Advise Me

Resisting the Urge to Stress Eat During COVID-19

As the world continues to navigate a global pandemic, it’s normal to feel stressed during these trying times. From health concerns to financial hardships and new social norms, each area creates stressors to our minds and bodies that may result in unhealthy behaviors.

One way people express their stressors is by how much or little they eat. In fact, when you are feeling overwhelmed with no clear idea of what to expect, you may overindulge which leads to emotional eating.

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating happens when you are not hungry but are consuming food to suppress a negative feeling. There are a variety of ways emotional eating can happen. You may overindulge with meals, snacks and desserts, or restrict yourself from eating altogether.

If you are overeating due to stress, know that you’re not alone.

"Be nice to yourself if you are eating due to emotions. You are still amazing, and worthy of love even if your pant size goes up,” said Dr. Yazhini Srivathsal, a psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital.

“And if you make a conscious decision to eat, even while you are not hungry, let’s say you want to bake with your kids or prepare a special meal for your family, and indulge in it while creating memories, please do it,” said. Dr. Srivathsal. “There is nothing wrong with it, as long as it is something that you want to do, makes you feel good, and does not cause any guilt or negative feelings."

How can I stop myself from overeating?

If you find yourself eating more than usual, you may want to take some time to understand why. As you eat indulgent foods, it signals the pleasure regions of your brain and releases dopamine, which gives you a boost of feel good vibes.

"When we are feeling stressed, our body might go into the fight or flight mode and may make us crave quick energy, simple carb foods, such as pasta, bread and sweet desserts. If our stress level continues to remain high, we might use food to make us feel better with the dopamine it releases,” explained Dr. Srivathsal.

Although tough times are inevitable, there are measures you can take to prevent stress eating.

  • Eat a well-balanced meal: Make a meal plan that works for you, balanced with different food groups and nutrients, and make sure you feel satisfied after every meal.
  • Understand your hunger cues: If you are in the kitchen but aren’t in the mood for fruits or veggies, ask yourself if you are truly hungry.
  • Keep yourself occupied: Use other strategies to deal with stress like journaling, crafting, exercising or spending time with loved ones virtually to keep yourself busy, stay distracted, and decrease stress levels.

“All these practices can help nourish your ‘self’, improve your self-esteem and help you feel good, lessening the urge to turn towards stress eating,” said. Dr. Srivathsal.

If you notice that your stress or worries are becoming too hard to manage, consult an expert and schedule an appointment with a Banner Health behavioral health provider.

COVID-19 Behavioral Health