April 24, 2020

Changing the Conversation about Food During a Pandemic

by Tavierney Rogan

The loudest voices on social media right now seem to be the ones that tell us that we should be taking advantage of our time during the pandemic to focus on losing weight, getting in shape, or making health gains. ‘Diet Culture’ has convinced us to control our eating habits and prevent weight gain rather than focus on what actions can be taken to support Real Health and immunity in meaningful and sustainable ways.

Our SHIFT Dietitians are here to tell you: Not every period of life is meant for ‘making gains’ or ‘losing weight’… especially if that period of life falls during a pandemic. As many people feel scared, anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, and vulnerable, the last thing we need is to feel shame or guilt for eating a ‘comfort food’ meal or gaining a few pounds.

On Binge Eating and Emotional Eating

Many Members have asked us questions about how best to avoid overeating (eating past your biological fullness point), binge eating (eating large amounts of food at once, feeling unable to stop) and emotional eating (consuming food in response to feelings rather than hunger) during the shelter-in-place order. While we want to help you establish and maintain a fueling routine that feels good for you, we believe that it is most important for you and your health to work on reducing anxiety you may have about food intake and choice.

First, binge eating is most often the result of restricting food and creating a conditioned habit in response to restriction. It is NOT about willpower or what you may think is an addiction to pizza. Emotional eating and overeating might happen during this time–and that is okay! In fact, it might be something that helps you to cope when you feel like that is what you need in that moment. Some foods hold a special sentimental value that gives us comfort, brings up feelings of nostalgia, creates happiness, and provides a sense of security. It is far healthier—and less likely to lead to repeated overeating and emotional eating—if you cultivate an attitude of acceptance, remove the guilt, and move on rather than  to beat yourself up for making a specific food choice or depriving yourself later to make up for it. The more we bring guilt and negative self-talk to food, the more likely food will cause anxiety and lead to maladaptive behaviors.

Our Dietitians are here to help you navigate fears of gaining weight, eating emotionally, and anxiety about food. Here are a few ways to have a different perspective on fuel and weight during this time.

4 Ways to Reframe Your Perspective on Food and Weight Gain

  • Give yourself grace. Self-care can be achieved in many ways. Eating nutritious food and exercising can be a healthy part of self-care; however, self-care also includes making the choice to not shame yourself for eating a certain food item when you are stressed.
  • Change means change. If you are worried or concerned that your eating habits have changed since social distancing began, remind yourself of the many other changes that have occurred in your life. Your schedule and routine have likely changed several times over the years. Your stress level has also varied at different moments in your life. Perhaps even your level of access to food has changed to some degree during your life. It is to be expected that your eating habits are different in this period.
  • Be accepting of your motivation (or lack thereof). With extra free time, you might feel obligated to fill your schedule with workouts or meal prepping. At the same time, you might also be less motivated to address those feelings right now. While many factors contribute to our levels of motivation, keep in mind that this pandemic could also be taking an extra emotional toll on you. Again, if you are having those feelings, it is not a result of a personal failure or a lack of willpower, but rather likely due your hormonal response to an especially stressful situation.
  • Substitute Eating Intuition for restriction. As stated above, restriction often leads to bingeing, followed by a continued restrict-binge cycle, which is often perpetuated by feelings of guilt. Research shows us that calorie deprivation (e.g. strict dieting) can put extra stress on the body and, in turn, weaken your immune system (and now is not an ideal time to put additional stress on your immune system). Practicing Eating Intuition can help you feel less out of control with food. Use your natural hunger and fullness cues as your guide.

Most importantly, the goal right now is to manage and reduce areas of stress and not to exacerbate feelings of anxiety in general and certainly not when it comes to food and body weight. Remember, you are a complex individual who is much more than the size of your body or number on a scale. Let’s reframe your perspective on weight, food and exercise during this pandemic. All feelings, emotions, stresses, and anxieties are valid. Put your food fears into perspective and give yourself some grace.

Talk to your SHIFT Dietitian for more personalized strategies and tactics if you are feeling anxious about eating or weight gain during this time.

Stay healthy,

Tavierney & Lauren


covid-19, food, nutrtion

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