These are difficult times. Social isolation. Physical distancing. Heightened fear, stress and anxiety. People getting laid off and filing for unemployment. Not sure when your next paycheck is coming. Grocery stores are out of toilet paper, flour and pasta… (WTF people please stop hoarding!) Btw, this picture was taken before the pandemic after a day X-country skiing in Tahoe. Look at all the abundance of cereals!

In times of stress, it is completely normal to want to use food to cope with difficult emotions. If you find yourself wanting to eat more or less, this is a normal response to stress in your body. It’s understandable that you would turn to food in these very uncertain times.

What is happening right now is unprecedented. We have never experienced food shortages to this degree. Seeing empty shelves of food at the store can be triggering – especially if you have a history of food insecurity, trauma, and or eating disorders.

The body responds to this trauma by increasing our mouth hunger appetite, i.e., we will want to eat when not physically hungry or overeat more. We naturally want to compensate by eating more to protect ourselves. This is why the principal, Making Peace with Food in Intuitive Eating is so important to heal from deprivation and avoidance/restriction of foods.

Current equation: Restriction + Scarcity = Increased Food cravings & Obsession & Overeating/binge eating.

The antidote to this is abundance with foods.

Here are 8 tips to help you feel nourished and well fed during social isolation.

1. Self-Compassion: now more than ever is the time to learn how to be compassionate towards yourself.

According to self-compassion guru Kristen Neff, ‘Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.’ Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. You are not alone in this time of social isolation. We are indeed all suffering together in this shared human experience. If you haven’t read the book by Kristen Neff, now might be a great time to do so.

2. Permission to FEEL all the feels: there is no doubt that this time is a pressure cooker of emotions.

Now that we are forced to slow down, many emotions that we may have unconsciously pushed away from the distractions of normal life will now resurface. There are silver lining to be found. Admittedly, this is not an easy process but these strong emotions are resurfacing for a reason- they long to be acknowledged and processed. Remember that whatever you are feeling is valid and normal and does not define you. You can always take breaks from ‘feeling your feelings’ by distracting, e.g., watch Netflix or go for a walk, etc. If you are feeling overwhelmed by intense emotions, please reach out to your therapist, dietitian or a good friend.

3. Eat enough: it’s good self-care to eat three meals and snacks/day.

Stock up (to the best of your stores ability to provide) on your pantry essentials, fill your freezer, bake those cookies, and have plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables on hand. If you are having a hard time ‘listening to your body’ because of stress, it’s still very important to eat enough. Restricting will not help support your immune system right now. Even though diet culture still says it’s okay to restrict or diet during these times, it’s the worst thing you can do to protect your immunity. The best strategy to structure your eating is to plan to always eat breakfast within the first 1-2 hours of waking up. From there, eat every 3-5 hours. Snacks are typically every 2-3 hours. It’s difficult to practice intuitive eating during times of high stress and anxiety, so do your best to eat on schedule, as this is good self-care. Your meals and snacks don’t need to be perfectly balanced either.

4. Kick your judgments to the curb!

Because of the food shortages in stores, maybe you can’t get your favorite foods. Maybe you are eating more processed foods because you can’t get access to your ‘healthier options,’ so best to roll with this and be flexible. It’s truly okay to eat different foods than you would normally during this time. If you are cravings different foods than you’d normally eat, go for it, and without judgments! We have no room for judgments right now. This is our time to double down on self-compassion, kindness and permission. Because, sometimes, gummy bears make an excellent snack.

5. Radical self-care & do something every day that brings you Joy.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Start a meditation practice. Get Insight Timer or Headspace Apps and start with just 5 minutes a day. This will change your life. Promise.
  • Journal: write out all of the things you are grateful for and what is right in the world. And, then write out all the things that scare you, anger you. Get it out on paper.
  • Virtual meeting with friends and loved ones. It seems everybody is on Zoom these days! Join a dance party, a live Facebook event, etc. We are all in this together.
  • Music: go outside for a walk with your favorite playlist. Or, make your own.
  • Arts/Crafts: dust off the paints and brushes, etc.
  • Clean out your closet: this is fun for some, others not so much. Get rid of the clothes that don’t fit or you are tired of and donate these.
  • Books: as an introvert who loves to read, this social isolation makes me happy to catch up on all the books I get to read, yippee! See my resources page for ideas on recovery-based books. Or, try audible if you like listening to books instead. Also, don’t forget about the Library with its free online resources to download.  
  • Check in with your neighbor to see how they are doing and if they need any help. Maybe you can trade some TP for cookies!
  • Get enough sleep: the best protection against getting sick is to get adequate sleep. It’s that important, period.
  • Detoxify your environment: do not watch the news for longer than 30 min- 1-hour daily. It only ramps up your anxiety. Unfollow the folks on social media that are increasing fear that you’ll gain weight from being in quarantine. Again, don’t invite in their fears into your existence. Unfollow them ASAP, you know the ones. Follow me instead: mindfulnutritionwithkaren

6. Joyful movement (aka exercise!)

So you can’t go to the gym huh? Maybe this is a good thing. An opportunity to give you a much-needed break, some time off to rest and relax. Nothing bad will happen to your body if you stop working out. Unless you are an elite Olympic athlete, you will be okay to chill out for awhile and any slight loss in fitness will not impact your overall health. And, you suddenly won’t gain 15 lbs. like the fear mongers suggest. It just doesn’t work like that. The body is extremely adaptable and is really good at keeping you within your homeostasis set point weight range. It does this effortlessly. Whether you exercise a lot or very little, your weight will maintain. Sure, you may lose some fitness, muscle strength, flexibility, etc. but that is also temporary and not the end of the world either. Focus on moving your body because it feels good to move. Daily walks, hikes in nature and yoga are my favorite joyful movement activities.

7. Don’t go down the rabbit hole!

If you find yourself wanting to fixate or control some part of your body right now, this also is a completely normal reaction. In times of extreme uncertainty, we will do anything to find a sense of ground and to regain a sense of control over our lives. And guess what diet culture tells us we ‘should’ focus on and change? Yep, our bodies! Instead of biting that hook over and over again, we can redirect this anxiety in more constructive ways.

Ask yourself and or journal about these questions:

  • What scares me the most right now?
  • What is really going on?
  • What do I need?
  • Can I remind myself of the big picture? What would that look like?

You might also find this helpful to talk it over with a good friend or your therapist too.

Remember, wanting to lose weight or change your body is a normal reaction in these times, but remind yourself that it will not help you to increase your tolerance of sitting with uncomfortable emotions. This is where the real work lies. Be gentle with yourself and keep redirecting yourself back to what is really true.

8. An invitation to go deeper:

Do you believe that everything that happens “to us” is actually happening “for us”? What is this pandemic asking of all of humanity? Are there lessons here yet to be revealed? Is this our invitation to up-level our consciousness?

I realize these are BIG questions that require deeper reflection. Where I would start with this, is to slow way down and connect to your heart, and to connect to your body. How can we use this precious time to allow for deeper inquiry? Can we slow down enough to access the truth in our hearts? When you sit down to your next meal, or snack, eat without any distractions. Just eat and do nothing else but eat. (I know this is hard, but trust me, it does get easier with practice.)

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Which foods help me feel nourished, energized or sustained?

2. What do I enjoy about the flavor, the temperature, and the texture of this food?

3. Do you notice how your body responds to these foods differently now that you are feeling more stress and anxiety?

4. Where do you feel fear and anxiety in your body?

5. If you could dialogue with your fears and anxieties, what would they want to say?

Remember that we are literally all in this sh*t storm together. It will pass, and we will get through this, together. Change is the only known constant. I hope there is some relief in knowing that. In the meantime, we must sit with this uncertainty about our uncertain future. When will this be over? Who really knows? We cannot control any of this, and it is happening for us. What we can control is how we respond to our situation as well as how we show up and take care ourselves and others. It is our opportunity to wake ourselves up to what it means to be fully alive. We get to practice going deeper into our internal world of feelings and fears, of hopes and of our longings. Let’s allow space and room for everything to unfold as it may.

And, don’t forget to breathe.

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

This quote from Buddhist Pema Chodron, taken from her book, When things Fall Apart.

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Karen Louise Scheuner, MA, RDN

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