Healthy Tahoe: Have a healthy relationship with food at home

Erin Kelly

As we continue to stay close to home during social distancing measures, many of us are finding food to provide comfort and help reduce stress. We might also find ourselves frequently snacking from our quarantine supplies. Our day-to-day lives have been disrupted by COVID-19, and with this comes a disruption in our relationship with food.

The entire process of feeding ourselves has changed.

The act of shopping for food increases risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Large grocery hauls of processed, sugary, salty food may be replacing fresh fruits and vegetables.

Many of us are struggling with financial stress, resulting in fear of not having food. Meals are being eaten almost exclusively at home, void of any social aspects like that of school or restaurants. Meanwhile, changes with work, school and socializing have upended eating schedules.

These changes in our eating habits during the pandemic not only affect our relationship with food, they can wreak havoc on our mental health.

An increase in calories and decrease in exercise can result in weight gain and feelings of guilt. Others might feel ashamed of what and how often they are eating.

Instead of feeling guilty or shaming yourself, try to have compassion and understanding for your situation. We all suffer from being human. Our bodies are programmed to enjoy eating to survive, and eating can be a pleasurable activity.

Shame and guilt do not tend to promote change, so if you are experiencing these feelings, take them as a signal to explore what is prompting your eating behaviors and what might need to change. These emotions can trigger depression, and even behavioral health issues like eating disorders.

While this is a time to give ourselves grace, we can be aware of red flags and use them to shift toward nurturing ourselves instead of binging.

Binging is when a large amount of food is consumed and there is a sense of feeling out of control. Studies show that binge eating serves the purpose of distracting, which can take a person’s mind off troubling events. It also can dampen intense mood swings.

Binges are provoked by one or more of the following: breaking a dietary rule and reacting by abandoning dietary control, being disinhibited by alcohol or marijuana, undereating – causing the body to be under strong physiological pressure to eat, or being launched by an external event or adverse mood.

Regular eating can decrease binge eating. This means creating a weekly plan for meals and snacks. If regular eating does not help curb binges, analyze the binge. Are one or more of the triggers for a binge leading to overeating?

Did you have one too many cookies and now are just going to eat the entire package? Is alcohol or marijuana the start to your binge?

Are you trying to fast and then wind up binging? Are you experiencing trauma such as an argument with a loved one or losing your job and binging?

When under stress, I encourage people to return to basics, which include creating a routine and schedule to target sleep, healthy eating, and balance in their lives. The pandemic is providing multiple opportunities for people to practice self soothing and reevaluate how they deal with stress, feelings and problem solving.

Erin Kelly, LMFT is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, practicing at A Balanced Life in South Lake Tahoe. She has over 20 years of experience providing individual, family and group therapy, and is trained in Adult Psychiatric Emergency Services, residential treatment and field based services.

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