Many of us have been conditioned to associate different feelings with food. We celebrate with food, grieve with food, and often turn to food for comfort. When we become stressed, anxious, or worried, it's common to gravitate to food to satisfy those emotions, especially if you're not used to feeling them, explained registered dietitian Mindy Black, MS, CSSD.
If you notice you're eating more or different foods than usual right now, this is also a natural response to stress and our changing environment, explained registered dietitian Brenna O'Malley, creator of the health blog The Wellful. She said, "Food is meant to be pleasurable and can be a coping mechanism or way to self-soothe." This might mean that you're craving different foods, foods you don't typically keep in the house, or foods you save for special occasions.
"It's very very normal to find yourself eating when you aren't hungry to cope with emotions that come up at a time like now," O'Malley reassured. The best thing you can do after emotionally eating is to be kind to yourself and treat yourself like you would a friend. Show yourself compassion; speak to yourself with reassuring, kind words that will make you feel better, and have patience with yourself.
If overeating, stress eating, or emotional eating is leading to binge eating, or it's making you feel out of control or physically ill, psychotherapist Lynsey McMillan, MSc, who specializes in disordered eating said, "If you do binge, don't beat yourself up for it, and try to resist the temptation to fix the binge by dieting, skipping meals, or purging." Aim to press the reset button by eating again at the next possible mealtime.
McMillan added, "Remember this was not about food but was a sign of some stress or distress that requires attention and compassion." Focus on attending to the message rather than getting distracted by the messenger. Consider what your needs are and how they are being met with food.
If you are binge eating and finding it difficult to stop on your own, registered dietitian, Kara Lydon, LDN, an intuitive eating counselor and owner of Kara Lydon Nutrition said to "reach out to a dietitian or a therapist who is trained in eating disorders and practices from a Health at Every Size (HAES) paradigm."