It’s been nearly a year since the first COVID-19 lockdown which I’m sure has made some of us very familiar with emotional eating. I can’t say this year has been easy. Unfortunately, when I’m stressed out, I eat.
According to the American Psychological Association, 27% of adults say they eat to manage stress and 34% of those who report overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress say this behavior is a habit. That being said, I’m certainly not alone in feeling that food can be comforting in times of stress or anxiety.
Pre-COVID, I was already suffering from bouts of anxiety and depression. This led to some poor health choices, including binge eating and perhaps drinking too much from time to time. Thankfully, I worked on this fairly diligently for months before COVID-19 began to spread to the point of state-wide lockdowns. Let me tell you — when lockdown happened, all my hard work went out the window.
The Difficultly of Habitual Emotional Eating
It’s funny how habits get ingrained in our brains. We can go back to old habits if the new ones aren’t practiced for long enough. Being stuck at home for long periods of time can have a negative effect on how we treat our bodies. And by “treat”, I mean we give ourselves so. many. treats! When you’re stuck at home all the time, it’s hard to avoid food temptations!
I’m not here to tell you how to stop emotional eating out of stress or anxiety. I’m not a therapist. I have no clue where to begin trying to tell someone how to stop eating because they’re sad. It doesn’t always work like that. I’m here to let you know that you are not the food you eat when you didn’t know how else to cope. We all have different coping mechanisms. For the time being, food might make you feel safe, even if only for a little bit. But doesn’t that saying go, “You are what you eat?” Sure, but you aren’t ALWAYS emotional the way you would be during your first-ever global pandemic? I think we should all have a little more sympathy for ourselves when it comes to emotional eating and mourning the coming and going of a devastating 2020.
Let us also celebrate the good times 2020 brought. Humans are innovative, and we have found so many different platforms for which we can get together. With that innovation comes the inspiration for a better 2021.
Here are a few reasons you should forgive yourself this year with more empathy, even if/when you eat your emotions from time to time!
Are you showing gratitude for making it through 2020? I don’t know about you, but this is the second province-wide lockdown for me in Canada. I’m really proud of myself for adjusting to the wackiness that is 2020: working from home, social distancing, as well as all concerts and music festivals canceled! Although I have broken down and over-indulged many times in the past 10 months, I can also proudly say that I’ve bounced back much faster after each “set-back”. It’s empowering knowing you have access to all this food and it has the power to help you feel better, even if only temporarily. Find gratitude in being able to share these moments with (or without) family, especially during the holidays, which are usually a tougher time for many who suffer from emotional eating habits.
Find surrender in other activities
By the end of the day, I want to veg out. I don’t want to think about work or the things I need to do tomorrow. Sometimes I can forego emotional eating in times of stress, but the past 10 months have been a rollercoaster of uncertainty. I implemented some rules a month into lockdown. The first was that I needed to be active every single day. The second was that I needed to forgive myself for overeating when I went to go visit my Mom. Following these two rules have been imperative in keeping me sane over the past 10 months.
Firstly, being active every day, even a simple 20-minute walk, has been a form of meditation for me. Regardless of the calories I’m burning, I know I’m stepping away from my screen and getting some fresh air. And seeing people has been surprisingly exciting! Secondly, family stress tends to hit me the same way lockdown has. It makes me want to shut down and just enjoy a box of donuts. When I do, I don’t even question it. I have already agreed to let this go and start fresh right after. It’s important to get to the root cause of why this makes me want to indulge in a whole box of donuts, though. Even though I allow myself to do it, I need to find time to question this habit rather than let it continue.
Learn to treat yourself
Let go of judgment for yourself. Emotional eating during a pandemic is going to look different than emotional eating from family stress or when someone is mad at you. Forgive yourself and move on, because unless you are perfect, it is likely this may happen again. Instead, try to find foods that can help balance out your emotional cravings. If you know you’re going to eat a pint of ice cream while watching a movie at night, balance it out with a light salad. Even better, eat something nice and filling before, so you are too full to eat your ice cream! You don’t only have to treat yourself to 85% dark chocolate or half a sliced apple. You can indulge in something “naughtier” without worrying about health or weight implications.
Don’t throw salt on the wound
You’re already feeling stressed and anxious about what will happen tomorrow, next week, next year, so why continue to feel bad about it? Is it helping you get over your stress, or is it just contributing to it? Call a friend, write about it, go for a walk, or listen to a podcast. Find something that can help dig you out of the emotional hole. If you can’t find anything to make you feel better, feel the anger, sadness, or whatever it is you feel. The worst thing you can say to someone who’s sad is to “get over it.” Feel whatever you have to feel. We all know it isn’t always easy to get over it, otherwise, overeating likely could have been avoided.
Whatever you decide to do in 2021, make sure you carry gratitude for making it through 2020. Not only did you have to fight the COVID-19 scare, but you also had to work through forgiving yourself for overindulging. You are your toughest critic. Let up the reins a bit, and let your body run its course. Take the time after an overindulgence to sit with the 5 W’s: what you ate, why you ate it, when you ate it, where you were, and who you were with. You may start to notice some patterns and have a better understanding of why you did what you did. Take what you’ve learned and apply it to the next potential “slip-up”. Forgive yourself, because only you will notice you’ve overeaten!
Chelsea has been active most of her life, which led her to become a Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor for the past 7 years. Health and Fitness are not solely dependent on movement, though, and with that understanding, she addresses her client’s other needs, such as diet, mindfulness, and stress management.
When she is not training clients or teaching Yoga, she is finding new activities that keep her mind and body active, such as rock climbing, hiking, listening to podcasts, or playing Board Games with friends. She is constantly working towards: Finding natural solutions to live as long as possible, inclusive Yoga for all body types, and aiming to find mindfulness in everything she does.