Who would have guessed that we would spend weeks on end sheltering in place, deflecting hugs with elbow bumps, wearing masks and compulsively washing our hands? Some of us lost jobs, all of us lost contact with friends, coworkers and family. During this nerve-rattling pandemic, you likely struggled, at least a little bit, with boredom, anxiety and perhaps depression.
To cope, you might have turned to food. Food, especially sugar and fat, triggers the pleasure centers in the brain. It numbs the emotional dissonance, at least for a little bit.
Eating in response to emotions does not always signal a problem; however, if junk food binges have become the primary way in which you deal with your feelings, you can become an emotional eater. The habit of self-medicating with food, if not corrected, can become a major stumbling block in your attempt to live a healthy life.
There are things you can do to break the cycle.
DON’T TRY TO CONTROL WITH WILLPOWER THAT WHICH YOU CAN CONTROL WITH ENVIRONMENT. Junk food is addictive. If you are addicted, resisting a binge is a bit like trying to resist scratching a raging mosquito bite. It is better to get it out of the house. In its place, have healthy options.
CREATE A LIST OF STRESS-REDUCING ACTIVITIES. Before you grab your favorite sweet treat or salty snack, pause and assess whether the food you are about to eat will be beneficial to your overall wellbeing long term. If not, put it back and look for ways to comfort yourself that will.
Call a friend and talk through your experience. Go for a walk in one of the High Country’s beautiful parks. Do an online yoga session. Prayer, meditation, and/or journaling can soothe the soul and diminish the cravings.
RETRAIN YOUR PALATE. Retraining your palate can take as little as three days. From my experience with clients, detoxing from sugar for 10 days is like magic. The taste buds come alive to flavors; the cravings are manageable.
CHOOSE HEALTHIER ALTERNATIVES. Have attractive alternatives handy and visible. (This is an awesome time to learn to make a few delicious health dishes.)
Instead of greasy French fries, choose oven-roasted sweet potato fries.
Instead of ice cream, choose frozen low-sugar yogurt and berries.
Instead of a milk shake, choose a homemade protein shake or smoothie.
Instead of a bag of potato chips, choose a handful of salted nuts.
Instead of soda, choose flavored seltzer.
Instead of cane sugar, choose a natural sugar alternative like stevia.
GET HELP, IF YOU NEED. If you are stuck in a food-craving rut, consider working with a health coach and/or a mental health professional. These individuals can provide support and increase your success in establishing a positive relationship with food.
As always, do check with your supervising health professional before making any dietary changes.