The coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed the way people live and work. And with many of them finding themselves just steps away from the refrigerator every day, it’s too easy to relieve the stress by reaching out for your favorite snacks.
It’s not hard to see why stress eating is reaching an all-time high in the wake of the pandemic. Time and again, research has shown that people tend to have a stronger appetite and greater desire to seek out food when they experience stress at work, at home, or in other situations.
A June 2020 survey in Australia found that people with a history of eating disorders reported an increase in restricting, binge-eating, purging, and exercise behaviors since the start of the pandemic. Another survey in the International Journal of Eating Disorders in July revealed that nearly a third of Americans with the binge-eating disorder also reported an increase in episodes.
Why is Stress Eating Harmful?
Now more than ever, we need to be more mindful of how rising levels of anxiety and stress can disrupt our regular eating habits and throw off a balanced diet. It’s easier said than done because stress-eating is a silent and insidious problem. Food may provide temporary comfort and distraction, but it does little to address the actual problem and just adds to your stress over time.
If the urge to snack is always your go-to when life gets out of control, you need to watch out for signs that can lead to serious health problems. What people don’t often realize is that stress-eating can be way more destructive than it seems.
One of the most obvious physical effects of stress eating is that you’ll gain weight from consuming all those calories and carbs. Overeating under stress will ruin your weight loss goals if you’re trying to stay fit and healthy.
The problem can also take a toll on your mental, emotional, and social well-being. From experiencing a deep and lasting sense of self-hatred or shame to preventing you from nurturing and maintaining healthy social relationships, emotional eating can quickly spiral out of control.
Try to connect the dots between your mood and food and check if you routinely find yourself binge-eating, purging, or eating in a secretive and isolative behavior. These are red flags that you may be developing severe eating disorders and should seek help.
Ways to Avoid Stress Eating While You’re Stuck at Home
It’s challenging to have the willpower or discipline to say no to food, especially when you’re so stressed out and anxious. Knowing your triggers is an important first step. Be mindful about your motivations for eating before you reach for the pantry door or go to the kitchen.
Here are some small yet meaningful adjustments you can make to get out of a stress-eating spiral successfully.
- Eat Healthy and Create Your Eating Schedule
Make the most out of your time at home by putting together healthy meals that give you the energy and minerals you need to fuel you and reduce overall stress. Sometimes, eating right is just not enough. Taking vitamins daily will also give your mind and body that extra push and resilience to handle life’s challenges better.
It may not be easy to stick to a strict schedule, but trying to set up some structure and finding a sense of normalcy will help you keep regular eating habits. Eat meals around the same time each day and make it consistent. This will not only prevent mindless munching but also help regulate those hunger hormones and insulin levels.
- Get Up and Move
With too much time on your hands, it’s hard not to become bored and snack. Putting in even a few minutes of that to exercise and any physical activity will reduce stress and make you resist overeating.
Ward off stress eating by committing to get up and move now and then. From gentle movements and simple stretches to walking, jogging, doing light yoga, signing up for an online fitness classroom or a YouTube workout, and even household chores—all these can improve your mood and are healthy strategies for managing stress.
- Watch Your Alcohol, Caffeine Intake
Wine in moderation is good for your health; too much, however, can weaken your immune response, impair your sleep, and lead to even more dangerous stress eating habits. While drinking a glass of wine or cocktail may seem like a tempting way to relax and cope with stress, it’s best to moderate alcohol consumption, especially if your stress levels are too high.
Limit how much caffeinated drink you intake, too, so you won’t have to deal with unnecessary jitters and anxiety and struggle with sleep. Instead of alcohol and coffee, pick up healthier habits by drinking enough water instead. Hydrating is not only best for your overall health, but it also helps keep stress and inflammation at bay.
Take the First Step to Wellness amidst the New Normal
At the end of the day, remember to be kind to yourself always. Take it one step at a time, and don’t put too much pressure as you try to create and navigate a new normal. The goal is not to beat yourself up but to try to have a sense of balance. Focus on the opportunities to take a step back and learn more about healthier and sustainable ways to cope with stress.