How to Manage Emotional Eating During Stressful Times

Emotional eating can derail weight loss success. Here are five tips for staying calm during stressful times. 

If you’ve struggled with obesity, you know how challenging it is to shed those stubborn pounds. You have to exercise regularly, eat nutritious meals, and stay motivated — luckily weight loss surgery can help you achieve these goals. Unfortunately, world events like pandemics, recessions, and other crises can pull our focus away from working toward our best selves.

Even if you’ve had weight loss surgery, the urge to eat when you’re stressed or anxious can still remain. Emotional hunger pops up suddenly and makes you crave comfort foods high in salt, sugar, and fat. Many emotional eaters overeat when they’re upset, then they feel guilty and head back to the fridge because they feel worse than before. Though food may provide temporary relief, this behavior creates a destructive, unhealthy cycle. 

It’s natural to turn to food for comfort, but emotional eating during a stressful time like the COVID-19 pandemic can undermine weight loss success. Here are five tips to manage stress and practice mindful eating.

1. Practice Reducing Stress

Self-care during a crisis is equal parts stress reduction and distress management. You might not be able to change the circumstances around you, but there are many things you can do to reduce symptoms of physiological stress. Deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can ease tension and shift your focus inward. You can also de-stress by going for a walk, rewatching a beloved comedy, or learning a new hobby.

When you’re experiencing emotional distress, the urge to eat can be even stronger because you’re feeling lost or hopeless. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings of distress for what they are — temporary moments that don’t have to dictate your future behavior. Work on articulating your feelings and recognizing when you’re acting out of fear or uncertainty. Try not to spiral — this too shall pass. 

2. Track Your Eating Habits

If you’re bored in self-isolation or working from home during a crisis, the fridge is an easy distraction that’s always within reach. It’s also harder to make healthful meals while sheltering in place because you’re more focused on buying foods that will keep for a while in case of emergency, which can mean fewer fruits and veggies and more processed foods. 

Keeping a food journal puts your weight loss goals at the front of your mind, and makes sure you stay on track. You can also counteract emotional eating by practicing mindful eating, which means chewing your meals slowly and savoring each bite. Not only is this a calming practice, but it helps you enjoy food more and feel fuller. 

3. Stay Active

Staying active during stressful times, especially during a quarantine, is very important. From an emotional standpoint, the endorphins you gain from exercise can help keep stress at bay and energize an otherwise dull remote work-streaming-sleep routine. It’s important to maintain flexibility and mobility whenever you can because you might find yourself unable to go to the gym for exercise. Try to work up a sweat at home at least three times a week, and don’t forget to include some light stretching. 

4. Reach Out for Support

When you’re stressed, there’s no substitute for human connection. If you’re feeling unsteady and think you might stray from your weight loss goals, reach out to members of your bariatric surgery support program. Odds are others are feeling what you’re feeling, and you’ll be able to work through this difficult time together. Set aside some time to video chat with your loved ones, check-in, and be open.

5. Be Kind To Yourself

If your workout routine has been sporadic lately or you panic bought too many bags of chips at the grocery store, that’s okay. Practicing self-compassion during stressful times can help you cope and make you feel like the world isn’t crashing down around you. Acknowledge that things are hard right now and you might not be at your best, but you’re trying and that’s what matters. Cut yourself some slack — you can always have a better day tomorrow.

If you need someone to hold you accountable to your weight loss goals or you just need someone to talk to, contact the weight loss specialists at Long Island Laparoscopic Doctors today. Our licensed bariatric counselors are here for you.