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How To Manage Stress Eating During Quarantine

For many of us, the coronavirus pandemic has turned daily life completely upside-down. As we attempt to work from home, care for family members, or just navigate the news cycle, the stress and strangeness of this unprecedented time has led many of us to the same place: the kitchen.

In a world in which we rarely leave home, stress eating (and eating out of boredom) are ever-tempting—but totally natural.

“While the idea of stress eating is often frowned upon, it can actually be a normal response to handing new, hard, or strange emotions,” says dietitian Sarah Schlichter, M.P.H., R.D.N., founder of Bucket List Tummy. “Turning to food occasionally to handle these feelings is a normal human instinct.”

It’s important to give yourself a little grace right now. But it’s also important to realize when food becomes an unhealthy coping mechanism.

“When people feel that they have no other mechanisms through which to cope with emotions outside of food, turning to food every time can be problematic and wreak havoc on their relationship with food,” Schlichter says.

To make your munching as mindful as possible and minimize stress eating, consider the following dietitian-backed tips.

1. Create An Eating Schedule

“Skipping meals can definitely make you more likely to mindlessly munch throughout the day,” says dietitian Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. “So, make sure to try and stick to an eating schedule.”

Start your day with a breakfast that includes protein, fiber, and healthy fats (such as oatmeal with almond butter and banana). Then, plan to have a balanced lunch, one afternoon snack, and dinner.

Read More: 8 Breakfasts That Pack Between 20 And 30 Grams Of Protein

Ideally, you’d eat every three to four hours, says Schlichter.

2. Only Stock Your Pantry With Nutritious Foods

“Out of sight, out of mind. In sight, in mouth,” says dietitian Monica Auslander Moreno, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. Stock your pantry with snacks that contain protein, fat, and fiber, which will actually fill you up between meals and reduce mindless marathon snacking.

Instead of chips, crackers, or cookies, opt for nuts, popcorn, dried fruit, or jerky.

3. Pre-Portion Everything

“When I’m shopping, I do my best to choose snacks that are pre-portioned, and after I get home, I pre-portion any other snacks,” says dietitian Amber Pankonin, M.S., R.D., L.M.N.T., founder of Stirlist. “Instead of grabbing the big bag of chips, grab small, single-serving bags so you can enjoy your chips but have a stopping point.”

4. Check In With The Hunger Scale

Not sure whether you’re eating out true hunger, boredom, or stress? Check in with yourself before grabbing a snack.

The Hunger Scale is a scale on which you can rate your hunger and fullness from one to 10,” says Schlichter. “A one signals extreme hunger, with symptoms of low blood sugar like dizziness, headache, and a lack of concentration,” she explains. “A five, meanwhile, is completely neutral (neither hungry nor full) and a 10 signals extreme fullness (think ‘Thanksgiving full’), at which point you may feel uncomfortable.”

Ideally, you want to start eating when you’re at a three or four, and stop when you’re at a six or seven. Eating when you’re hungry but not famished, and stopping when you’re just satisfied can prevent overeating and eating too quickly or mindlessly, Schlichter explains.

5. Question Your Cravings

Had a snack an hour ago but find yourself wanting to eat again? Ask yourself whether something else is going on that you’re confusing for hunger or trying to avoid, suggests Schlichter. As you think about it, go for a short walk, do a little journaling, or meditate quietly for a few minutes to give your brain a moment to process whatever you’re thinking or feeling.

Read More: 9 Quick Ways To Crush Your Cravings

Afterwards, you’ll be better able to evaluate your true hunger. If your craving is emotional craving, acknowledge it, Schlichter says. Remind yourself that it’s okay to turn to food, but ask yourself: Will doing so help resolve what you’re feeling or prolong it? In many cases, other activities or coping mechanisms will better serve you.

6. Don’t Eat In Front Of The Computer

“With working from home being the new normal, it’s easy to snack or eat a quick meal while responding to an email or Slack message,” says Pankonin. “But eating while trying to work can lead to mindless eating and cause more stress.”

Commit to separate eating from work and step away from the computer for a few minutes to truly focus on and enjoy your food.

7. Call A Loved One

“Sometimes we grab food just to keep ourselves busy,” says Gans. Often, in these cases, what we’re really craving is connection. “Instead, reach for your phone and try connecting with a friend or family member.”

8. Eat With Your Non-Dominant Hand

Eating too quickly can cause you to lose track of how much you actually consume, which is a recipe for overeating. To slow down and become more mindful while you eat, hold your utensils in your non-dominant hand.

“This will slow you down and make you realize how much we rely on that dominant hand!”  says Auslander Moreno.

9. Focus On High-Fiber, High-Protein Foods

“When we mindlessly munch, it’s often on highly-palatable, low-nutrient foods like chips, crackers, candy, or sweets,” says Schlichter. “Instead, start with a piece of fruit and string cheese, or Greek yogurt.”

Nutrient-dense foods high in protein and fiber help us feel fuller faster. Plus, if that Greek yogurt or fruit-and-cheese combo doesn’t appeal, you know you’re having an emotional craving and aren’t truly hungry.

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook community, Eating Healthy, today!

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