Tips for managing unstructured and stress eating during self-isolation

Author: Julia Westgarth

Read Time:   |  9th April 2020

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Julia Westgarth, Head of Programme at WW, shares tips for managing stress eating, and advice on managing our diets during self-isolation.

Now that our typical routine is disrupted, it’s suddenly more challenging to maintain a sense of normalcy—and the healthy habits we’ve worked hard to achieve. But the more we stick to a new routine, the easier (and more automatic) it becomes. Having structure and consistency will help you create a new normal to balance..

Three fast facts

  1. Consistent routines add structure to our days, which can help us feel grounded and maintain healthy habits.
  2. We’re more likely to overeat when we’re out of our typical routines—and we’re less likely to view that as a setback.
  3. Creating routines helps us balance our daily “must-dos,” what we enjoy, and how we take care of our health—like eating healthier, being active, and getting enough sleep.

The steps below will help add structure to your day.

  1. Decide what’s important. Make a list of what really matters to you. Maybe it’s daily work responsibilities, keeping your family happy (and occupied), or staying on track with your goals to eat well, be active, and take care of your mindset. Be sure to include both what you need and want to do.
  2. Adapt activities. Have an “I’ll do it someday” list? This is a great time to tackle it. Start a daily meditation practice or clean out that hall closet.
  3. Make a plan. Once you know what you want to do, make a schedule. Start with tomorrow. Post it on your fridge or somewhere easy to see. And don’t forget to be kind to yourself as you get used to things. It takes time to get into a new groove.

Eating more while stuck at home?

Here are the likely culprits for why we might be eating more than usual these days:

  • We have more unstructured time

Building new, predictable, and consistent routines during times of uncertainty can help us stay on track.

  • We’re thinking differently

“Everything is so out of sorts right now, it doesn’t matter what I eat.”

“I’m not going to be able to work out like normal so why bother doing anything?”

A compassionate way to respond to the example above? How about “everything is so out of sorts right now, and I keep having the thought that it doesn’t matter what I eat. I am worried and not in my regular routine, but keeping up the habits I’ve been building really does matter to me. I’m going to create a plan to help myself stay on track.”

  • We’re stressed

It’s no secret that stress eating is a thing. Many people have developed habits of
turning to food at times of increased worry, uncertainty, and stress – so if you’re noticing stress eating creeping in check out the tips below for some stress eating SOS.

Before an urge strikes:

  1. Know the signs. Physical hunger tends to come on slowly, is based on when you last ate, and usually will be satisfied by almost any food. Eating due to stress or other emotions typically comes on quickly and often feels like it will be satisfied only by a particular type of food (ice cream with pretzels anyone?).
  2. Take note of your patterns. Take a minute to reflect on what has typically been leading to stress eating. Where and when does it happen? What do you reach for? Developing awareness can help you figure out a game plan for those situations. And you’ll be more likely to notice when it starts to happen – which puts you in the driver’s seat.
  3. Modify your environment. Based on what you’ve learned about your habits, create a plan to change up your environment so it’s easier to manage next time. What would help the most? For example, you could keep certain snacks on a high shelf (maybe even one that requires you to stand on a chair to reach it!).
  4. Create a plan. Strategies only work when we put them into action. Develop a plan for what you’ll try – and when – so you’ll be more likely to make it happen. What’s your action plan?

When an urge strikes:

  1. Pause. When you notice yourself having an urge to reach for food, commit to simply waiting 5 minutes until you decide whether or not to eat. What should you do with that time? Anything!
    1. Take a few deep slow, deep breaths
    2. Watch a cat video
    3. Time how long it takes before you see someone outside pass your house
    4. Go outside and do 3 rounds of 20 jumping jacks
    5. Wipe down the kitchen counter. Fold a load of laundry. Replace that lightbulb in the foyer.
    6. Simply say out loud (or in your head), “I’m having the urge to eat because I’m feeling stressed.” Then unload the dishwasher for goodness sake.

The key is to put some “distance” between that first urge to eat and your next move.

  1. Be curious. After a few minutes are up, check-in with yourself. Are you still having an urge to eat? If not – carry on! If so, ask yourself if there’s a certain feeling bubbling to the top. Is it stress? Frustration? Sadness? Even if you can’t pinpoint it exactly, what feels closest?
  2. Do something else. Once you’ve named it, ask yourself what else could help you manage that feeling in this moment. For example, if you’re frustrated, could you blast your favorite song? If you’re sad, could you call a friend to talk it out? If you’re stressed, could you take a few slow, deep breaths or listen to a meditation?

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