We live in uncertain times. No one (except maybe Bill Gates) predicted that the world would be thrown into a pandemic frenzy.
COVID-19 has proven to be unpredictable, sometimes mild, sometimes deadly, always frightening.
As we change the way we live and work, sheltering at home and social distancing has become the norm.
We don’t stop to chat on our walks around the neighborhood. We settle for a wave and a smile. A trip to the grocery store has become a bi-monthly highlight.
There’s a feeling of anxiety in the air, sparked by the unknown, triggered by uncertainty.
Grocery Store Anxiety
This story begins in the grocery store. The sign “2 for the price of 1” caught my eye.
Whole chickens were on sale – a great deal with 2 in a bag. I watched from a distance as shoppers picked up a bag (only one per person).
I approached the cooler when it was safe. My heart skipped a beat – 2 bags left.
For a moment I stood there, panic rising from my belly into my chest, my face flushed and hot. “What if there isn’t enough food during this pandemic”?
I took a breath and quickly grabbed one of the remaining bags.
When I reached my car, I sat for a moment, perplexed. What just happened? Why the sudden panic surge and anxiety – over a bag of chicken!
I thought I was doing well working from home and social distancing on my ventures out. After all, I wasn’t missing my 2 hours commute each day. I didn’t miss being packed like sardines into a commuter train.
I was connecting more with friends, family and clients by zoom and phone. Work meetings happened on Microsoft Teams. We were connected and had it all covered.
I hadn’t noticed any overt signs of distress or anxiety - until now.
Down the Rabbit Hole with Food, Stress & Emotional Eating
As I reflected on past weeks, it dawned on me that I was nibbling more, mindlessly grabbing handfuls of crackers to satisfy a deep desire for carbs and comfort food.
I’d started weighing myself again.
I counted the many times in the last weeks I’d ridiculed myself as I stepped on the scale, disappointed by the number glaring back at me.
I hated to acknowledge that my nasty, mean inner gremlin had been chipping away at my confidence, replaying old tapes I thought were gone for good. And, not to be outdone, my inner rebel was making a comeback, primed to make sure I felt out of control, obsessed, around food.
Was I really be entertaining the idea of going back on a diet?
I was falling back into the “food-obsessed diet mentality abyss” that I had worked so hard to climb out of.
When we eat emotionally, we stop listening to our body’s natural signals and give our power over to food. And, when we look in the mirror, we become critical and unfriendly towards the very body that works so hard to keep us moving, breathing, loving and healthy.
Gratitude for Emotional Eating
Emotional eating in and of itself isn’t a bad thing.
We’re allowed to enjoy a piece of cake at a birthday party or celebrate our anniversary with a glass of wine and a decadent appy – without guilt or regret.
Food helps us celebrate and brings us together.
But what if we use food to numb, soothe, or distract us from our feelings? What if we turn to food when we just want to run away, but instead find ourselves mindlessly crunching our way through a giant bag of chips?
As crazy as it sounds, these moments are gifts, signals that cry out to us to listen, pay attention and peek behind our emotional curtain.
Food is our way of meeting our emotional needs, an attempt to nourish ourselves.
When we don’t want to feel our feelings (or buried trauma reminds us it still exists), food becomes the antidote to a nervous system ready to fight or flee.
Food calms us – until it doesn’t.
Emotional eating once again takes us on a roller coaster ride that we feel powerless to stop.
We’re flooded with familiar feelings of guilt, shame, frustration, anger after a binge or “blowing it”.
Believing we’re unworthy and at fault for a lack of willpower, we console ourselves with the promise of a new start – tomorrow.
An Emotional Eating Antidote
How can we navigate our way through this pandemic while learning that food isn’t a sure rescue from feelings we’re trying desperately to avoid?
Step 1.Figure out where your feelings come from.
When I left the grocery store, I thought back to the moment I started feeling anxious. I realized that my thought “What if there isn’t enough food during this pandemic?” was the trigger that created the anxiety.
Step 2.Reframe your thoughts.
As I sat in the car, I reframed my thought to: “I’m so grateful for the bag of chicken I bought. I know there are a lot of other options so there’s no need to worry about not having enough.”
Feelings less anxious, this thought saved me from eating the bag of Oreo cookies I’d mindlessly thrown into my grocery bag.
Step 3.Practice self-compassion.
As we navigate COVID-19, transforming emotional eating means allowing our vulnerabilities to shine. They are our gift as we wind our way on the path to food and body freedom.
Be kind, gentle and supportive as if we were our own best friend.
“Whenever I notice something about myself I don’t like, or whenever something goes wrong in my life, I silently repeat the following phrases: This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.” ~ Kristen Neff: Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind
How are you navigating these uncertain times? How can I support you in your quest to leave emotional eating behind?
I’d love to connect and chat about where you are and where you’d like to be.
Food Freedom and Body Image Coach