Finding yourself eating more in quarantine? Try mindful eating.

be eat move Apr 24, 2020

Have you found yourself more “snacky” in quarantine? Are you reaching for all sorts of foods that you usually wouldn’t eat? If so, take heart in the fact that you’re not alone - it seems that most people I’ve talked to have had a significant change in their eating and drinking habits while in lockdown.

Before I go on, I need to point out that I am not a trained mental health professional or dietician and that those with problematic or disordered eating should seek out professional help. I also need to recognize and acknowledge the sometimes negative impact that my industry has had on the eating habits and body image of women. What I can offer is observations from a lengthy career in healthy living, which has included examining many food and diet fads.

I would have to write for days to outline all of the dieting trends that I have seen come and go, but here’s the hard truth – none of them tend to work long-term for most of the population.

What we’ve created by giving our relationship with food labels like carbs, macros, paleo, clean, South Beach, Atkins, and so on, is a way to distance ourselves from what should be one of the greatest pleasures of our lives.

For many of us, food has become the enemy in a war that we will likely never win. Add in a dose of unrealistic and narrow cultural expectations around the ideal female body type, and we have one more reason to feel guilty when we take comfort in something that has enormous ties to family, friends, and love.

Maybe our choice of “guilty pleasures” during quarantine are exactly as they sound; food becomes a small and familiar pleasure that makes us feel connected to a more normal time in our lives. Let's just ditch the guilt.

In the spirit of self-care during quarantine, I propose that we embrace our relationship with food in a more intentional way. I recently watched a TED talk given by a resilience researcher who shared the ways that she had gotten through one of the toughest times of her life. The speaker outlined three ways that she managed to cope during a terrible hardship:

  1. Accept and acknowledge that your current situation is part of life
  2. Focus on things you can change and on the things for which you are grateful
  3. Ask yourself, is what you are doing helping or harming you? This question could include anything like scrolling on your phone, to having one more piece of cake.

I’ve been trying to practice point number three in quarantine as much as possible. I am doing this by trying to practise mindful eating every day (not always successfully, but I’m trying).

Mindful eating not only allows you to take back the ownership of the pleasure of food, but it also provides another opportunity to practice self-care. Again, if you are struggling with issues with food that are having an impact on your daily life, please seek out professional help. But, if you have a milder case of quarantine overeating, here are some tips for a more mindful approach:

  1. Even to have a snack, sit in a place that is designated for eating (e.g., dining room or kitchen table). For a meal, set the table like you would for guests. Make it visually appealing.
  2. If you’re working from home, take a lunchtime break. Make sure that you don’t eat at the place where you do your work.
  3. Take in your meal before you start. Think about how your food looks and smells, and how many people it took to get the food to your table (farmers, workers, grocery store clerks, etc.).
  4. When you take a bite of your food, keep it in your mouth by chewing a little longer than you usually would. Try to think about all the different textures and tastes that you are experiencing.
  5. Put your fork down between bites. Wait until you have thoroughly chewed and swallowed one bite before you prepare for the next.
  6. Eliminate all other distractions. This is key. Put away your phone, turn off the T.V., and don't be tempted to read while you eat.

I am a big believer in the idea that there are no bad foods, just eating patterns that can become less healthy. Practicing mindful eating is a way to get off the food-is-the-enemy rollercoaster and get back to eating for pleasure.

In my experience, when you are mindfully eating, you also typically make better choices. Mindful eating allows you one more opportunity to be in the moment – and when that moment involves something yummy, it’s a win-win. 

Your sister in health,

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