7 tips to resist over-eating in self-isolation

I’ve seen a lot of memes going around making jokes about the tendency to overeat whilst we’re in isolation – pics of little chubbies in bikinis, fridges shouting at us to leave them alone, tips about wearing a facemask not to prevent infections but over-eating. These things do the rounds because people relate to them. They’re funny because they’re true!

Do you find yourself visiting the kitchen or pantry more often? I do!!

There are usually many possible reasons for over-eating, but at this time during self-isolation or lock-down, the main reasons I recognise are

  1. Boredom
  2. Comfort

Note that HUNGER is not one of them!

There’s nothing wrong with eating when you’re hungry, but eating when you’re not comes teeming with potential consequences including weight gain, blood sugar dysregulation, energy fluctuations, mood swings, gut microbiome imbalance and digestive sluggishness, to name only a few.

So we’re stuck inside, bored, maybe a bit sad or worried, with nothing to do, feeling deprived of our usual fun activities & favourite people around. We love food and eating, they give us something to do and a good feeling. It’s normal to be attracted to our comfort foods right now, and resisting them can be very challenging in these circumstances – especially when many of us are surrounded by chocolate after Easter!

But I certainly don’t want to be stimulating the economy when it’s over by having to buy bigger clothes! What can we do about it?

Exercise your emotional muscles

Before you reach for the chips or chocolate, ask yourself: Am I really hungry? Am I just bored, am I lonely, am I sad, am I anxious or stressed? Stop, close your eyes, check in with your inner world, your tummy, your mind, and ask yourself what you really want.

Have a glass of water and check in again in 10 minutes time.

Are you bored?

What else can you do? Go for a walk, play a game, read a book, draw a picture, make a phone-call…. Make a list of alternatives and stick it on your fridge door!

Are you lonely?

What else can you do? Write a letter, make a phone call or video call, chat on instant messaging, scroll through social media (with conscious intent to connect with friends!), do some journaling. Create a mindmap or simple list of things you can do when you’re feeling lonely and refer to it when you need a friend.

Are you feeling anxious or depressed?

Comfort eating is common in this case and lots of foods affect your mental health, for good AND for bad. What else makes you feel good? A calming cup of herbal tea, an uplifting podcast or Netflix program, a meditation, deep breathing, a walk or some other exercise, listening or dancing to music, a chat with a trusted friend.

Again, create a strategic list for times like this.

Resistance is wise!

If your craving is very strong, and you know you should resist even though you secretly want an excuse to give in to it, here are some tips to help:

  1. Wait 10 minutes – cravings often dissipate after a short time

  2. Distract yourself – a walk, a phone-call, deep breathing. Refer to your comfort and boredom lists!

  3. Drink a glass of water – remember how your mum always said, drink water because you’re probably thirsty not hungry? She was right!

  4. Brush your teeth – that minty fresh feeling doesn’t like to be disturbed! I have personally noticed that if I have garlic or onion breath, I often crave chocolate or something fatty. This is because the fats can neutralise the sulphur compounds causing the garlic breath. Brushing my teeth in this case also helps disarm the craving.

  5. Have healthy foods ready and available – in my house we ALWAYS have a container of freshly washed and cut raw vegetables like carrots, celery, capsicum, cucumber, snow peas and/or sugar snap peas. I just prepare these whenever I am preparing other foods, it’s no big deal, just a matter of getting into the habit. Snack on these before putting anything else in your mouth.

  6. Hide naughty foods away! Preferably, don’t even buy junk food so it’s not there to tempt you. But if you do, keep it out of sight like behind other stuff in the fridge or on the top shelf in the pantry. If it’s there open on the bench, it’s too easy to grab a biscuit or handful of chips every time you go into the kitchen. Just seeing it will make you want to eat it. For the same reason, don’t watch commercial TV with all those tempting junk food advertisements! Those big companies spend a lot of money designing campaigns they know will trigger you.

  7. Eat complete, satisfying and balanced meals. Don’t graze your way through the day, plan your meals and snacks with healthy intent.

Preventing & resisting cravings

Stress tends to drain our body of nutrient reserves including amino acids, vitamins and minerals that are important for the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and GABA which keep your brain chemistry and moods in balance. Sometimes cravings are an indication of nutrient deficiencies.

Cravings for sweets or refined carbohydrates (eg bread) could suggest a need for more protein or healthy fats to help balance blood glucose levels. They may also indicate a need for magnesium, chromium, tryptophan or phosphorus.

Craving salty foods could show a requirement for minerals like sodium or potassium.

However, cravings often indicate a simple preference or even addiction to that food.

Thus, the best thing to do to prevent emotional eating is consume a well-balanced, nutritious diet to start with, including lots of vegies, quality protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.

If you happen to overeat, don’t feel guilty about it or fall into the self-sabotage trap. Accept your mistake and move on.   Make a commitment to look after yourself better going forward.

Finally, beware of those comfy leisure-wear leggings! This whole article was inspired by a great quote from Elizabeth Taylor, who was well known for her struggles with rollercoasting weight:

I think you should dress yourself with pride and interest… [However] I know I’ll never again buy clothes with elastic waistbands. They’re dangerous because they allow you to put on pounds and feel comfortable.

Ain’t that the truth? I’ve been living in my leggings during lockdown because a) they’re comfortable and b) I’m ready to exercise any time. But I must admit I was worried that my normal clothes wouldn’t fit me.

I hope some of these tips help you to maintain good health during this time when the temptations to overeat comfort foods are all around you.

What would you add? Sign-in to leave a comment! I’d love to hear your ideas (don’t worry I won’t spam you or sell your details).

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