STRESSED or DESSERTS
I've never been an emotional eater. I've also never been home for 52 days (and counting) due to a global pandemic.
I've found myself craving bread, spaghetti, peanut butter cookies, and oatmeal raisin cookies. I think about oatmeal raisin cookies A LOT. A least everyday…ok, a few times every day. I've been gluten-free for over four years. I don't eat those foods. So why can't I stop craving and thinking about them?
These are very strange times & foods, particularly carbohydrates, serve two purposes in times like these:
- They comfort us because they remind us of better times, happier times. Birthday parties, family dinners, restaurant celebrations…these times usually involve rich, heavy, sweet foods. We connect the good emotions of those times to those foods and subconsciously think that we can recreate the feelings with the foods.
- The other reason for such cravings is the chemical in our brains known as Serotonin, also known as the body’s "feel-good" hormone. Consuming simple carbohydrates causes serotonin to flood the brain. However, the feeling only lasts a short time and then the body craves more - and a cycle of overeating less healthy foods is established.
During these unprecedented times, I’m inclined to tell people to take comfort where they can get it. However, if you are uncomfortable with the eating habits you have formed over the last month and a half I do have a few pointers:
- Do not beat yourself up about your eating habits right now. Every single person is coping the best way that they can. Try to understand the emotional and physical reasons that you are craving less healthy foods and cut yourself a little slack.
- Make the foods you are craving part of an overall healthy meal. If you are craving a big plate of spaghetti, fill the rest of the plate with chicken and broccoli, and try to skip the second kind of heavy carbohydrate, such as the garlic bread. Save that for another meal you can balance out with protein and vegetables. If only a giant cookie or a big scoop of ice cream will do, just try to balance out other portion sizes throughout the day or take an extra walk.
- Eat slowly, putting down your fork and taking pauses. Check-in with yourself to see if you are full. Be sure that you are really enjoying your food and not just mindlessly eating to fill the time or temporarily relieve stress. Sometimes simply reminding myself of the science/psychology of why I am craving a certain food is enough to break its hold on me.
There are other ways to relieve stress and flood the brain with serotonin. My personal favorite happens to be exercise (who is shocked?). You could also listen to music or podcasts, try journaling, or reaching out to a friend or playing with a pet. Be sure to take breaks from work, helping children with schoolwork and scrolling through social media.
Vitamin D is good for just about everything that ails you right now. Do the best you can to get out in the sunshine at least once a day.
Be kind to yourself. You are living through something that the world has never seen before. There are no rules, just guidelines.
This will end and when it does, I and my co-workers will be there to help you feel your best again. Until then, just do your best one day at a time.
As always, please do not hesitate to reach out with questions and comments.
Megan Leipholtz CPT