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Eating habits during stressful times

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a lot of change in our lives.

While many have adjusted, others are still struggling to find their groove when it comes to self-care and nutrition. Here are four unique situations you may find familiar:

  • Abby started jogging as a stress-reliever, but struggles to eat regularly due to anxiety. She is worried about proper fuelling and recovery from running.
  • Ron isn’t used to working from home without a formal schedule. He finds himself snacking continuously throughout the day, yet never feeling satisfied.
  • Kelly has put on some weight through the pandemic and feels this is a sign of failure. Kelly tries restricting their food intake but feels out of control with constant access to the kitchen. They feel trapped in a cycle that makes it difficult to focus on healthy food behaviours.
  • Miguel has not enjoyed what feels like a loss of freedom in his life. He has used food while working from home to cope with his frustrations, boredom and stress but noticed this isn’t making him feel any better.

Can you relate? These problems are real and require some reflection. I have three tips to help navigate nutritional self-care during COVID:

1. Eat regularly and build a structured eating pattern.

While we want to be flexible and listen to our body’s needs, a predictable eating pattern can:

  1. Prioritize nutrition even when we’re distracted by stressors or anxiety
  2. Help meet daily energy and nutrient needs for optimal body function, since we don’t function well when we skip meals or avoid eating
  3. Satisfy our appetites while helping to minimize grazing

2. Move away from the all-or-none mentality.

Try to avoid perfect eating or cutting certain foods from your diet. Physical and mental restriction has been shown to cause obsession about the restricted food, which increases cravings. Feeling out of control around food has more to do with restricting food in the first place, and less to do with willpower.

Try focussing on the nourishing foods you would like to add to your day as opposed to those you need to cut out.

3. Build a new pandemic-coping toolbox.

Using food to comfort yourself or cope with emotions is normal and shouldn’t be shamed. However, having a variety of coping tools for a variety of situations is important. Ask yourself:

  1. What emotion are you feeling?
  2. Is food going to make you feel better in this situation?
  3. If food is not the answer for this situation, what are other healthy behaviours you can engage in to support how you’re feeling? You might bake, meditate, read, listen to music, build a puzzle, work on a project or call a friend, for example.

A therapist can help you navigate how to work through emotions. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or with other mental health issues, reach out to a doctor, therapist or trusted health care provider.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us on many levels. As you move through the remainder of this pandemic, approach your situation with compassion. It’s important to remember that:

  • Shame isn’t motivating and doesn’t lead to positive change.
  • Weight gain is a normal outcome from all of this. It doesn’t make you suddenly unhealthy or unworthy.
  • Health goes beyond your size and what you eat. Look at the bigger picture and consider your sleep habits, regular activities that you enjoy, social connections, mental health and managing a health condition.

Brooke Bulloch is a Registered Dietitian and CEO of Food to Fit Nutrition Inc. She has worked with Huffington Post, Best Health magazine, Canadian Living, Chatelaine, The Globe and Mail and continues as a regular guest on Saskatoon’s Global News Morning.

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