Eating with Self-Care in Mind During Stressful Times, or How Not To Eat Everything in the House

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If you feel particularly vulnerable to unhealthy eating right now, either due to stress and/or boredom, you are not alone! If the time feels right for cracking down and eating super healthy, go for it. But, if the time doesn’t feel right, and you want to get a handle on the food situation, here are a few suggestions for your consideration:

Eat Slowly. With some conscious effort and a bit of practice, we can slow the pace of our eating tremendously and, as a result, likely enjoy our food more while consuming less. According to research published in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), people who eat more slowly tend to weigh less. So, what would eating more slowly and enjoying your food more look like for you? Is it a matter of pausing to be fully present with your food — seeing and smelling it before digging in? What else comes to mind?

What about while eating? What would savoring your meals look like for you? Is it a matter of enjoying the individual bites more fully by chewing slowly and noting the flavors and textures as never before? And what about allowing for more space between bites? What else comes to mind when you think of eating more slowly?

The idea isn’t to overwhelm ourselves with creating a bunch of rules and rituals for eating more slowly, but rather to bring a mindset of curiosity and experimentation for figuring out ways to eat more slowly that bring you more pleasure while supporting you in consuming less. Consider what might work for you, make a plan, and give it a try, tweaking it along the way as needed to do what best meets your needs. For additional support, I recommend reading Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resche.

Focus on the Foods that Nourish and Energize You. When your eating feels out of control (in quantity and/or quality of food), you may feel the impulse to make dramatic changes and as quickly as possible, but resist that impulse. The reality is that it’s almost always a sure-fire recipe for turning those celery sticks into a boatload of brownie bites in nothing flat. What if, instead, you focus for the next week or two on increasing the quantity of the delicious healthy foods you eat, especially fruits and vegetables? I’m not suggesting that you banish everything that isn’t 100% healthy (unless your healthcare provider specifies otherwise), but rather to become more mindful overall of consuming the delicious foods that nourish and energize you.

One of my favorite go-to resources for creating a healthy, balanced diet is Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate. It creates a compelling visual, including a plate made up of 50% vegetables and fruits. It also gives some helpful guidance, without overwhelming, in terms of the quality of the foods we consume (for example, recommending that we aim for color and variety when it comes to vegetables and fruits). For those interested in a whole-food, plant-based diet (and with the approval of your physician), you may find Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen smartphone app to be a great support. It is available for iPhone and Android and provides an easy-to-use daily checklist of foods that support optimal health and longevity.

So, what foods do you enjoy that also nourish and energize you? In terms of vegetables, is it roasted Brussels sprouts sprinkled with a little olive oil and salt and pepper? Or a large salad with Romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, matchstick carrot, and some shredded purple cabbage? What else might you like to include in with your leafy greens — black beans, a few pumpkin seeds or almonds?

When it comes to fruits, what about some wild blueberries with your morning oatmeal? A fruit salad with lunch? Or, a pureed frozen banana that tastes like ice cream for dessert after dinner? What other delicious and nutritious foods might you enjoy?

If you give yourself the gift of eating healthier foods over the next two weeks, what difference might that make for you? Perhaps fewer cravings for less healthy foods? Increased energy? More sensitive taste buds to better enjoy the healthy foods you want to eat? How else might you benefit?

Brainstorm Some Fun Alternatives to Eating When You Aren’t Hungry. So, what if you are eating more slowly and consuming more nutritious foods, and you still want to eat everything in the house (stress-induced hunger is a real thing)? Here’s my recommendation: grab a pen and paper or tap into your smartphone notes app and spend the next 5–10 minutes brainstorming every possible fun activity you can reasonably do right now that would provide a distraction from eating. Here are a few possibilities to get you started:

1. Crank up Some Energizing Music and Dance Around the House. Consider kicking things off with “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake or “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black-Eyed Peas.

2. Create Art. It can be something as simple diving into an adult coloring book or a paint by numbers art kit, maybe something like “Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh.

3. Practice a Guided Meditation. The Mindful Movement Channel on YouTube has numerous options for guided meditations of varying lengths, focused on everything from being present to reducing anxiety and stress.

4. Take a 15-Minute Walk, either outside or inside, depending on your circumstances. Maybe even in your own home. Many find walking energizing and a great way to take one’s mind off of food.

5. Play a Board or Card Game. What’s something you enjoyed playing as a kid? What are your current favorites? Create a post on Facebook to solicit others’ favorites. And have fun.

6. Read a Friend’s Must-Read Suggestion or a Book You Loved as a Child. Think A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles or The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

7. Learn Spanish or Italian or Another Language of Your Choice. There are numerous options to help, including smartphone apps like Babbel or Duolingo. How much more of that language would you speak in two months if you gave it 30 minutes a day?

8. Learn As Much As You Can Online about a Country You Would Love to Visit. Does visiting Portugal, The Galápagos Islands, or Vanuatu interest you? Where else might you like to go? See what you can find out your dream destination and share what you learn with others.

9. Send Five Friends a Text to Touch Base. Be sure to include something sure to make them smile.

10. Listen to a Podcast that Intrigues You. Maybe something to fire up your enthusiasm and motivation like “Side Hustle School” with Chris Guillebeau, or something you’ve long intended to listen to like TED.

With all of this said, where would you like to begin with eating more slowly and enjoying delicious and nutritious foods more often? Choose something simple and doable and begin. Then, building on that foundation, find more simple but effective ways to eat slower and healthier, keeping in mind that small changes often add up to satisfying results over time.

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