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Emotional Eating in COVID-19

How much has your eating changed recently? Has the pandemic turned your eating patterns upside down? If it has, you are not alone. We are all experiencing stress and uncertainty right now, but food doesn't have to be another stressor.

1. Remember emotional eating is normal

We all eat emotionally sometimes. Think of emotional eating as a coping skill and one of the “tools in your toolbox.” Coping is a good thing; coping protects us. Normal, functioning humans need coping mechanisms in order to survive. You emotionally ate? Good for you for coping! If you feel like emotional eating is the ONLY tool in your toolbox or it is disruptive to your life, then finding (or creating) other tools can be helpful. If this is challenging, seeking help from a professional, friend, or family member is also an option.

2. Ask if you are eating enough at regular meals and snacks

One of the most common things I see as a nutrition therapist is people mistakenly not eating enough during the day. Often without realizing, people consume inadequate meals and snacks due to busy schedules or lack of appetite. Eventually, the body realizes it hasn't received enough energy and the person will make up for this energy deficit in what feels like emotional eating or a binge. Clients are shocked to find that once they are eating adequately during the day, they feel much less prone to eat in a way that feels out of control later on.

3. Neutralize emotional eating

You know what’s not helpful in preventing emotional eating? Shaming yourself for said emotional eating. If you eat because you feel bad, then you feel bad because you ate, you are going to find yourself in an exhausting, endless cycle. Muster up some self-compassion and remind yourself that you were only trying to do what you could in that moment to cope. You can acknowledge that you would like to respond differently in a future time of stress, and still not beat yourself up over this time.

4. Ask what is it you’re looking for that food is providing

Is it connection, entertainment, self-soothing, distraction? Is it working? Sometimes we need ice cream and sometimes we need a hug (sometimes we need ice cream and a hug). Both are valid, reasonable options.

5. You probably don’t need to start a new diet right now

Since our daily normal lives have been disrupted, it's so normal to seek control wherever we can get it. Unfortunately, dieting only offers a false sense of control. What feels like empowerment at first almost certainly turns into feelings of deprivation followed by feelings of guilt.

6. Check in with your body and mind’s cues before eating

You can ask… How hungry am I? What temperature/textures/flavors am I in the mood for? How does this food make me feel? If we can ask ourselves these questions, we are more likely to feel satisfied from our food.


Lastly, please remember that your eating and exercise routine does not have to be perfect during a pandemic (or ever for that matter). Even if you have been using food to cope in a way that doesn't feel supportive of your well-being, shame is not an effective or sustainable motivator for change. Meet yourself with kindness during these stressful, scary times. We can still take care of ourselves to the best of our abilities while being flexible and pragmatic. For now, that might look like less fresh foods and more frozen meals, less gym time and more time outdoors, less in-person connection and more virtual connection, and all of that is okay.


Curious to learn how to make peace with food in COVID-19? Contact Jaeger Nutrition today to learn more.


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