How to Deal with Food and Feelings in Frightening Times

How to Deal with Food and Feelings in Frightening Times

Filed Under: Emotional Eating

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.


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.

“From our first meeting - two faces on Zoom across the world from each other, there was a sense of familiarity and comfort that was a healing balm for a lifetime of food struggles and dieting. Without realizing how much damage I had done to myself by adhering, for decades, to restrictive food plans and rigid diet programs, Xen had a way of redirecting the harsh and negative self-talk and sending me forth each week with compassion, mindfulness and a new way of seeing myself in the here and now. Gone are the maybe somedays, and if-only, and when-I’m-smaller thinking. Now I am committed to the imperfect and rocky path to listening to my body, accepting my perfect imperfections, and rejecting diet mentality. Those negative voices will revisit me from time to time, I know, but Xen has offered valuable tools for meeting each day as a fresh start - another choice, another chance. Her devotion to this work and her belief in her clients is a remarkable gift; I am so fortunate to have found her. It is never too late to let go of the drama and embrace joy, ease and self-acceptance.”

Karen L, Denver, USA

“I felt hopeless and helpless in my daily struggle with mindless eating for many years. Then I found Xen which is exactly what I needed! My decision to work with her helped me to finally repair my relationship with food. It's changing my life for the better, one day at a time. Now I have control over the food, instead of it having control over me, which is the way it should be. I highly recommend Xen to anyone who has a desire to overcome similar food struggles. Xen, thank you from the bottom of my heart!”

Karen J, Colorado, USA

“I reached out to Xenia because 2021 started on a tumultuous note for me. Between deaths, businesses suffering, hospitalizations, and job losses in our personal circle, I felt depleted and found myself being available for everyone but myself. Then I was hit with an unexpected health diagnosis, which was the last straw as it meant giving up “healthy foods” and workouts that I leaned on for my well-being and stability. Despite working in wellness (Yes, coaches and healers are vulnerable too!), I found myself reaching out to desserts for comfort. I like to live a life of permissions (not labels or deprivation leading to bingeing), so I wanted to work with someone who approached healing from a place of mindful compassion. I didn’t want to be my own client. Xenia was great in reminding me to be kind to myself. Working with her, brought me peace and helped shift my mindset. I love how desserts and I look at each other now.”

Sweta Vikram, New York, USA

“Working with Xenia was amazing. She armed me with a bunch of tools to help me through difficult times. Xenia is the kind of person who really cares for helping you in the long run. Her work will forever have an impact in my life.”

Daniela Velásquez, Ottawa, Canada

“Working with Xen was a game changer for me. After working together for a few months my relationship with food radically changed. I no longer felt like a failure. I now have the tools to nourish my body with foods that feel good in my body. I don’t feel guilty about eating cake or chocolate, I also don’t overeat cake and chocolate. I no longer feel the need to exercise to compensate for my eating. I feel much more free around eating and I am more accepting of my body. Xen has a nonjudgmental and compassionate approach to coaching and really supports you in the process.”

Rachel, Dublin, Ireland

“Working with Xen has been very empowering. Her approach is so refreshing from the usual. I have learned that I am in charge and that I get to choose what I put in my body and how to move my body in a way that I like! I get to make my own choices. It’s so liberating. Once you get a taste of freedom with food, there is no turning back to old ways! Thanks Xen for guiding me along the way to freedom.”

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“This is the answer for those of you that struggle with food and all that surrounds it. Xenia said that I could make peace with food and it seemed at the time like an impossible dream. Turns out it isn’t. I recommend Xen and the mindful eating / intuitive eating approach unreservedly. If you have any questions about my experience, please get in touch. Thank you Xen. My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐”

Michelle, Johannesburg, South Africa

“Xenia was a walking, living, breathing example of what can be done. I laughed and cried my way through a short course in this fascinating and invigorating programme with her, and have gained a designer tote full of coping skills that go way beyond containing kilogrammes. I feel infinitely lighter. I am doing this for me and, yes, you can do this for you too! And believe me, I’m cynical!”

Diana, Vancouver, Canada

“I don’t obsess about food like I used to. I am thinking differently about food and feeling so much more relaxed around all types of food. It’s wonderful to have pleasure and satisfaction from eating.”

Sarah, Illinois, USA

“I learned a new way of thinking about food. I have learned that food is not the enemy and that it can actually be enjoyed with no guilt.”

Sandy, London, United Kingdom

Certified by The Life Coach School Certified and Trained by The Original Intuitive Eating Pro Professional Member of The Center for Mindful Eating