When we first went into quarantine, I thought it would last a few weeks at the longest. My three kids adjusted to distance learning, and I adjusted to working at home with them. I decided it was a good opportunity to take advantage of all of our activities being canceled and to focus on things we never seemed to have time to do otherwise.
I taught my 14-year-old son how to bake banana bread and make rice krispie treats. My husband learned to bake bread from scratch, and we all enjoyed the fruits of his labor. Together as a family, we watched all (yes all!) of the Star Wars movies in order.
As a lifelong emotional eater and dieter who now helps others to stop overeating permanently as a life and weight loss coach, I was aware that my eating habits were straying a bit from my norm. I kept track of my weight and managed my mind when the scale crept up a bit, but overall I looked at it as an experiment: could I continue to love myself and my body even if I gained weight?
I noticed my clients (all physicians with their own involvement in the pandemic) moving away from the eating habits that had worked well for them too. They were eating and sometimes drinking alcohol in order to avoid feeling all sorts of emotions – from fear, stress, and anger to boredom, loneliness, and uncertainty.
Once it became clear that the pandemic was here to stay and that our time at home was going to be anything but short-lived, I redirected myself and my clients away from eating and drinking to cope with life to processing their emotions and focusing on mindset to get them through this time. The result of doing this has been not only losing those extra COVID pounds but, more importantly, taking an active role in our experience of this season of life.
You may have gained 10-15 pounds too since life started shutting down. This in and of itself is not a problem. You are just as valuable, worthy, and acceptable as you were before the pandemic hit. But even so, you might like your favorite jeans to fit again and to feel more confident in your body. The good news is that you can get your eating back under control and lose the extra weight without dieting, restriction, or deprivation.
Step 1: Develop awareness around what you’re currently eating.
When we eat for emotional reasons, it’s often an attempt to numb ourselves or check out momentarily from our experience of life. Our brains can be crafty and choose to forget about what we ate earlier so that we don’t have to feel bad about it later. Quickly jotting down what you ate throughout the day allows you to become aware of what and when you’re eating.
I suggest using either the notes app on your phone or a notebook to record what you eat and drink. Weight loss apps often require amounts and show you data like calories that only make documenting your intake more complicated and time consuming.
Instead, just write down what you ate. No need for weighing, measuring, or counting anything. No need to beat yourself up or judge yourself because of what you consumed. Simply become aware of what you chew, sip, and swallow.
Step 2: Reconnect with your body before you take a bite.
Next, when you notice yourself reaching for food, reconnect with your body for a quick moment before you eat. Why are you eating? Are you physically hungry? Or are you asking food to neutralize an emotion you’re experiencing, such as stress, boredom, or loneliness?
Begin to look for patterns in which emotions you prefer to avoid by eating or drinking.
Step 3: Develop a plan to feel your emotions before you eat them.
Then, once you see a trend in which emotions you typically don’t want to feel, develop a plan to help you learn to feel and process your emotions instead of eating them. For instance, if you frequently eat out of boredom, take a few minutes before eating to move out of your head and into your body.
Where is the feeling of boredom located in your body? How would you describe it to someone unfamiliar with the concept of boredom? Does it move or change? Is it very uncomfortable or more like a nuisance?
Keep breathing and notice how it changes over time. How long does it last if you don’t eat or drink? Challenge yourself to stay with yourself in the emotion rather than eating to make it go away faster.
Have a look at what you’ve been eating. Brainstorm a list of small adjustments you can make to your eating habits that you know you can sustain long term. Choose one, then check in with yourself. How likely are you to consistently follow through on this one small change? Choose a different change if you’re not at least 8 out of 10 certain that you can and will follow through.
Suggestions for small adjustments are drinking more water, adding in a serving of vegetables every day, or focusing on getting more sleep.
Step 4: Be patient with yourself.
It took a few months to put the weight on, so allow it to take a few months for it to come off. If you allow yourself to become panicked or disgusted by your weight gain, you may be tempted to dive head-first into a crash diet to get the excess off quickly.
All evidence points to that not being a good long-term solution for weight loss.
If you feel rushed, explore it further. What’s the rush to lose the weight? Why is being where you are today so intolerable? When you truly love and accept yourself at any size, you can decide to lose weight simply because you want to, not so that you can feel good about yourself.
Most importantly, keep going. The skills you develop in this process will help you maintain your weight loss over the years to come, even after the pandemic is over.