This week, I’m sharing my own true story. Here’s part one.
When the pandemic hit and people started shopping because they thought it was the end of the world, I was a bit late to the party. I missed the memo about buying toilet paper and ended up ordering mine from Wish.com but found tons of delicious treats in all of the other middle aisles in the supermarket. Suddenly, I was back to my childhood eating habits and had my kitchen stocked with Oreos of all varieties, sugary cereals, cookie dough, cake and brownie mixes, pasta, the list goes on. And I don’t have to tell you that watching the daily tragedies (a.k.a. the news) and not spending time with friends, family, or even my colleagues and getting up day after day only to put on stretchy pants and working in isolation quickly led to feelings of depression and overwhelming emotions.
To cope, I took indulging to new heights! Munching on junk food daily made me feel satisfied, albeit temporarily. As a result of my comfort food indulgences, my body changed, and not in a good way. Getting dressed and looking in the mirror were two normal daily events I wanted to avoid and, yes, my self-confidence took a nosedive. And while I did not become clinically depressed, I did end up in a terribly unhealthy cycle that I needed to disrupt. This led me to take a fresh look at why so many of us use food as a coping mechanism.
Whether it’s related to the pandemic or another stress, it’s important to have healthy coping mechanisms to let off steam and stay healthy. Some meditate, exercise, or keep a journal to relieve stress. As you may know, two of my favorite ways to destress and cope are spending time with my dog, Milo, and my horses. Unfortunately, many of us also cope in much more negative ways, like you read in my little story above. Our team of licensed psychologists and therapists in Tampa are aware of the worries and fears in the world right now and want to go over this topic below.
It’s no secret that eating our favorite treats makes us feel good. But when this is used to help you forget about depression, anxiety, or other overwhelming emotions, too much of a good thing can be bad. Why do we turn to food to make us feel better when times are rough?
In an article by Cortney S. Warren Ph.D., she suggests that eating serves as both a way for us to reduce our negative emotions and as a welcomed distraction from the challenges in our lives. Our bodies also crave food higher in fat and sugar when stressed. Warren goes on to discuss how emotional eating can lead to unwanted aftereffects like regret, physical discomfort, and weight gain. These can lead to a loss of self-confidence, depression, and lifelong health issues.
Curbing Your Appetite
It may be hard to avoid junk food when stressed, but you CAN break your COVID-19 eating habits and return to a healthier state of mental and physical well-being. Dr. Warren shared the following tips:
- Be aware of your feelings – Reflect each day on how you feel and whether it’s leading you to crave food in an unhealthy way.
- Recognize your triggers – Become clear about when you’ll most likely want to eat. Make conscious choices about your eating and avoid triggers if possible.
- Get social support – Turn off the news, avoid social media, and get in touch with a loved one, friend, or a member of our team to talk about how you’re feeling.
- Start fresh – If you had a rough day, start again tomorrow. Beating yourself up about past eating is not going to help.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
Here are a few tips to help you overcome your unhealthy habits:
- Get the temptations out of your house. When we’re stressed and at home for so long, being surrounded by delicious, unhealthy food can make self-control unnecessarily difficult. Go through your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to remove foods you’re ready to stop eating. Changing our environment is one very effective way of changing our behavior.
- Another strategy to help break the cycle of emotional eating is to get out of the house. Rice Psychology Group suggests going for a jog, walking your dog, or even gardening. Your mind and body can feel better when you start moving!
- Indulge in some helpful reading like the following:
- InDISTRACTable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal has amazing tips about managing urges and temptations to help with better, all-around coping and life management.
- A second book that I found extremely helpful for understanding how to change behavior is called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. It has amazing information that can be useful.
Here’s part two of my story:
Happily, the status of eating to cope in my house is looking much better now than it did a few months ago. It wasn’t easy, but I cleaned out my pantry, talked with a friend to figure out the what, whys, and hows of making some important changes to my shopping and eating habits, and picked a day to start it all. I had a full medical checkup, including bloodwork, and got some assistance from my primary care doctor that helped me to reframe some of my challenges in a more positive and less shaming light. I’ve also made a commitment to working out with a partner on Zoom regularly. With all of that said, I am pleased to report that food has moved closer to the “food as fuel” category and somewhat away from the “food mostly as comfort” category, and I’m on my way to a healthier life!
We Can Help in Tampa!
Our psychologists in Tampa know the impact that stress and anxiety can have on health. And whether you or a loved one is turning to food or other unhealthy habit to feel better, we can help. We offer a judgment-free environment to provide positive steps to feel better about your situation. We currently offer private, online sessions via telehealth as well as a limited number of telehealth and in-person evaluations for all ages. Please feel free to contact us today to schedule your free consultation.