We have all experienced times in our life where we have turned to food to provide us with some comfort. Known as ‘emotional eating’, it can take a lot of different forms, from stress eating, to boredom eating, to sad eating. You may be feeling these emotions (plus others, like general uncertainty) to an extra high degree than normal during the current COVID-19 pandemic (which is completely normal, see our last article on ways to keep calm during the COVID-19 pandemic) and it may be causing you to turn to food for comfort and to help take the weight off the current situation.
But why are we prone to emotional eating during isolation?
Well, first of all, isolation means we are home a lot more, which means we are around food a lot more (without anyone watching). The food in our pantry, in our fridge and freezer, the cake that you may have iso-baked that’s sitting on the counter in full view. If you are now working at home, it’s a big change to suddenly have a kitchen full of food in close proximity to your working space, and can be very distracting! Even if you are not working, not being able to fill your day with activities away from the home means more time spent at home, around food, and this can be very challenging for some people.
Secondly, research shows that comfort foods are in fact comforting to us. For example, a 2006 study published by Physiology & Behavior found that sweet, high calorie comfort foods can provide mood improvements in certain populations. One way they do this is by producing endorphins, which helps to promote feelings of bliss and happiness. But comforting foods that delight our senses and make us feel good don’t have to be only the unhealthy ones, they can also include foods like chilli, bananas, nuts and oranges.
Thirdly, choosing what we want to eat can sometimes give us some control, especially right now when we might be feeling disrupted and without structure to our day. Combined with increased feelings of stress and uncertainty, comfort foods that are high-calorie and low in nutrition (like snacky, junky foods) may be the foods that you are choosing. The message is not about how to avoid those comforting foods, but how you can safely and in a healthy way incorporate some of those foods into your life, without feeling like you need them when you are feeling vulnerable. Plus, who ever said that healthy food can’t be comforting? A slice of cake is nice, but there’s nothing better than a warm bowl of massaman curry with fluffy quinoa and crispy green beans! What are your favourite healthy ‘comfort’ foods or meals?
Stay tuned next week for some different ways that you can curb those home isolation munchies.
E.L. Gibson. Emotional influences on food choice: sensory, physiological and psychological pathways. Physiol. Behav., 89 (2006), pp. 53-61