How to Deal with Food and Feelings in Frightening Times

12 September 2020 | Written by Xenia Ayiotis

Right now, the world out there feels like a scary movie. Half the world is in varying degrees of lockdown. People are isolating at home. Most people are stressed and anxious. Some are working from home, which comes with its own set of challenges. Others are not working or earning an income, and feeling stress about finances. Many people are experiencing a sense of isolation, boredom or loneliness.

How do we cope in times like these? We can throw ourselves into work, spend hours worrying, get busy and clean the house furiously, watch Netflix series or we can eat.

People who had eating challenges before the pandemic are particularly triggered right now, but people who had no challenges, are also struggling.

Covid-19 is causing huge economic disruption. Many people are losing their jobs and stressed about access to food, and on the other hand, people who have access to food are feeling guilty about overeating and maybe ashamed because there are so many who don’t have food right now. Eating has become complicated.

Let’s look at the role of food in our lives. Think about it. When we were crying babies, the first thing our caregivers gave us, was milk.  From an early age food became a source of comfort. Food is emotional. Each significant life experience is honoured with food. We celebrate with food, we connect with food, we mourn with food. We need food for our survival.

Eating to cope can be through grazing unconsciously all day, snacking regardless of hunger, or it can be binge eating on large quantities of food. Mindless eating is very often done out of habit or as a result of milder feelings like boredom or frustration. Binge eating is usually in response to stronger emotions. Both forms of eating serve to distract or numb unpleasant emotions. People eat emotionally in response to unmet needs and right now, we are living in an unusual and difficult time. Most of us are experiencing many unmet needs. Our core human needs include safety, security and human interaction which are all seriously lacking these days. Food provides some relief and pleasure, acting as an anaesthetic for the difficulty in our lives.Emotional eating is seen by many as a coping failure, it’s seen as a sign of weakness or lack of control. Perhaps we need to change our view of it and instead see it as a coping mechanism?

A more compassionate approach would be to view emotional eating in a non-judgemental way. Many people feel guilty and ashamed about overeating or eating to cope. What if we replaced the judgement with curiosity? By being curious about why we are eating, we are more able to get to know our triggers. During times of crisis and lockdown, these triggers include:

  • The news and media
  • Feeling isolated and alone
  • Anxiety about the future
  • Boredom and lack of purpose
  • Feeling overwhelmed – managing work and kids at home
  • Mental, emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Frustration and difficulty at home
  • Financial stressors

If you are struggling with food right now, you are not alone. Try and be understanding with yourself. You are simply trying to cope. Replace criticism with compassion.

Here are 10 practical things you can do:

1. The first step is to gain the awareness of how you are eating. Are you eating because you are hungry or are you eating to cope?

2. Get to know your triggers by observing (kindly) when you overeat. What’s going on around you? What are you thinking?

3. Ask yourself, am I hungry? If the answer is “no”, what is it that you are needing in the moment? Is it comfort, relief, stimulation? Here is a comprehensive list of questions you can ask yourself before eating.

4. Practice this acronym:

5. You can also choose to give yourself permission to eat to cope with difficult emotions but to do it with awareness. Here is a step by step process.

6. You may want to explore alternative coping strategies that can help reduce stress levels, like meditation, prayer, breathing, yoga or an activity that is soothing.

7. Resist forwarding memes about gaining weight during lockdown, they can be very harmful, triggering and also shaming for people who struggle with eating disorders and yo-yo dieting. Weight gain is certainly not the worst thing that can happen to us during this time.

8. Here are 3 meditations you can use for difficult moments:

9. As difficult as this may sound, another approach is to actually feel the feelings. To become aware of the feeling, accept it and allow it. This is not an easy practice and I recommend you do this gently by touching the emotion for a short while but not for too long if it’s too difficult. More on this here.

10. When in doubt BE KIND; BE KIND; BE KIND.

May we find the courage and strength to get through this time with grace, kindness and patience for ourselves and others.

Wishing you peace in turbulent times.

Love,
Xen

If you are struggling with food or anxiety right now, coaching can help. I am accepting new clients for Life Coaching and Mindful Eating Coaching using a secure video programme. Email me if you would like to set up a time.

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