I get it, believe me. We are stuck inside. That pantry full of delicious treats is just a little too close for comfort. One slip and suddenly you are face deep in a bag of cookies. You’re probably wondering how to reduce your overeating during COVID-19.
I would be lying if I said I haven’t been there. I remember never buying certain “junk” foods because I was terrified that the second I was alone and felt a sweet tooth coming on… BOOM! The ice cream would be finito.
So, I would like to first emphasize that binge eating or overeating during this pandemic is normal. We are all experiencing stress, for a variety of reasons. We may be alone, which makes it a little easier to take a nose dive into the chips. And lastly, we are around food all the freaking time.
Now, I could give you some phony tips. “That cake calling your name? How about some delicious black bean flaxseed no flavor brownies instead?” or “Having a craving? Just take a nap, a long nap!”.
Frankly, these may work for the first few times you have a hankering, but by the fourth time you find that chocolate cake staring you in the face, you know what you’re going to do.
What people so often fail to mention is that binge eating and overeating are directly a result of restriction. Yes, that’s right. By avoiding a binge, you might actually be causing a binge.
Here’s an example (and maybe you have been in this situation before):
Susan’s husband bought some chocolate dunked shortbread cookies at the store. Susan loves chocolate dunked shortbread cookies. But she knows that if she eats one, she’ll eat the whole box. So she resists, and she feels pretty good about her self discipline.
An hour passes and she goes into the kitchen. There are those deliciously sweet glorious cookies. But, no. Susan is good. She resists.
Another hour goes by and she passes by the kitchen again. After several moments of contemplation Susan decides it wouldn’t hurt to eat one dinky cookie. So she eats the cookie. And it tastes like a billion rainbows and butterflies and her first kiss all mixed into one.
After several moments of bliss, she looks down at the cookie like she’s witnessing the murder of a innocent child. An intense wave of guilt passes over her. But despite her feelings of guilt, Susan cannot fight her instinctual urge and decides “F**K IT! I’m eating these damn cookies!”
And before you know it half the bag is gone and Susan feels like a complete and utter failure.
So, let’s reflect. On one hand, you could say that Susan had no willpower. But I would disagree. I think Susan has plenty of willpower! She did resist those cookies several times before caving in.
You could also think that Susan should have just eaten a cookie the first time she saw them instead of waiting and inevitability bingeing. This definitely could be a possibility, but if she has been restricting this food for a long while, she could easily have binged if she ate the cookie right away.
So, what the heck can she do to stop bingeing?
What can you do right now to reduce overeating?
I always lean towards intuitive eating as a solution to binge eating. But, I will admit intuitive eating is a long process, and if you are going through a period of stress right now it may not be the best time to dive right in. If you want to learn more about intuitive eating this is a great article.
On the other hand, you can slowly begin to incorporate certain aspects of intuitive eating into your life. There are several principles that can be very helpful for binge eating and overeating. Many of these are from this list.
#1: Understand that weight loss is not a priority
First and foremost, this is not the time where you need to be working towards your “summer body”. You have enough stress in your life. Don’t make food one of them! This mindset just leads to more restriction, and therefore more overeating.
I recommend unfollowing social media platforms that make you feel poorly about your body. Instead, follow uplifting, body positive accounts. Or, at least follow accounts that do not focus on glorifying a certain body type. Honestly, it’s a waste of time!
#2: Eat when you’re hungry, enjoy your food, and stop when you’re satisfied
If you are hungry, eat! Ignoring your hunger will, as I’ve mentioned before, likely lead to overeating at your next meal. When you feel a tinge of hunger, it’s time to eat. I don’t care if you ate one hour before or three hours before. Your body knows when it needs food. Trust it!
It is also important to enjoy the food you are eating. Instead of feeling guilty eating pizza, savor every bite. Take your time chewing and tasting your food. Whoever said food is only fuel and isn’t meant to be enjoyed lives a miserable life!
Finally, pay attention to internal cues to know when you are finished. When you’re halfway done with your meal, take a breath and pay attention to how full you feel and how satisfied you are. If you feel fairly full, but still desire to eat more food, eat some! But if you feel full and satisfied with what you’ve eaten, it’s ok to leave food on the plate. Put it in a tupperware for later in the day or the next day.
#3: Experiment with different ways to handle your emotions
Often stress and boredom leads to stress eating. This is completely normal! Food is a comfort, but it is not a solution. Try out a few different things and see what works. This could be meditation, taking a hot bath, going for a walk, drawing a picture, or writing in your journal. Sometimes you just need to talk to a friend or relative.
See how these activities make you feel, but realize that sometimes you just really want a slice of cake. And that’s ok. This doesn’t mean that you can never eat when you feel stressed or bored. It is more to explore other options that may help alleviate the source of the emotion.
These are just a few tips that may be helpful right now. It may take a while to get to a point where you feel comfortable eating all kinds of foods. It’s all about baby steps!
What shouldn’t you do right now to reduce overeating?
Another important topic to bring up is what you shouldn’t be doing to stop overeating. The following options will likely lead to more restriction and overeating, which is why I would caution against these methods.
#1: Replacing “junk” foods with “healthy” alternatives
You may think replacing a fudge cake with a paleo, gluten free, sugar free version will alleviate your craving. And sure, this may work for a little while. But, you will typically find that a craving isn’t 100% squashed until you just eat the damn food.
Plus, this just makes life easier. You don’t have to pay $10 for a specialty health dessert or take the time to prepare it homemade. It also just tastes a whole lot better.
Also, instead of eating that health food cake over and over and then giving in and having the real cake, you can just eat the real cake and be done with it! How great is that?
#2: Removing the temptation food
This also may seem like a good idea. How could you binge without any food to binge on? This may seem like a good argument. But in the real world, this just doesn’t pan out.
If you are in social isolation with anyone, whether that be your roommate, family, or significant other, they are allowed to get the food they want! It’s not fair for them to not get certain foods just because you don’t trust yourself around them.
If you are isolating alone, you can keep this up for a while, but once everything opens back up, this can easily fall apart. What happens when your friends want to order pizza? Or bake cookies? What if you go on a date and they want to get dessert? What if your sweet grandma drops off a cherry pie? Are you really going to throw it out? You aren’t that cold hearted.
So, though removing the temptation may be effective short term, it will likely cause more damage in the long term, especially since restriction can lead to bingeing.
#3: Just ignore the craving until it goes away
In some situations where your cravings are emotion based, you may notice your craving subsides when you fix the root of your issue. But, for most cravings, they will not just “go away”.
I will say it now and I will keep saying it. The best way to get rid of a craving is to simply eat the food! Straight forward, easy, and feels so good.
I get it. Bingeing and overeating doesn’t feel good. Not only can an overly full stomach be physically painful, but the guilt and shame surrounding it can be overwhelming.
I would just like to remind you that bingeing and overeating are normal. When your body feels like it’s not getting enough food, of course you will be driven to overeat! Your body wants you to live. It wants to prevent starvation. Isn’t that a good thing?
So, my final advice in one sentence:
The best way to prevent bingeing and overeating is to reconsider the desire to lose weight (you have more important things to worry about), hone in on your internal hunger and satiety cues, experiment with alternative ways to handle your emotions, and most importantly, forgive yourself.
This time is hard on everyone. I hope that this article has helped lift a little stress off yourself. Bingeing is normal. Overeating is normal. And most importantly, you are not alone.
I hope this helped to provide some practical tips on how to reduce overeating during COVID-19. Contact me if you have any questions or just want to chat. My inbox is always open. Also feel free to comment below. As always, thank you for reading this article and I hope you gain something from it.