Being sheltered in place at home means being close to your food source 24/7. If you’re making more trips to the kitchen throughout the day, are the pounds starting to add up? Stress baking, binge eating, all-day grazing, closed gyms, and comfort foods are a recipe for a new kind of weight gain, called the “Quarantine 15”. Here’s how to cope while sheltered in place.

Reaching for Too Much Comfort While Sheltered in Place

Obesity is a risk factor for COVID-19 leading to other underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, which are associated with a more severe course of the coronavirus. Gaining weight during the pandemic can raise the risk of death if afflicted with COVID-19. 

Don’t Punish or Shame Yourself for Eating Emotionally

Reaching for your comfort foods when your life is in disarray, when food is more accessible, and when boredom strikes is not unusual.

  1. Don’t shame yourself for wanting your comfort foods. Negative feelings initiate the emotional eating cycle. Stress eating often leads to feeling stressed after you do it, which leads to more stress eating. Dealing with a multitude of emotional eating triggers will drive you to desire comfort. It’s a normal response to stress. Some people are craving their favorite childhood foods while sheltered in place, a.k.a. “nostalgic eating”.
  1. Recognize that you’re eating for emotional reasons. Identify the emotion behind the behavior (e.g., feelings of anxiety, stress, anger, boredom, etc.); then seek a non-eating way to cope with that emotion.
  1. Be prepared with a plan for dealing with these episodes before they occur.

Manage Stockpiling

Stockpiling, though necessary during the sheltering in place, provides a sense of comfort and security, but it undermines attempts to manage mindless eating and overeating. Research has shown that buying foods in bulk and stockpiling foods can push you to eat 81% more calories from snacks per week. Since stocking up is encouraged to reduce trips to the grocery store, try to keep the extra items out of sight.

Eat According to Your Inner Clock

Distinguish physical hunger from emotional hunger. That is, don’t rely on external cues (like the time of day) to determine your level of hunger. A study isolated participants in a windowless room with only a clock in the room. The room was artificially set to run fast. Those who relied on eating by the clock (external cues) ate more often than those who ate by their own internal cues.

Eat when you’re physically hungry, not when it’s “time” to eat.

Since you are working from home, you don’t have to eat lunch when it’s  “lunchtime”. You can eat when you’re physically hungry. If you have trouble  distinguishing if you’re physically hungry, ask yourself if you would eat some carrots or broccoli. If not, you’re not likely physically hungry. If you’re craving a specific food for comfort, then you’re eating to soothe an emotion. True physical hunger does not discriminate between eating carrots and cupcakes.

Remember… if you catch yourself saying, “I deserve this because…,” to justify nostalgic eating and eating unhealthy food. Stop yourself. You are REWARDING yourself with food — a red flag for emotional eating.

Keep “Comfort Foods” Out of Sight

Scientists found that when they saw their treats, they ate them 71% more oftenKeep healthy and nutritious food visible when hunger strikes. (“Out of sight, out of mind.”) Know your comfort food. Food can affect mood. Here’s why you may be craving them: 

  • Serotonin (a neurotransmitter) is produced when you eat simple carbohydrates (e.g., refined carbs like cookies, bread, pastries, pasta). It is a natural anti-depressant that increases calm and drowsiness, and decreases anxiety.
  • Endorphins (a neurotransmitter) are produced when you eat fats (e.g., pizza, mac ’n cheese, butter, chocolate, ice cream). They increase feelings of relief, pleasure, euphoria (natural high) and decrease pain.

Make Eating Inconvenient

Being close to the kitchen 24/7 makes eating too convenient. To prevent stress eating and eating mindlessly out of boredom or while preparing meals, remove the convenience factor. Store less nutritious snacks out of easy reach — i.e., stored farther away and tucked behind other foods (out of sight and hard to get).

A study found that participants ate nearly half as much when they had to walk farther to access the food. They compared how many treats were eaten when they were sitting on the desk, in a desk drawer, and 6 feet away. Participants said the extra distance gave them time to think about whether they really wanted the food.

Turn mindless snacking into a conscious effort. If you’re craving a snack, make it a habit that you’ll only eat it on a plate while sitting at the kitchen table. This will require a conscious effort vs. mindlessly grabbing something out of the pantry and eating it while standing.

Karen’s Fit Tip:  Try not to establish a new habit. It’ll be really hard to undo later.

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