Most of us experience emotional eating at one time or another, often as a result of a stressor of some description. However, when emotional eating happens frequently, and food becomes the primary coping mechanism for a stressful situation, it can affect our health and mental wellbeing. This emotional eating can be more likely when we're isolating ourselves.
Why snack foods are so hard to resist
Snack foods such as cakes, biscuits, chips, chocolate ect can be hard to resist! We are hard wired to reach for high sugar, high fat foods, especially in times of stress and or isolation.
For many, the hunger for food is actually a need to fill the boredom gap or a need for some form of distraction. Furthermore, a lack of daylight means in all likelihood a lack of vitamin D which is associated with stress and low mood which means we tend to want to eat sweet foods as a quick fix for low mood and low blood sugar.
During this period when a lot of us are completely housebound many of us will experience cravings for food we simply do not need. The science behind junk food means we're more likely to reach for chocolate than salad so to help you find balance we have come up with five top tips to keep you on top of your health and nutrition.
Top 5 tips to reduce snacking during lockdown (self-isolation)
1. Manage stress
Excessive stress can actually cause blood sugar levels to rise due to an increased release of the “stress hormone” cortisol. Stress kicks off a vicious hormonal cycle for many people. It not only contributes to high blood sugar by raising cortisol, but also tends to increase cravings for “comfort foods” (many of which are refined and filled with sugar or other inflammatory ingredients) and often interferes with getting good sleep.
Tip – if you’re feeling stress kick in and you’re about to reach for unhealthy snacks take 5 minutes and take a few belly (diaphragmatic) breaths. Follow up with a large glass of water. Check in if you’re still hungry and opt for a healthier option mentioned below.
2 . Get Enough Rest
Being well-rested is crucial for maintaining a healthy outlook on life, sticking with healthy habits and even managing hormone levels. A lack of sleep can raise stress and appetite hormones (like cortisol and ghrelin, which make you hungry), making it harder to void sugary snacks, refined grain products and caffeine overuse.
Tip – Avoid watching news late at night. Cut out blue light exposure after dark.
3 . Be prepared
We can prepare for when we feel compelled to emotionally eat by noting down some 'if/then' scenarios. For example:
'If I'm bored and feel the urge to buy/eat unhealthy snacks, then I will do a crossword puzzle for 10 minutes'
'If I feel lonely and start craving crisps or chocolate, then I will call my friend for a quick chat'
'If I feel anxious and overwhelmed, then I will pause and read my book for 10 minutes.'
We can also prepare our environment, by avoiding having large amounts of ultra-processed foods (e.g. crisps, biscuits, ice cream, chocolate) in the house.
Tip- Instead, buying healthier whole foods to snack on will mean we're less likely to overeat and they'll keep us feeling more satisfied.
4. Know your trigger
Keeping a food diary of what we eat, how much we eat, and what we're feeling when we eat can help us identify what triggers comfort eating. For some people, it's boredom, whereas for others it's stress, anxiety, or sadness.
Tip – Start a gratitude journal. Noting down what we are grateful for increases our fulfilment leading to increased feelings of wellbeing and contentment.
5. Find a new outlet for emotion
Once we know what triggers our emotional eating, we can find other simple activities at home to manage these without food.
The best tasks to do to take our mind off food are cognitively challenging ones. This means going for a walk, meditation, or taking a bath may not be effective ways to distract ourselves. However, something that engages your brain can be a better distractor, such as sudoku puzzles, crosswords, brain training apps, chess or scrabble, calling a friend, playing a board game, listening to a podcast.
What you should be Eating
It is extremely important to try and stick to regular meals, and to eat dishes packed with healthy, fulfilling and nutritious ingredients.
Try and focus meals on good quality proteins such as, wild caught or tinned fish, eggs, legumes and lots of vegetables either fresh or from frozen or tins if need be. These protein-based meals will keep you fuller for longer.
Having a protein shake around that mid-day slump time can help curb over eating at and after dinner. Check out our recommendations of Go Good Protein Powder. You can use our discount code "KEYNUTRITION" to get 10% off your purchase!
Furthermore, there are particular foods that can help boost the levels of the happy hormone serotonin, such as fish, nuts, dark green vegetables, seeds, oats, yogurt, eggs and poultry. Try and ensure you are eating these foods on a regular basis too.
And...... stay hydrated! Dehydration is often mistaken for hunger.
- Jess Wharton, Registered Nutritionist at Key Nutrition