6 Tips for Moving Beyond Stress Eating During the Pandemic—and For Good
Craving comfort foods? Overwhelmed by meal planning? Believe us—you’re not alone.
For women in midlife, who may be dealing with symptoms of peri- or full-on menopause, alongside a lot of responsibilities caring for others, both experiences with food are common. During a global pandemic marked by uncertainty and weeks of sheltering in place with family, food can begin to feel like a source of anxiety rather than sustenance.
In the first of a series of #curiechats, California-based health coach Sarah Goff shared her tips on how women can keep themselves nourished—body and mind—during times of extreme stress. Here’s what we learned.
Pause to shift
Take a beat to get curious about your life without judgment, and then consider the following:
1. Recognize that there is a connection between stress and food cravings. The body wants nothing more than to be balanced, Goff says. Stress raises cortisol levels, and the body will attempt to offset that with increased serotonin. Eating foods we love bumps up the feel-good hormone, but only temporarily. You can take charge of the situation—not by eating a pan of mac and cheese—but by practicing mindful breathing exercises to lower cortisol.
Goff recommends a 5:5:7 breathing technique, which means simply inhaling through your nose to a count of five, holding for five counts, and then exhaling through your mouth to a count of seven. “If you can slow your breath down, and especially if you can get down into that deep, low-belly breath, you’re going to pop yourself right out of that stress response,” Goff says.
2. Feed your gut health. The gut is responsible for pulling nutrients from food and keeping the immune system balanced, so that it protects the body from harmful intruders while not doing harm to itself (autoimmune disorders). There are about 40 trillion bacterial cells—2 to 5 pounds—in the gut. The digestive tract is home to 70% to 80% of the cells that make up your immune system. Goff suggests eating plenty of prebiotic foods, such as garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas, and apples, which have fermentable fiber that feeds gut flora and reduces cravings for sweets.
3. Stay hydrated. Up to 60% of the human body is water, as Goff points out, and cells need constant replenishment to work properly. “If you are tired all the time, the solution might be as simple as drinking more water,” Goff says. Set a goal of drinking half your body weight in ounces each day. This means a woman who weighs 150 pounds should aim to drink 75 ounces of water every day.
4. Be sure you’re getting enough sleep. Because your body feels the least amount of threat when you’re asleep, your brain calms and your hormones have a chance to regulate. Sleep is the repair-and-maintenance phase of our day, Goff says. What’s more, good sleep decreases your appetite, making it easier to eat healthfully. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends at least seven hours of sleep per night.If you’re having trouble sleeping, check out our tips for improving your sleep hygiene.
5. Move your body. Whether it’s running or yoga, tennis or tai chi, find an activity you love and make time to do it most days. There have been numerous studies that show exercise benefits not just your physical body but also your mental state. It’s proven to boost mood, reduce anxiety, and regulate the impulses for hunger and satiety.
6. Figure out what you really want and eliminate the things that no longer serve you. When you’re running on autopilot, it’s nearly impossible to shift gears. If you have the bandwidth, the pandemic could be an opportune time to reassess and shed the parts of your life that are weighing you down. What worked well for you five years ago may be nothing more than a bad habit now. “Stop and step back. Look and see what is working and what is not working,” Goff says. Then put more of what makes your heart sing into a new routine. Healthy routines are proven to lower stress, which again helps reduce cortisol and regulate cravings.
Think joy, start small
“We digest so much more than food,” Goff says, “and it’s all connected.” Stressors affect you on a cellular level, so work to bring more joy into your life—but don’t let that effort become just another stressor. Instead, pick the entry point that seems the most joyful for you, and build from there.
Want to watch the webinar for yourself? Check out the replay on YouTube.
Learn more about Goff at sarahgoff.org.