How To Maintain A Healthy Relationship With Food, Despite All The Stress
It’s important to stay mindful at mealtime.
One in 10 Americans struggle with disordered eating, and the erratic nature of the last several months has created new obstacles when it comes to maintaining a healthy routine. The New York Times reported that the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) received a whopping 78% more messages sent to their help line this March and April compared to last year. From more time spent at home next to a fully stocked fridge, to coping with stress by overeating, to persistent worry about gaining weight—the increased anxiety around food is not necessarily surprising.
As we slowly (very slowly) shift back toward our regular routines, many aspects of normalcy still hang in the balance. The relationship we have with food doesn’t have to be one of them. Here are some techniques to stay mindful with regard to healthy eating habits:
Keep work time and mealtime separate.
Schedule when you plan to eat your meals and stick to that schedule. More importantly, don’t let yourself work during that time. A designated mealtime is a great way to break up the day and draw clear boundaries between your work/life balance—even while working from home. This gives you something to look forward to, helps avoid over or under eating, and also leaves you feeling refreshed when you return to work.
Get serious about meal prep.
Going to the grocery store is significantly less fun than it used to be, to say the least. This is why it’s all the more necessary to have a plan of attack. Recipe research can be a fun distraction, especially when you need a break from the news cycle. Give yourself permission to try new things, and make a list. With a specific list of items in hand, you’re less likely to make impulse purchases, and more likely to get in and out of the store quickly.
Avoid eating meals in front of a screen.
In the era of binge-watching, it is tempting to throw on the next episode while eating dinner, especially for those of us who live alone. While this is OK to do sometimes, experts recommend that it doesn’t become a habit. Dr. Jessica Bihuniak, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at NYU says, “Sometimes when we’re distracted while we’re eating, we tend not to realize the amount we’re eating, or sometimes even what we’re snacking on.” As a result, “we may end up eating more than we wanted to.”
A report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition offers the same advice. The role that attention and memory play in relation to how much we eat is crucial. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to recognize that it’s full. If we’re distracted while eating during those 20 minutes—either by TV or work—it’s easy to consume more calories than we need before we realize we’ve had enough.
Be kind to yourself, and seek out help when you need it.
With all this in mind, we can’t expect to be perfect. Food can be a source of joy, or it can cause stress and anxiety. Coordinate with the people in your household to make meal time an enjoyable ritual, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.