Getting Quarantine Snacking Under Control

You’re home. You’re bored. You’re lonely (or the opposite is true and you can’t get a second to yourself). You’re a little stressed…all the time. That’s a recipe for what the media is calling the “Quarantine 15.”

What we’re seeing here is people eating in response to how they feel, especially when they’re not even hungry. You may have heard the phrase, “eating your feelings.” Those feelings can be anything from boredom to loneliness to overwhelm to stress and beyond. When you eat emotionally, it means that your emotions – instead of your body – dictate when and how much you eat.

 

Did you know that about 75% of overeating is through emotional eating? That’s a big deal! But, it also shows that emotional eating happens to even the best of us. In fact, even the strongest, healthiest people you know are feeling the stress of quarantine. In this emotion-filled, uncertain, and just plain weird time, eating provides a momentary sense of satisfaction and pleasure. It is a way of suppressing feelings that may be unpleasant or even just filling time. In a way, it has a numbing or even distracting effect, because it’s far more fun to chow down on something warm and gooey than to address what’s actually bothering us. Which is probably a lot these days!


We get it. We’re stuck at home, too! But, we’re still all about helping you live a healthy lifestyle, easily and all the time. So, before the snack cravings hit, use these tips to make a smart choice rather than let your feelings dictate your eating.


1. Don’t Suppress Your Emotions

Eating is fun. Treats are exciting. We often take those positive associations with food and emotion and use them as our only tool to feel better. Often, we eat to regain happiness, or soothe ourselves. We may also use food as rewards. I got up and put on pants before getting on Zoom – I deserve a sleeve of Oreos, right?! Understanding what drives emotional eating can help us take steps to change it.

To get to the bottom of your snacking, invite your feelings to the surface and listen to your emotions. If you allow yourself to feel, you will discover what you truly want instead of using food as a way to numb your emotions or find temporary happiness and excitement. Try keeping a journal of what you eat, when, and your mood. Over time, you’ll see trends and be better acquainted with your triggers for emotional eating. Does snackiness strike when you’ve been on video conferences all day and are burned out? Or does it hit when you can’t think of anything else to do? Or do you find yourself plowing through a bag of chips while reading the news? Let yourself feel those feelings instead of suppressing them with food.


2. Eat Mindfully

Eating mindfully is all about taking it slow and enjoying your food for what it is. Learning how to eat mindfully is one of the most effective tools for a positive connection with food and mood. With so much time at home and so many distractions, many of us are guilty of “inhaling” our food without much pleasure, despite reaching for a snack for the pleasure factor. Most of us are in a consistent state of distraction and fogginess now.

 

So how do you eat mindfully? Start with taking it slow. Ask yourself if you are actually hungry for that snack. If so, are you picking something that you will regret later? Guilt or a stomach ache make that snack less enjoyable and really ruin the idea of having a treat. If you continue on with your snack, take a moment to use your senses before you eat. Taking time to use your senses heightens your awareness of what you are eating and allows your body time to enjoy the process. In between mouthfuls, take nice deep breaths so that your body can have time to digest in between bites and you can enjoy the food. If you’re eating, enjoy it. Don’t inhale and go right back to those feelings that caused you to reach in the fridge.


3. Discover Your Triggers

When it comes to eating, there are many forms of triggers, so it can be hard to really dig deep into what your trigger might be. For some, it might be boredom. For others, it could be stress or anxiety. Whatever your normal triggers are, you’re likely seeing them magnified these days. The best way to figure out your triggers is at the very first instance of feeling like you need to reach for something you shouldn’t – stop for a moment and see what is happening in your surroundings or within your emotions to work out what that trigger was.

 

You may have heard of the concept of HALT. This stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. Research has shown strong evidence that these four states tend to lead back to our bad habits – like emotional eating. Before grabbing food, ask yourself if you are truly hungry or if you are using food to mask anger (or aggravation, annoyance, frustration, irritation, etc.), loneliness (or sadness, emptiness, depression, ennui), and/or tiredness (or fatigue, feeling rundown, feeling overwhelmed, etc.).


You can also ask yourself these simple status questions:

  • Am I really hungry or am I bored?
  • Am I stressed and snacking comforts me?

HALT isn’t just an acronym – it’s a reminder to stop (aka halt) before acting. Slowing down and taking stock of your situation makes you more mindful and purposeful in your actions. That way, eating is done for a good reason. Hunger doesn’t have to be the only reason, of course. You may want to enjoy a treat. You may have spent all afternoon baking. There are lots of great reasons to eat – just make sure you have one of them.


4. Find Healthy Substitutes

Once you have a good understanding of the emotional side of your triggers, work on creating new habits to replace the comfort food brings you (like taking a walk, watching videos on YouTube, calling your BFF) or have healthy substitutes for your favorite treats.

 

Here are some examples of substitutes: If you reach for chocolate, stock up on raw almonds with cacao chocolate chips. If you love soda, grab a can of soda water and add a squeeze of lime or lemon. If you love chips, have carrot sticks and celery cut and ready. If you reach for ice cream, make a big batch of fresh fruit smoothie blended and frozen into popsicles.

 

Without a doubt, the biggest factor here is removing any and all trigger foods from your surroundings. If your pantry has food that you can’t keep away from and, instead of just enjoying it, you feel bad later or wish you hadn’t eaten it – throw it out. Yes, it may seem like a waste, but you’ll also open up space to create a healthier environment. If it’s not there, it’s pretty darn hard to get it these days. You need to plan ahead and go to a lot of effort to get your favorite junk now, so use that to your advantage.


5. Don't Restrict Yourself

The final step to getting your emotional eating under control is to avoid restrictive diets and styles of eating. Now is really not the time for that. It’s not going to help anything, and it will just make you absolutely miserable. Who needs that with all of this craziness, anyway? When you restrict your diet, your body will suddenly crave what it is lacking (salt, sugar, fat, carbs), and your mind will go haywire thinking about those foods. You don’t stand a chance in being able to cope with emotional situations when you’re like this. Your body will require balance when it comes to eating so that you are better equipped to deal with triggers.


This quarantine won’t last forever, but we’re likely to be spending plenty of time at home for a while. Be patient with yourself and just keep getting in touch with your emotions and what you do to deal with them. This is healthy for your snacking habits as well as your overall quality of life. Take care of yourself!