Are you overeating.......or are you surviving?


Overeating. What does that mean exactly? Over what? Over the amount we normally eat in a pandemic?

I don't know about you but this is all new to me. I've never experienced anything like this in my life before.

There's no reference point you see. No 'normal'.

You are living in the unfamiliar BUT your body is doing what it knows and does best.

Your body is taking care of you.

Over the last month you've experienced significant change:

You haven't had a choice. You are experiencing reduced access to your loved ones. Your freedom has been restricted. So has access to food.
Your routines have changed. You may have had to stop work, or at least change the way you do it. Your financial security may have been affected.

These are all fundamental things you require to feel safe and happy in this World. When your body senses your vulnerability, it goes into survival mode.

The human body struggles to distinguish fear from danger, especially in unfamiliar situations. We're not great at knowing the difference between restriction and starvation either.
Hence the hoarding behaviour we saw a few weeks ago and the fact that flour is still like gold dust. That was a clear sign of fear. Okay, some stupidity too, but underneath all that, humans were panicking.

There's a lot of research that looks into human reactions during a crisis and guess what? Yep, when we're stressed, one of the first things we change is our eating behaviours.
You might have noticed your appetite has reduced.....or you might have discovered the opposite.

If you're wondering why you can't stop eating, here's why....

Stress increases your desire for high energy (high Calorie or high sugar) foods. Why? Because it's quick release energy. The surge of sugar into your bloodstream means you could leg it to safety (if you were allowed!) as part of your fight or flight response.

Hence sweets, chocolate and cake have become super appealing. Because in 2020 your body is still not sure if a saber tooth tiger could jump out on you. OK we're dealing with a virus but exactly the same principle applies. Run, run as fast as you can.....or do whatever you need to do to help keep yourself safe.

So Cadbury's mini eggs may just be the difference between surviving and dying as far as your body is concerned.

The other good thing about mini eggs (other chocolate is available) is they trigger the production and release of Dopamine. This is one of your 'feel good' hormones associated with motivation and reward.
So it’s dopamine you can thank for those times when you repeatedly go back to the fridge and grab 'just one more' even though you know you're not hungry. Your body is seeking pleasure at a time when it feels there is a distinct lack of it!

As you probably appreciate, eating can also be a great distraction. You eat when you're bored or procrastinating right? And when you're feeling lonely. You may find yourself eating impulsively, without thinking about it, as you attempt to remove the negative emotion you’re feeling at the time.

There is no doubt that food is an effective self-soother. When feeling stressed, it's normal for your body to seek comfort. And if you're feeling particularly uncomfortable, that seeking behaviour may result in compulsive eating - eating when there is no perceived reward or pleasure.
It can reflect a lack of adequate coping skills to deal with the emotional upset at the time. It can also be a way of feeling SOMETHING. If you are feeling numb, feeling something, (even if it's something destructive) can feel better than nothing.

Last but not least, stress typically increases your Cortisol levels. Cortisol is one of your key stress hormones and it can increase your appetite. Again, your body is thinking eat. Eating will help keep you strong. Eating is good for survival! Eat!
What can you do if you are feeling out of control with your eating?

Identify your triggers
You might notice you shift into mindless eating when you spend more time watching the news, scrolling on social media, not getting enough sleep or having enough breaks. Pause for a moment to check in with yourself.

Add a prompt or reminder
Creating new habits (or unlearning old ones) require self-awareness. When actions are not yet automatic you many benefit from a friendly reminder to question that unconscious reaction (such as a post-it note on the cupboard that simply says BE MINDFUL).

Create a flexible routine
This will give you some predictability and focus in your day.
Eat regularly and together when you can (if you are not self-isolating alone).

Consider less is more
We typically underestimate the impact of increased anxiety on energy levels, focus and motivation. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do everything. Instead be aware of what causes the disconnect between your mind and body. Think self care, self care and more self care.

Try writing to enable a sense of calm and control.
Try these for starters…
1. five people you can call when you feel down
2. five ways you can relax (walk, do some breath work, lie on the bed, light an aromatherapy candle)
3. five places you can go to calm down (e.g. to a cosy corner, the garden, have a bath)
4. five supportive things you can say to yourself (e.g. “this feeling will pass”)
5. five activities you can use for distraction (e.g. do a jigsaw, nurture your plants, draw or doodle, bake something tasty).
I hope these ideas help.
I'm running my 'food for thought' workshop on Monday 13th at 17.30 GMT and again on Wednesday 15th at Midday. If you'd like to better understand your body and find more effective ways to support it (without relying on food so much), grab one of the last remaining places. You'll get a copy of my food-mood journal too - book HERE
Mel x


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