PART 1: Top Tips for Healthy Eating at Home
Craving and Emotional Eating
The new normal and tips on how to handle it
By Dr. Florencia Halperin
My new normal, like yours, isn’t normal at all.
Our lives have changed dramatically in a matter of weeks. We’re worried about COVID-19, anxious about our jobs, stuck at home, and uncertain when life will go back to the way it was.
My thoughts have been with my patients and people like them who struggle to maintain a healthy weight. When our routine’s been disrupted, and we feel alone, stressed, or simply bored, cravings and emotional eating can be at their worst.
To help you in the battle against cravings during the new normal of Coronavirus, I’m sharing some strategies that research has shown to be effective, and that my patients over the years have found very helpful.
Why do we eat?
Let’s start with why we eat. We eat for many reasons — hunger, of course, is one of them.
I ask patients to get in touch with why they’re eating at any given time. If you’re not hungry, what is leading you to eat?
Conditioning: Are you conditioned to eat in certain situations — when you get out your laptop to do work in the evening, or on the couch while watching TV?
Replacing an emotion: Stress, boredom, loneliness, anxiety, anger… are you using food to help soothe the emotions you feel?
Restricting your eating: Are you being too restrictive with your diet? Are your meals leaving you satisfied? Over-restriction can be a trigger for over-eating.
Getting little sleep: Research shows that sleep deprivation increases cravings for carbs.
When we get in touch with why we’re eating, we can switch to other (healthier) options when it’s not about hunger.
Here are strategies that can help curb cravings.
New Normal. Pause.
If you’re craving something, try pausing before eating and check in with yourself. How am I feeling? Why am I feeling this way? Does it make sense that I’d be hungry now, or do I have any physical signs of hunger — is my stomach growling? Make sure you pause before you open the refrigerator door. It’s a lot to ask of yourself to explore your emotions when you are staring at your favorite comfort food.
If you’re thinking about a cookie or two for that 3 pm slump, pause. If you can identify that this is not hunger, but boredom (or any other emotion), then help yourself find an alternative way to soothe the feeling. Plan ahead of time, so when the craving strikes, you’ve already thought of other ways to deal with the emotion — walk, workout, meditate, call a friend…make a list of things that might work for you!
And sometimes just a longer pause can help you defeat the craving — cravings fade in about 20 minutes if we can let it pass.
New Normal, Old Schedule (with a twist)
Plan your day at home to mirror your 9–5 day in the office. Create a structure for yourself to help you get through the day effectively. Having structure helps in many ways, including for teaching our bodies predictable meal cues. If we eat at similar times every day, we learn to be hungry at that time. To avoid feeling hungry again (and snacking) soon after, make time for satisfying meals.
New normal. New temptations.
Let’s face it, when we’re working so close to our kitchens, it’s easier to act on triggers and cravings. Create an environment that helps you. Keep sweet treats out of sight — in opaque jars or on the top shelf. Put the healthy snack out in the open, keep a colorful fruit bowl in plain sight (we’re drawn to foods that look appetizing), and store pre-cut veggies at eye level in the fridge — small steps do make big difference.
Ate a candy bar? Don’t beat yourself up.
It happens. You’ve paused, recognized that you’re not hungry but continued to eat the bar of candy. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of negative emotions — eat to relieve the tension, but then feel badly again because of the eating behavior. Allow yourself to accept it, it happened, let it go and move on. Use some of these tips to deal with it differently next time. Know that these things take a lot of practice.
Trying to battle cravings is always difficult and may feel more so now. But in the end, the new normal doesn’t mean you don’t continue healthy habits and work toward your goals. Next time you have cravings, try these strategies.
I want to continue to support you through this time. Next week, I’ll share more information on healthy eating while staying home in Part 2 of this series.
Until then, be well.
Dr. Florencia Halperin is the Chief Medical Officer at Form Health. She is a Harvard-trained endocrinologist dedicated to helping people lose weight to improve their health.