Though self-isolating is the best way to protect against COVID-19, being stuck at home can lead to some unhealthy behaviors, including overeating due to stress and boredom.
While taking comfort in food during times of stress is a normal reaction, overeating regularly can negatively affect your health and increase your stress and anxiety levels.
Here are 13 ways to prevent stress eating when you’re stuck at home:
1. Check-in with yourself
One of the most helpful ways to prevent overeating is to understand why it’s happening in the first place. There are many reasons why you may be compelled to overeat, including being stressed out or bored.
If you find yourself eating too frequently or eating too much in one sitting, take a minute, and check-in with yourself. First, it’s important to determine whether you’re eating because you’re hungry and need nourishment, or whether there’s another reason.
Before you eat, pay special attention to how you’re feeling, such as stress, bored, lonely, or anxious. Simply pausing and evaluating the situation can help you understand what compels you to overeat and may help prevent overeating in the future.
2. Remove temptation
Though having a jar of cookies or a bowl of colorful candy on the counter may add to the visual appeal of your kitchen, this practice may lead to overeating.
Having tempting foods within eyesight can lead to frequent snacking and overeating, even when you aren’t hungry.
3. Maintain a healthy meal schedule
You shouldn’t change your normal eating schedule just because you’re stuck at home. If you’re used to having three meals a day, try to continue that schedule while you’re working from home. The same goes for if you typically consume only two meals and a snack.
Though it’s easy to stray from your normal dietary pattern when your day-to-day schedule gets disrupted, it’s important to maintain some semblance of normalcy when it comes to eating.
4. Don’t restrict
One of the most important nutrition rules to follow to prevent overeating is to not deprive your body of food. Oftentimes, being overly restrictive with food intake or consuming too few calories can lead to binging on high-calorie foods and overeating.
It’s never a good idea to follow a highly restrictive diet or deprive yourself of food, especially during stressful times.
Research has shown that restrictive dieting is not only ineffective for long-term weight loss but also can harm your physical and mental health and increase your stress levels.
5. Bring out your inner chef
Some good things come along with being stuck at home. Not having the option to eat out at restaurants makes you cook more meals yourself, which has been shown to improve overall health.
For example, a study in 11,396 people found that eating home-cooked meals more frequently was associated with a greater intake of fruits and vegetables.
6. Stay hydrated
Being stuck at home gives you more time to focus on healthy habits, including drinking enough fluids. Maintaining proper hydration is important for overall health and may help you prevent overeating related to stress.
To combat dehydration, add a few slices of fresh fruit to your water to boost its flavor, which may help you drink more water throughout the day without adding a significant amount of sugar or number of calories to your diet.
7. Get moving
Being stuck at home can take a serious toll on your activity levels, leading to boredom, stress, and increased snacking frequency. To combat this, take some time for daily physical activity.
If you’re feeling lost due to the closing of your favorite gym or workout studio, try something new like a home workout on YouTube, taking a hike in nature, or simply walking or jogging around your neighborhood.
Research has shown that physical activity can boost mood and reduce stress, which may reduce your chances of stress eating.
8. Prevent boredom
When you suddenly find yourself with a lot of extra free time, boredom can quickly set in once you have tackled your to-do list for the day.
However, boredom can be prevented by making good use of your spare time. Everyone has hobbies that they have always wanted to try or projects that have been put off due to busy schedules.
Now is the perfect time to learn a new skill, tackle a home improvement project, organize your living spaces, take an educational course, or start a new hobby.
9. Be present
Modern-day life is full of distractions. From smartphones to televisions to social media, you’re surrounded by technology meant to distract you from your daily life.
Though catching up on a favorite TV show can help take your mind off of stressful events, it’s important to minimize distractions when eating a meal or snack, especially if you find yourself frequently overeating.
If you’re used to dining while parked in front of your television, smartphone, or computer, try eating in a less distracting environment. Attempt to concentrate only on your food, paying special attention to feelings of hunger and fullness.
Being more present while you eat may help prevent overeating and can help you become more aware of your eating patterns and food intake.
10. Practice portion control
It’s common for people to snack on foods directly from the containers in which they were sold, which may lead to overeating.
For example, grabbing a pint of ice cream from the freezer and eating directly from the container rather than doling out a single portion of a dish may cause you to eat more than you intended.
11. Choose filling, nutritious foods
Stocking your kitchen with filling, nutrient-dense foods can not only help improve your overall health but also combat the tendency to stress eat highly palatable foods.
For example, filling your fridge and pantry with foods that can help fill you up in a healthful way — rather than foods rich in empty calories like candy, chips, and soda — is a smart way to prevent the chances of noshing on unhealthy choices.
12. Be mindful of alcohol intake
While a glass of wine or a tasty cocktail can be a relaxing way to unwind, keep in mind that alcohol lowers your inhibitions, increases appetite, and may increase the chances of overeating.
Plus, drinking too much alcohol harms your health in a number of ways and can lead to dependence issues.
13. Keep your overall health in mind
During stressful times, it’s more important than ever to keep your overall health in mind. Eating nutritious foods is just one part of keeping yourself healthy and happy.
Practicing self-compassion and doing the best that you can given the current circumstances is what’s most important.
This is not the time to restrict, overexercise, try a fad diet, compare yourself to others, or focus on weaknesses. If you’re struggling with insecurities, body image issues, or anxiety, use this time to foster a new, healthy relationship with your mind and body.
The bottom line
Given the current circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, you may find yourself stuck at home and feeling stressed and bored, which may increase your chances of overeating.
While indulging in comfort foods occasionally, especially during times of stress, is completely normal, overeating regularly can take a toll on your physical and mental health.
The evidence-based tips above may help you control stress eating and improve many other aspects of your health as well.
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