Before quarantine, my food routine was pretty straightforward. I typically lived by the 80/20 rule: Sunday through Thursday, I kept it clean with quality protein, healthy fats, and veggies. On Friday and Saturday, I ate and drank whatever I wanted.
During the week, the prepared foods and salad bar at Whole Foods were my best friends. I didn’t cook at home much, but I didn’t order greasy takeout, either. I knew I was getting wholesome, nutritious meals each night.
After struggling with eating disorders in high school and college, I enjoyed the structure of my routine. It made eating well—and fueling my body properly—easy. I looked forward to my quick Whole Foods trips and the salmon, Brussels sprouts, and pretty heirloom tomato dishes I’d regularly bring home.
Once the coronavirus pandemic hit, though, I could no longer casually grab healthy foods like I normally would. Plus, being surrounded by food at home all day left me tempted to eat mindlessly out of stress and boredom (which I had worked hard for years to avoid).
Honestly, I panicked. How could I live this way? Without much cooking know-how to get my by, I worried I’d opt for not-so-healthy takeout or just snack instead of eating proper meals. And, since I had a history of binge eating, the thought of being around snacks all day long made me anxious.
Back To Old Habits
The initial transition from going into an office every day to being stuck inside was rough. At first, I found myself opening the fridge every 10 minutes.
I wasn’t constantly hungry; just stressed or bored. I wanted to eat because the food was right there, all the time.
Whenever I ate an extra meal or snack, I started to feel bad about it, which ultimately drove me to eat more. I started to lose control of my eating, and found myself in a cycle of binging that I desperately wanted to break free from.
Realizing I’d fallen into an old pattern, I panicked even more. For weeks, I would often skip dinner or exercise for hours after eating all morning and afternoon. Work was slow and I constantly beat myself up and stressed about my eating, career, everything.
After eating so much that a stomach ache kept me from falling asleep one night, I realized I was heading into dangerous territory—and that I couldn’t let it continue. The physical discomfort hit me hard. I’d often feel overcome with guilt after overeating—but this time, the intensity of the physical sensation made it clear: I never wanted to feel this way again.
The next day, I called my mom to let her know that I was experiencing old patterns and that I needed to take a few days to reconnect. I’d been through this before, so luckily I had coping mechanisms in place and an understanding of what I had to do to get back into a healthier place.
I knew that if I alleviated some of my overall stress, I could then alleviate the stress I felt around eating. I also knew that putting certain rules and practices into place would help me get back on track.
First, I leaned into more FaceTime dates and virtual get-togethers with friends, which always boosted my mood. Bringing more fun and laughter back into my days helped me feel better about myself and shift into a healthier mindset.
In difficult moments, I turned to walks outside to recenter me.
Another key change: I started turning down media samples of snack foods. (As a food and wellness writer, I receive about four or five packages of snacks (think protein bars and chips) per day from publicists.) I love trying new treats, but I didn’t need to be surrounded by them right now.
I only wanted foods I purchased from the grocery store in my home. Not only would this help me control the stimuli involved in my unhealthy eating patterns, but it would also help me remind my body just how delicious and satisfying healthy food is.
I started prioritizing foods that featured an array of nutrients and building healthy meals with ingredients like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, canned fish, nut butters, and dark chocolate.
Emphasizing wholesome, nutritious foods helped me feel more energized and balanced throughout the day. I no longer felt compelled to snack or indulge to the point of excess.
Knowing that I had been using food as a source of comfort when I was bored or stressed, I also leaned into other coping mechanisms. I told myself that it was okay to watch TV during a work lull or dance to music in my living room when I needed a break. I didn’t beat myself up for not being ‘productive’ or working as much as usual.
The more I worked on my mindset, the more relief I found in fun activities that made me feel happy and relaxed (even during work hours). I no longer needed to eat for comfort.
Read More: Self-Care Practices Helping Mental Health Experts Cope With The Coronavirus Pandemic
Finding Greater Strength
Despite the incredible challenge that quarantine initially presented, I have to say that I’ve never felt as comfortable with my relationship with food as I do now.
I no longer feel an urge to stress eat—and while I wasn’t in a cycle of binging before quarantine, I did find myself mindlessly snacking (especially on media samples) and feeling guilty afterwards.
Learning how to build wholesome meals with the ingredients I have on hand has also done wonders for my digestion. These days, I have had zero stomach pain—and don’t feel bloated or gassy like I often did before.
Most importantly, I have truly disassociated food from comfort. Though I really enjoy what I am eating, I don’t rely on it for comfort when I’m struggling.
Before quarantine, I admittedly hadn’t identified the healthy outlets that comforted me—but this situation has challenged me to do so. And, after facing the issue head-on, I’ve changed my perspective for the better.
Living in New York City, I’m still sheltering in place, but I’m not eyeing the pantry every hour. I have a better sense of control and peace in my relationship with food, listen to my hunger cues, and choose healthy eats that uplift me and make me feel nourished.
Though quarantine certainly hasn’t been a walk in the park, it has reinforced my ability to rise above past unhealthy eating patterns and helped me build my inner strength—a significant bright spot for me during a dark time in our world.
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