How to Avoid ‘Cov-Eating’ During Lockdown

For many of us, being at home all day is not a normal routine. Our  daily routines, of how we live our lives are completely turned upside down with COVID-19 isolation to our homes. For myself, I wake up generally around 5am and then the rush begins from working out, showering, quick coffee, rushing out the door to work…..and the daily list goes on and on. Our business become a significant distraction for our  ritualistic eating habits, which tend to be, when we can fit food into our schedule. 

The impact of COVID-19 has not only slammed the brakes on our busy lifestyle and rapid pace, it has created an emotional vortex of how to figure out what to do with having nowhere to go, and now learning to live with our non-distracted fully present self. Rather than spending 3-6 hours at home, beyond sleep, we now are spending 24hour at home. We now are having to navigate ‘What to do with all this time’ without being distracted and frequent EATING OUT??

Food has been emotional response since we were born. Food has given us pleasure, soothing, emotional, energy, survival, and even connected to our stress responses, which increase our cortisol levels. Chronic stress leads to higher levels of cortisol in the body. A pandemic can certainly impact stress hormone levels significantly. Cortisol gets in the way of insulin production, keeping sugar/glucose in the blood stream ready for use. However, over a period of time, our cells become starved of glucose and send hunger signals to the brain leading us to want high carbohydrate, energy rich foods.

All this empty, non-distracted, endless confined home time has led to increase stress for many from isolation and significant changes in cortisol levels, leading to significant changes to our eating habits, food choices and routines, which I now call COV-Eating at my home.

COV-Eating includes:

  1. pantry surfing

  2. Fridge grazing

  3. chocolate stress eating

  4. Fast food delivery

  5. Filling empty time with junk food binging

  6. and the list goes on and on

Food, and the power within it can be a coping mechanism, to which has been our closest friend since a baby and throughout life. Food comforts, its reliable, numbing, immediate pleasure response, shifts emotions, tastes good, and over accessible for some. In saying this, food is also a harmful coping mechanism to numbing our negative emotions, eating to the point of overeating, and feeling disgusting, shame, and uncomfortable afterwards. The negative effects of food, as a maladaptive coping mechanism, affects your mental and physical health and well being.

I reached out through social media to explore what other peoples eating habits were while being at home in isolation from COVID-19. What initially was interesting was that I received 12 responses through different social media platforms, but all the responses were from females. Although no conclusions could be made by any of this, evidently this topic seem to connect with females more than males and females are more vulnerably open and possibly interested in discussing this topic public platforms. Then asked 6 questions that explored peoples experiences with food during COVID-19 imposed isolation. These questions covered – any changes in people eating habit as a result of COVID-19; strongest experienced mental, emotional and other related triggers leading to food cravings; habits formed around food during; any food rituals and habits formed while isolating including healthy and not healthy; and finally any suggestions. Here is a summary of what respondents shared with me.

What are your experiences with food while in isolation?

  1. “Definitely cooking more often

  2. More take out which is bad for us

  3. More snacking

  4. Boredom is filled with eating and another person shared BOREDOM!!!!! is a killer.

  5. Our house is over stocked with food

  6. House well stocked with too many choices

  7. the fridge and pantry are well stocked because we can’t shop as often as we want, so food is plentiful

  8. went to the grocery store, got fresh produce, then ordered three weeks of food from hello fresh (to avoid the grocery store)”

Has your eating habits changed with COVID isolation at home?

  1. “Yes stay up late/early waking so eating more in general bc awake 20hr/day instead of 16

  2. we both now eat 3 meals a day, hoping that cuts back on snacks. But it doesn’t.

  3. We’re avoiding takeout (which includes coffee shops) and actually eating healthier3) what are your strongest mental, emotional and other triggers to eat

  4. 3 meals a day when not working.

  5. I find I’m shopping healthier items, much more vegetables as we are not as active

  6. has your eating habits changed with COVID isolation at home ~ Yes, I find I eat less, well I am working from home

  7. I go to the fridge more often

  8. Eating more comfort food, which I shouldn’t”

What rituals while isolating support poor eating habit?

  1. “biggest trigger is tv.

  2. Boredom

  3. Sitting with nowhere to go

  4. Binge watching Netflix is the worst trigger! Mindless wasting of time!Staying up late

  5. Baking to fill time

  6. Ordering in food

  7. Take out food

  8. there is too much food in the house, leads to temptation. I justify my bad eating as my one thing I’m allowed to do these days.

  9. having more processed food than normal.”

What have you implemented (rituals) in your life while isolating that has supported healthy eating?

  1. “Distracting activities that are positive rather than eating or going to the fridge

  2. I leave fresh fruit on the counter, the same way that as if I brought it to work, leaving me no choice but to grab it when I’m hungry instead of going to the cupboard and grabbing carbs

  3. not sure it’s a ritual but I’ve discovered a new love for cooking. It’s fun when it’s not at the end of a long day of work. I’m letting my partner decide the menu for the most part.

  4. Yoga, treadmill, Nintendo Wii active games

  5. what have you implemented (rituals) in your life while isolating that has supported healthy eating ~ I leave fresh fruit on the counter, the same way that as if I brought it to work, leaving me no choice but to grab it when I’m hungry instead of going to the cupboard and grabbing carbs

  6. LOTS of fruit on hand..Im addicted to watermelon and grapes. These two have replaced my addiction to chocolate. I eat very little processed sugar.”

What suggestions or recommendations you might have for “healthy eating” while isolating?

  1. “I do meal prep, which means I cut up all my vegetables and have them easily available in the fridge for snacking

  2. switched out junk snacks with fruit snacks. Halloween size chocolates for treats.

  3. lunch is always a salad. We only ever drink water, so we aren’t drinking our calories.

  4. avoiding takeout

  5. Finding I made veggies containers fruit containers and salad items ready to snack on in fridge. All I can say is good luck to all stay safe we will get through this.

  6. What I need to do is exercise more everyday instead of watching t.v…WILL WORK ON THAT ONE!!!”

So what can we learn from these responses:

  1. Urges and cravings can be intense with boredom and lack of routine, structure while in social isolation. Here are some tips to manage your emotional cravings to boredom.

  2. Ask yourself the following questions before following your emotional urge with food.

  3. What am I feeling?

  4. What just triggered my urge to eat?

  5. Write it out, talk to someone, call a friend. What patterns and habits can you notice?

  6. What do I need?

  7. Most people eat to satisfy an unmet need related to an emotion or physical feeling.

  8. Do you need more rest?

  9. Warmth and comfort?

  10. Do you need to feel heard?

  11. Need to express yourself?

  12. What emotion are you feeling?

  13. What other behavioural activities, without eating, that can help me experience positive or pleasurable emotions?

  14. Is eating going to helpful in this situation? It was helpful if the eating stops and you feel better.

  15. If you continue to go back to the snack cupboard, the coping mechanism was not helpful for the feeling, and will only make you feel worse about yourself.

2. There is the recipe for increasing negative ‘unwanted’ emotions and ongoing binge eating with food during while living in isolation.

  1. Staying up late, just because you can!!

  2. sleeping in

  3. stay committed to your excessive mindLESS activities like binge watching NETFLIX or TV

  4. Avoid exercising – and remember, stay committed to making excuses to justify your choice of not exercising.

  5. Avoid meal planning at all costs! Too much work!!

  6. Fill your house with processed foods to snack on when the craving hits you! Cause they ‘feel good’ and ‘taste good’ in the moment!! DO worry about how crappy you’ll feel after about yourself and this choice.

  7. Respond to all your emotional craving by eating – never think you have other choices that might actually work and don’t ever explore your emotions!!

  8. Hold on to ‘boredom’ as your best friend and stay in relationship with this feeling. Feeling love themselves, so indulge in the boredom relationship.

  9. Remember, why cook healthy when there is always ‘take out’ or ‘order in’! BAM….This is totally easier, effortless, and supports your comfortable sedentary lifestyle of doing nothing during isolation!

  10. do not take the time to prep healthy snacks like fruits of veggies. It WAY easier and more exciting to go to the fridge for that amazing big bowl of ice cream, or maybe the pantry closet for that bowl of chips or chocolate. Never think or worry about how bad you’ll feel afterwards, just follow the urge in the moment and never resist it.

  11. Engage ‘healthy coping’ mechanisms with food during this difficult time

  12. Here are some ‘tips’ I learned from others:

  13. return back to healthy bedtime routines and wake up times

  14. prep healthy meals – for sure you have time!

  15. Find new online recipes you’ve never made before that are new, exciting, and interesting

  16. plan your healthy meals for the day and be creative.

  17. develop a daily routine and structure of things that engage emotions of achievement, pleasurable and are meaningful.

  18. Develop a list of actives you can do that are stimulating such as working out, online yoga, reading, puzzles, board games, virtual calls with friends, write blogs(!!), guided meditations, online courses and self development, paint or draw, sew, garden, go for walks, listen to music, play and instrument, and so many other interesting other things you can do.

  19. Get rid of all the junk and processed foods and fill you living space with fruits, vegetables, and other healthy snacks to chose from to snack on. I personally suggest the cook books “Oh She Glows” – amazing recipes in these cook books and the snacks are awesome and easy to make (super healthy too)

  20. As people, we will always connect. When we disconnect from healthy connections including relationships, activities or hobbies, we are more at risk to find connection through food. Stay connected to others and acknowledge the stress you are experiencing through isolation and social distancing.

  21. https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/covid-19-5-ways-the-epidemic-will-change-the-way-we-eat-2205685

I want to especially thank the many people who responded to my questions or this blog via social media. You provided me with insights to this topic through your shared experiences. I hope this blog provides hope, inspiration and options for effectively managing this challenging time in a ‘healthy’ and ‘positive’ way

Peace to all

Ian

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Ian Robertson Therapy & Counselling

6150 Valley Way
Suite #108
Niagara Falls, ON
L2E 1X9

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