eat or not. You are a human.

What might be helpful to think about is this:

Is your emotional eating (whatever that looks like) hindering your health both mentally and physically? If so, it might be worth taking steps to manage it.

What’s important to understand is that emotional eating is a symptom of complex underlying psychology. There are NO quick fixes and people need to exercise kindness and grace when it comes to making changes in this area of their life.

Also, none of us has experienced a global pandemic before. It’s normal to be feeling stressed right now.

Here are some tips to help you to stop eating your lockdown emotions:

Treat Your Vitamin D Deficiency

It’s the end of a long, cold Canberra winter. Vitamin D deficiency is common and linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and depression.

It would be worth checking in with your GP and getting some bloods done to check your vitamin D (and other nutrients) status.

If you are deficient, a supplement and safe sun regime could go a long way to helping your overall physical and mental wellbeing. It’s important to not take supplements without a good reason to do so and check with a dietitian and your GP before making major dietary changes.

Practice Mindful Eating

Research shows that there are several psychological approaches that have been proposed to help emotional eaters. One of those is practising mindfulness.

Mindful eating is about being FULLY present in the moment when you eat. Stopping other activities while you eat like TV watching, using your smartphone, working, etc and focusing specifically on your meal can have a profound effect on when, what, and how much you choose to eat.

If you’re finding yourself mindlessly eating while you scroll Instagram or watch the news, rather than trying to stop the eating, allow yourself to eat but focus on eating without distraction.

The outcome is typically stopping when you’re full, experiencing the flavours of food and not overeating them and the ability to enjoy tasty meals without over-indulging.

Set Realistic Health Goals

One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they set unrealistic health goals. This leads to never achieving their goals and this constant failure can be a vicious cycle that promotes emotional eating behaviour.

The best thing you can do for your mental and physical health right now is eat better, sleep better and move more, but if your expectations of what this has to be is too high, you won’t do it!

Leading health behaviour theories suggest that intentions are the most immediate and important predictors of behaviour. However, research suggests that there is a substantial ‘gap’ between intentions and health behaviours.

One study found that the more realistic your health goal, the more your intention to achieve that goal translates into you doing something different and taking action.

If emotional eating in lockdown is getting you down, you can help yourself by setting realistic goals that you can achieve. This will build your self-confidence and belief that you can continue to do positive things for yourself and your body.

Check out The Daily Dollop podcast on this very topic, episode 38.

Ensure You’re Eating Adequately

I frequently meet emotional eaters who binge worse on the days where they were trying to be ‘healthy’. And when I say healthy, I mean restrictive.

If you’re not eating enough and your body is genuinely hungry, when you’re confronted with a stressful situation or something that triggers you, this is a recipe for emotional eating disaster.

Focussing your efforts on nourishment and reframing your view of healthy eating to include lots of healthy foods, rather than restricting foods will not only help you manage your emotional eating, but new research has found that high diet quality and ensuring you’re getting in lots of nutritious foods is also linked to improvements in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Bonus!

Plan Your Favourite Foods into Your Day

The worst thing you can do to manage your emotional eating is to create a set of rules around what you can and can’t eat. I guarantee that rulemaking will only lead you to rebellion and eating the forbidden food in large quantities.

When you restrict something that you like eating, you will do two things to satisfy two sides of yourself.

Firstly, you’ll create the rule to satisfy the part of yourself that’s fed up with the poor food behaviour. It makes you feel in control and that you’re taking action towards making yourself better.

Secondly, and conversely, you delay the restriction (and the rule) until tomorrow so that you can eat your favourite food now and satisfy the part of you that loves this food and feels like it needs it to cope.

The result of this is constant delayed restriction of: “I’ll start the diet tomorrow.”, or “I’ll cut out chocolate tomorrow.” is a frustrating merry-go-round as tomorrow never comes. You’re always living in today and today; you’re allowed to eat it because tomorrow it’s off-limits.

The best way to overcome this is to plan your favourite foods intentionally and purposefully into your day. In the context of a vegetable-rich, well-balanced diet there is plenty of room for something delicious and not as nutritious. Let yourself eat it!

Allowing yourself to eat the food makes you think more about whether you really want it and helps you make a more balanced choice!

If you’d like further help with your nutrition during this time, The Healthy Eating Clinic has a special lockdown package available that saves you 25% off nutrition support.

It includes three nutrition consultations with a dietitian, a one month membership to The Healthy Eating Hub online program and a recipe eBook.

See for more information.


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