Are you finding that you’re having elevenses at 10 am? Eating pudding at lunchtimes? Having cake most days? Feeling bored at your desk close to the kitchen, so you often pop in for a munch or perhaps you’re having to work at the kitchen table and so you only have to lean towards a cupboard for a snack to distract yourself?
Many people in lockdown seem to be afflicted with an insatiable desire to eat. This is hardly surprising at this trying time.
The initial panic-buying, when there was uncertainty around food supplies lasting beyond a few weeks, seems to have been followed, for many, by an urge to eat much more and more often than usual.
You are probably familiar with the concept of the flight-fight response that stressful events precipitate, causing extreme physiological reactions to a perceived threat. So, stockpiling food and eating as if we don’t know when we might eat again can be understood as a primal urge. The very primitive part of our brain cannot distinguish between real or imagined life-threatening events.
So, we can forgive ourselves for over-indulging and blame our brain.
However, those who already have a propensity to comfort eat may be finding this situation triggers an even stronger need to suppress and squash down their feelings with food, even more at this time. The serotonin produced by doing so makes us feel good, at least in the short term.
The problem is that the challenging emotions will still be there after you’ve eaten, with the additional negative feelings of failure/shame/guilt (delete as appropriate).
So, if you feel your eating is getting out of control, what can you do to manage this urge to comfort eat?
You could see this time as an opportunity to explore your relationship with our emotions and our eating patterns.
Thinking about why you’re eating; what feeling are you trying to suppress and squash down with your food choices? Are you really hungry for food or do you need something else to satisfy you?
Are you bored?
Are you lonely?
Are you anxious?
Are you angry?
Maybe what you’re really hungry for is some company, some fun, a sleep, even a cry?
It may be that you are no longer in tune with when you are hungry and it might be worth taking time to connect with that sensation again.
Eat when you’re hungry, eat mindfully so you give your body a chance to feel full. Eat what you like, what you fancy, don’t restrict yourself. Think about what texture as well as flavour you’re in the mood for. Do you want something crunchy and fresh or something warm and creamy? Food is a sensual pleasure to be enjoyed.
With many of us with more time to prepare food from scratch, we are trying out some innovative recipes putting crazy combinations of foods together.
The whole ritual of preparing, presenting food, not only eating it, can be savoured. Relish the time you can eat together as a household or if you’re alone, eat virtually with your family and friends to make it a more sociable occasion and this will also help to avoid erratic eating habits.
When we become more aware of what we are really feeling and what we are really craving, we can find ways to deal with them in a healthier way. We can try comforting ourselves in other ways by listening to ourselves, showing ourselves compassion and begin to recognise what we genuinely desire.
It may be that a warm bath is what will soothe you, perhaps a nap, a crazy dance in the kitchen, a run, a chat with your pal, or to listen to your favourite podcast?
Taking time to listen to our needs and being kind to ourselves can calm the emotional and physical stress that fuels this unhealthy eating pattern. We can then leave eating for when we are truly physically hungry.