Are you munching your way through lockdown? Trying to distract yourself from what’s happening in the world outside your window by comfort eating crisps, chocolate biscuits, cheese-on-toast, freshly-baked bread still warm from the oven and bargain-buy Easter eggs?
Stress is one of the main reasons for comfort eating. With a recent survey by wellness brand Healthspan finding that 40% of us comfort eat, it’s no wonder that so many of us are turning to food to help us cope with the corona virus pandemic and the drastic changes it’s made to our daily lives.
“From childhood, most of us tend to associate unhealthy, high-calorie food with fun times,” explains leading psychologist and Healthspan Ambassador Dr Meg Arroll. “Later on, when life gets stressful, our brains automatically seek out these foods for an instant mood boost.”
As well as triggering comfort eating, stress also releases a hormone which makes it easier to gain weight – and more difficult to lose weight. At this highly stressful time, it’s only too easy to turn to food for comfort. However, in the long-term, comfort eating won’t help your physical health, your mental health or your waistband.
10 Ways To Curb Comfort Eating
1 Think about why you want to eat rather than what – or how much. “Are you hungry or are you stressed, bored, lonely – or thirsty?” suggests leading psychologist Dr Meg Arroll. “Understanding why you want to comfort eat will help you break the pattern.”
2 Tuck into healthy, filling meals. Take time to savour every delicious mouthful and you should be less likely to crave high calorie treats between meals.
3 Schedule your one-hour of exercise for the evening. “This will hopefully keep your mind off late-night snacking,” says registered nutritionist Rob Hobson.
4 Shop sensibly. “Don’t stock up on high calorie snacks, sweets and chocolate,” stresses Rob. “If it’s not in your cupboard or fridge, you can’t eat it. And, as only essential shopping trips are currently permitted, there’s no longer the option of nipping out to the supermarket if you’re in need of a treat or two.”
5 Try distraction therapy! Fill as much of your day as possible with enjoyable, absorbing, creative activities, perhaps online art classes or writing the first chapter of your long-awaited novel! “Carving out time to be creative is a very good way to manage stress-related comfort eating,” says Dr Meg Arroll. “If stressful thoughts try to butt in while you’re concentrating, breathe deeply through the diaphragm whilst acknowledging these thoughts – and then gently nudge them away.”
6 Don’t think of your freshly-baked bread as a delicious extra but as your everyday loaf. “Once baked, slice thinly and pop in the freezer so you can use your homemade bread as you need it – rather than scoffing in one go,” says Rob Hobson.
7 Top up your vitamin levels. As well as triggering comfort eating, stress depletes the body’s vitamin reserves. “B vitamins, which are needed for energy metabolism and fat processing, are used up during the stress response so a high dose B vitamin complex is a good idea,” advises Dr Sarah Brewer, Healthspan Medical Director. “Vitamin C is also needed during times of stress – consider taking a vitamin C supplement. Try Healthspan new vitamin C Gummies which are very palatable – 90 gummies for £9.95.
8 If you must snack, snack healthy. “Instead of cake, have a slice of fruit loaf with low-fat spread or a rice cake with mashed banana and cinnamon,” suggests Rob Hobson. “And rather than keeping a sharing bag of crisps to yourself, how about a couple of oatcakes with a little bit of soft cheese?”
9 Destress with magnesium. “Magnesium has a relaxing effect on muscles and promotes stress-relieving sleep,” says Dr Sarah Brewer. “Add a handful of magnesium flakes to your bath. If you’re feeling very stressed, consider taking a magnesium supplement.”
10 Don’t let the Great Lockdown Bake Off be your downfall! “Go ahead and bake – but halve the recipe’s ingredients so there’s less for you to eat,” says Healthspan Head of Nutrition Rob Hobson. “Alternatively, leave a batch of your home-baked cakes on your neighbour’s doorstep with a chatty note.”