AMID THE chaos that is Corona, I’ve been writing and talking up a storm in various interviews around anxiety and coping with this virus, now also Lockdown. And as I’m passionate about all things stress and anxiety, and even more so about managing them, I’ve been happy to contribute. What I’ve noticed is that the main topic remains anxiety and coping, as we are still struggling to come to terms with the situation we find ourselves in.
On the most recent discussion with Carol Ofori on Radio 2000 though, the dreaded comfort eating problem – and not being able to go out to exercise – came up too. We were actually talking about what we are consuming while confined to home, and how harmful it becomes when we consume news and social media for long periods of the day. This can only make you anxious, depressed, even angry, apart from the brain fog that sets in. Then what happens next, is the need for consumption of another kind – binge watching series, or whatever else our usual choice of comfort is (as in the gaming, chips and chocolate, or that third glass of wine).
It starts with screen bingeing
In the case of overconsumption of news and social media, even online gaming, we know what we should be doing. Limit it to chunks of time and take decent sized breaks. I am limiting my exposure to news to 10 minutes morning and night – can’t hide under a rock entirely, and while I have been meaning to take a social media holiday, that’s not so likely right now so that is also being rationed to twice per day. Much easier to do this when your phone is face down on silent, or in another room. Just saying!
Turning our attention to the panic buying everyone seems to have done, Carol pointed out that as a result of this many of us now have three weeks’ worth of “dangerous substances” in our cupboards. And getting used to the idea of lockdown, it’s all too tempting to go through a lot of the chips, chocs and fizzy drinks we bought when were stocking up on tins and toilet paper. Part of this can be chalked up to stress eating, which is fair enough considering most of us have never experienced lockdown, let alone a pandemic. But as Carol also asked, how are we going to control ourselves for the next few weeks?
My first answer to this is: when you leave home to dash in and out of the shops, avoid the aisles you know are dangerous for you. Hard to do if supermarkets still look like the picture above, but remember why you’re dashing and avoiding close contact with anyone if you can help it. Fear has many good qualities! But what if I stocked up to the point where even if I don’t buy more, there’s still enough at home for three weeks of comfort eating?! This calls for some emergency measures, and here are two easy ones you can implement right now.
Take the comfort out of comfort eating
First things first: delay. When the urge to comfort (emotion, boredom) eat appears, it would be ideal to delay giving in to that urge automatically and immediately. Again, not so easy when it’s right there and all you have to do is open a cupboard or fridge and … So I advise that you put the problem foods in an inaccessible place, where you will need to make effort and take time to get it out. This could be at the back of the fridge or cupboard, high enough to need to climb up to access it – in Carol’s case she’s thinking about the roof! At least you’ll get some exercise while trying to get your hands on it!
The rationale for delayed gratification is to allow you a bit of time to slow down, think, consider whether – cost-benefit – the momentary comfort is worth feeling ill (and other side-effects) later. Do make it fun though, so you can have an inner chuckle at yourself unpacking tins or pasta packets to get to the chips, or all the sauces and veggies in the fridge to get to the chocolate.
The second tip helps you out with comfort eating and overconsumption of device time. How often don’t we eat in front of the television, while binge watching something? Or while scrolling through endless feeds on our phones? Then we reach for another chip, or the popcorn, or the chocolate, and ask who ate it all while we weren’t looking! FYI the brain automates many functions, eating being one of them (and yes, this includes reaching for items and popping them into our mouths without needing to look). So anything that is not automatic – even junk on our phones or TV, is going to grab our main attention while other things, like eating or scratching an itch, happen at a pre-conscious level.
The way to address this is to eat mindfully, as in with no competing activities. This is actually easier at the moment, since we aren’t wanting to be in shops to replenish supplies and standing in lines much, no matter how bad the cabin fever gets, so it’s our chance to try out mindful eating. There are more hours in the day to fill as well, so you can even decide to do everything by itself instead of the usual frantic overlap because there’s so little time left by the time we get home, or get kids to bed.
I’ll leave you with this: no one likes to be told they “can’t” – go out, walk the dog, see family and friends. No one wants to be floppy and brain fogged either, so let’s bring some choice back into the equation: instead of comfort eating on autopilot, choose consciously what to consume, when and where!
Mindful Eating for Gut Health — Want to stop brain fog? Well, it’s not just about your brain. Your body literally has a mind of its own, one that affects your “mental” mind more than you think. To read more about the “second brain” in your gut, visit this piece on www.practicalmindfulness.co.za.
Daily Stretches – Look up some videos on simple hamstring stretches or a short set of full body stretches. I am always surprised by what a difference a few stretches in the morning make, even just five minutes every day. More energy, greater flexibility, less back and neck pain.
Get Outside – If you have a garden, spend some time there. This is especially great if you haven’t really spent focused time walking around it, really noticing what’s there. I can vouch for this one, having watched bees that weren’t too fussed by my presence, extract pollen from flowers and roll it into neat cylinders before stowing it in “side pockets” on their legs!