Rush University Medical Center

COVID-19 Anxieties: Six Tips To Avoid Stress Eating When Social Distancing

It’s no secret that social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak can bring stress with it. The weight of a national epidemic and being cooped up at home can take a toll on one’s mental health. As the anxiety mounts and the ability to leave the house is limited, one can easily turn to food for comfort.

While we may joke and post memes online about eating all day when being forced to stay inside, emotional eating can negatively affect your health – both physically and mentally.

With a 24-hour news cycle that can be easily overwhelm a person, trying to limit your snacking habits and curb overeating can be extremely difficult. This is especially true when you are working from home and in close quarters with your pantry.

While it may be hard to avoid snacking just to snack or looking to junk food to cope with COVID-19 fears, it can be done.

Joyce A. Corsica, PhD, director of outpatient psychotherapy and director of bariatric psychology at Rush and Mackenzie Kelly, PhD, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Rush, shared six tips to avoid emotional eating during social distancing.

Tip 1: Structure your day

One of the main reasons people end up overeating when at home is the lack of structure in one’s day. Social distancing will more than likely throw your day to day routine out wack.

Having a set schedule and sticking to it will help you avoid aimlessly wandering into the kitchen for an unneeded snack or meal.

“Include chunks of time for work, relaxation/exercise, eating, and communication with others,” Corsica suggests. “If you have an outline planned, you are less likely to feel like the day is a big empty space which can make you feel rudderless and may lead to overeating.”

Tip 2: Keep it healthy and prep your meals

Both Kelly and Corsica said meal prepping was a great way to curb unwanted snacking.

“Plan out your meals and snacks at the beginning of the day,” Kelly said. “If you wait until you’re hungry to decide what you’re going to eat, you may end up eating more or choosing something higher in calories than if you had planned your meal and snacks in advance.”

Corsica added that you can even add snacks to your meal plan. Knowing that you have a healthy snack in the lineup can stop you from eating too much in between meals.

Along with prepping your meals, making sure you are still eating healthy is also important. While it may be convenient to buy processed foods, these types of foods make it easier for one to overeat. Do your best to buy healthy options when you have the chance.

“If you have access to processed foods, they can cause you to lose control over what and how much you eat, consider removing them from the house,” Corsica said. “At the very least, make them harder to access.”

Tip 3: Avoid boredom cravings

When one is bored, the easiest thing to do is fill that time with food. When you are stuck in the house with no intentions of leaving for a while, the boredom can really ramp up. When this boredom ramps up, your desire to continually eat can rise as well.

The best way to stay away from boredom cravings? Keep yourself busy!

“If you feel stuck, bored, lost, or frustrated, try to understand and label the feeling and then decide what you can do about it,” Corsica suggests. “That might be finding a smaller task to work on, changing tasks entirely, taking a break, or checking in with a colleague.”

To keep yourself busy, try switching things up. Don’t just binge watch Netflix for 12 hours straight, but rather watch TV for a while then work on a puzzle or read book, maybe put your knowledge to the test with a few brain games. If you’re working from home, make sure to take breaks!

Tip 4: Keep your em’ separate

In other words, your bedroom should not act as your dining room. Having a separate space to eat and drawing the line saying food should not be in your sleeping quarters is a great way to curb late snacking and overeating.

“Designate one place in your home as the place where you will eat and try to keep your work and relaxation spaces in your home separate from where you eat,” Kelly suggests.

The ideal living situation is limiting all eating to your kitchen area. This can prove difficult for people who are now working from home and may be using their kitchen table as a desk. If you are working at the kitchen table, consider moving to another chair when it’s time to eat.

Other techniques to put into place include avoiding eating and working at the same time. When it comes to TV on the couch and decide you want something to eat: you should get up, eat in the kitchen, and then return to the couch when you are done.

Tip 5: Look for other ways to manage your stress

If you have the news on or are frequently checking your phone for updates or social media posts, this may be contributing to your stress. Try changing the channel, turning off the TV, or putting your phone down. You can always check in later to learn of any updates.

If you are feeling stressed or anxious, look for other ways to address your emotions. Try calling a friend or family members, clean out a closet or drawer, streaming a free at-home exercise class, or any other healthy strategy you may have used to help reduce stress in the past. 

Tip 6: Stay connected

This last tip is one that’s is imperative for both haulting stress eating and improving your mental health overall. Make sure to stay connected! It can be easy to isolate yourself from others when social distancing. While you may not be able to go see your friends and family in person, you can use the technology available to keep in touch with loved ones. Host a virtual Netflix watch party, Facetime loved ones frequently, and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and give them a call.

As we continue to protect ourselves and others from the spread of COVID-19, social distancing is going to be a major player in that game plan. Social distancing can and more than likely will lead to stress and anxiety. It is easy to turn to food for comfort but there are steps to curb the urge and stay healthy.

Don’t be afraid to reach out and lean on loved ones around you. Stay positive and stay safe. Just because you are distancing yourself form physical contact doesn’t mean you need to isolate yourself completely.

 




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