Understandably, it’s a challenging and uncertain time at the moment with the outbreak of Coronavirus (Covid-19), Tamara Willner, a registered nutritionist with Second Nature, an NHS-backed ‘smart diet’ which allows people to diet at home through an app, has qualified dietitians who can comment on topics ranging from what to eat to boost your immune system, to eating healthily while at home. The digital programme is more relevant now than ever, particularly with practising healthy habits to keep our bodies as healthy as possible.
The recent government advice regarding the outbreak of the Coronavirus means that the majority of us will either be in social isolation or socially distancing ourselves from public places. Isolation of any kind can be extremely frustrating and negatively impact our mental health as well as our physical health.
The goal of this post is to support us, who are currently well and in isolation or social distancing to remain feeling positive and healthy.
Between stress around uncertainty, working from home, and reduced social interaction, emotional eating might be particularly prevalent in the coming weeks.
Emotional eating occurs when food is used to soothe or suppress negative emotions such as isolation, anger, boredom, or stress. Often comfort or emotional eating ignore feelings of physical hunger that come from an empty stomach. The most common foods craved are usually ultra-processed, such as biscuits, crisps, chocolate, and ice cream. These foods are scientifically engineered to quickly target the pleasure receptors in our brains (https://www.secondnature.io/guides/nutrition/cant-stop-eating-junk-food).
Most of us experience emotional eating at one time or another. However, when emotional eating happens frequently, and food becomes the primary coping mechanism for a stressful situation, it can affect our health and mental wellbeing.
As emotional eating can be more likely when we’re isolating ourselves, these practical steps can help us navigate away from emotional eating episodes:
1) Know your trigger
Keeping a food diary of what we eat, how much we eat, and what we’re feeling when we eat can help us identify what triggers comfort eating. For some people, it’s boredom, whereas for others it’s stress, anxiety, or sadness.
2) Find a new outlet for emotion
Once we know what triggers our emotional eating, we can find other simple activities at home to manage these without food.
The best tasks to do to take our mind off food are cognitively challenging ones. This means going for a walk, meditation, or taking a bath may not be effective ways to distract ourselves. However, something that engages your brain can be a better distractor, such as sudoku puzzles, crosswords, brain training apps, chess or scrabble, calling a friend, playing a board game, listening to a podcast.
3) Be prepared
We can prepare for when we feel compelled to emotionally eat by noting down some ‘if/then’ scenarios. For example:
– ‘If I’m bored and feel the urge to buy unhealthy snacks, then I will do a crossword puzzle for 10 minutes’
– ‘If I feel lonely and start craving crisps or chocolate, then I will call my friend for a quick chat’
– ‘If I feel anxious and overwhelmed, then I will pause and read my book for 10 minutes.’
We can also prepare our environment, by avoiding having large amounts of ultra-processed foods (e.g. crisps, biscuits, ice cream, chocolate) in the house.
Instead, buying healthier wholefoods to snack on will mean we’re less likely to overeat and they’ll keep us feeling more satisfied. Stock up on things like:
– Unsweetened peanut butter
– High-quality dark chocolate (85%+)
– Frozen berries
– Natural yoghurt
– Plain Ryvita crackers
– Mixed nuts
– Hard cheeses
4) Take away the guilt
It’s important that we don’t harbour feelings of guilt when we do experience an episode of emotional eating. One way to do this is to avoid labelling foods as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘treat’ or ‘syn’.
This can foster a negative relationship with food and create an ongoing cycle of comfort eating. Instead, we can class foods as foods that we enjoy every day and foods that we enjoy less often