If you’ve been struggling with stress eating during this most difficult period of self isolation and quarantine, believe me you aren’t alone. Internet jokes abound about the “Quarantine 15.” I’ve been struggling too, but the ramifications for me are more serious as an IBD patient. I’m in pretty stable shape, do not want to flare right now and definitely do not want to have to take immunosuppressants. I function best on a diet consisting mainly of proteins, vegetables and fruits. But I still go looking for my legal treats which are raisins and baked goods with almond flour, so I’m reviewing some recovery principles and tips to stop stress eating to help get back on track.
Identify Your Stress Triggers
It’s essential to know what causes you stress in the first place. Many times, specific things can trigger a stress response but for some people it can be an overall general feeling of stress. Some examples might be social media overload, watching sad reports on the news, talking to triggering people, feeling bored or overwhelmed. Start journaling how you feel, and note what’s triggering stress, anxiety and a desire to emotionally eat.
Learn to Practice Mindful Eating
Mindfulness is one of the best ways to deal with the stress that all of us are experiencing right now. It can help to start reducing how often you turn to food because of stress instead of actual physical hunger. It’s very simple to do. When you begin to feel stressed out, take a minute to do some simple breathing exercises, relax, and sit with your feelings for a minute or too.
It doesn’t mean starving yourself, but it helps you to recognize if you are actually hungry or just reacting to stress. Being more mindful is a wonderful way to start reducing how often you turn to food because of stress, and not physical hunger. When you start to feel stressed, take a moment to just take some deep breaths, relax, and sit with your feelings for a few minutes. This doesn’t mean you are going to deprive yourself and not eat, but first understand if you are hungry, or your brain is just reacting to the stress.
Most of the time we tend to stress eat because it’s a quick fix and a way to numb out what we’re feeling. But if we can learn to just sit with the feelings in a non-judgmental way, we’ll find that they will pass.
Don’t Deprive Yourself
If you’re on an extreme diet or skipping meals, you’re more likely to turn to food first to deal with stress or anxiety when they occur. You’re so hungry that you’re ready to eat anything, and might stuff down as much as you can to mask what you’re feeling, possibly leading to an all-out food binge And it probably will be the most convenient, unhealthy option.
Is It Emotional or Physical Hunger?
It’s essential to learn the difference between emotional and physical hunger. This is where learning mindfulness principles can really help you to understand if you’re actually hungry, or if your brain is looking for a dopamine hit. Here’s a few ways that you can tell the difference:
Signs of emotional eating include hunger coming on suddenly and for very specific comfort foods like carbs. It may lead to mindless or even binge eating. You might be eating even though you’re not even hungry. And worst of all, you feel sick and awful afterwards.
But if you’re physically hungry, you’re probably looking for a nourishing meal with some protein and a vegetable, maybe a small amount of bread. You’re satisfied when you’re full.
Easy and Healthy Comfort Food Ideas
What’s the Best Way to Eat for You?
Low carb and keto diets are everywhere right now. They’ve certainly helped lots of people but may not necessarily be the right thing for you, especially right now. You might also want to take a look at the Mediterranean Diet, Weight Watchers or something else. I personally follow the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to help manage my ulcerative colitis symptoms. It’s a healthy whole foods diet with lots of comfort food ideas (but I still have to be careful!)
Don’t do anything extreme right now. Some people might appreciate the distraction of counting macros, others might get really stressed out by out. Look and see how you might make your existing diet healthier. Look for ways to incorporate more fruit and veggies into your daily diet, using whole grains (or possibly eliminating them if they cause you trouble). Once you’ve identified the best way of eating for your individual health, you can then work on creating some healthy go-to comfort meals and snacks for you and your family.
The first thing you should do is consider what “healthy” means to you during this time. It is an important detail, because they will determine what kind of swaps or comfort foods you want to choose from. Maybe healthy means adding in more fruits and veggies, enjoying whole grains instead or processed grains, cooking more from scratch, or more specific options like low-carb or low-fat. Once you know this, you can work on finding the best healthy comfort foods for your family.
Healthy Food Substitutions
Begin by creating a list of your favorite comfort foods. What sounds best to you right now? It could be pizza, meatloaf, mac and cheese, grilled cheese, brownies cookies or ice cream. It really doesn’t matter what it is. Once you’ve done this, you can start researching simple swaps to make your meals healthier but still enjoyable.
An easy example to start with is by adding a few veggies alongside your scrambled eggs, or inside a grilled cheese sandwich, or add to a pizza. You can make amazing pizza crusts, cakes and cookies from almond and coconut flour that won’t spike your blood pressure. Experiment with “faux” starches instead of potatoes such as cauliflower, rutabagas and squash.
Make Your Favorite Comfort Foods Healthier
Think about what you can change about what you’re eating right now. Instead of having a taco plate with the all the works including rice and beans, why not just have the meat, cheese, veggies and avocado? You’re still having a taco experience, but with more nutrition and less bulk.
Instead of trying to take things away from your comfort dishes, focus instead on what you add in. You don’t have to take the shredded cheese and sour cream from your tacos, but what if you added shredded lettuce to them, and then have a side salad or other vegetable side dish? You are still enjoying your favorite tacos, but also having a lot more nutrition in your meal.
Start Cooking from Scratch
Hey, we’re all at home with time on our hands right now! It’s a great time to experiment with new recipes. I’ve become pretty home bound because of my chronic illness issues and I’ve used some of the time to try out amazing healthy dishes that have helped to stabilize my condition. Your overall health will be so much better!
Do you have any tips to help stop or reduce stress eating? I’d love to hear them!