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Eating Changes During a Pandemic

by | May 6, 2020 | Intuitive Eating | 0 comments

If you’re struggling with food and your body right now I see you.

The world is I N T E N S E, it would only make sense you’d find a little more comfort or control in food, or worry more about your body. There is so much we can’t control right now, so we might try and control our food and/or bodies. To feel or not feel, distract, check out, numb, or soothe. Sometimes it can feel subtle and sometimes it can feel really intense.

Step 1.) Try sending yourself some compassion for just simply existing during this intense time.

(Self-compassion: the practice of responding to challenges and personal threats by treating oneself with nonjudgemental understanding and kindness, acknowledging distress, and realizing that pain and struggle are part of the human experience)

Step 2.) When you’re feeling not so great ask what you need to care for yourself. Your body and brain just have an unmet need, trying to tell you something.

And if the “worst” thing you do today is eat some extra food, it’s really okay, in my opinion.

We are going through unprecedented times and collective trauma. I couldn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how difficult times are right now, but I do hope to provide some support around how it could all be affecting your relationship with food and your body.

In this post, I’m going to cover “overeating, undereating, and emotional eating” in hopes to a.) normalize all of these responses, and b.) provide some support.

People have asked specifically about “overeating and finding balance with food during quarantine”. What a GREAT question! And it has MANY layers, so let’s break it down a little.

First, when we feel like we are “overindulging” or “overeating” or “overdoing” it, it’s typically because we were “underdoing” it in some way. In other words, one of the biggest reasons for overeating is undereating. Let’s think of a stray cat. When you give food to a stray cat, they gobble it all up immediately, because they’re not sure when they’re going to get food again, understandably.

Then you have my house cat – Marshmallow – who gently grazes on her food throughout the day when she’s hungry and often leaves food in the bowl. Especially if there’s particular foods we don’t “allow” ourselves to have (pizza, ice cream, cake, bread, pasta, whatever) then when push comes to shove (a pandemic, for example) and we end up getting in front of that food we feel out of control and “overdo” it. But it’s not because there’s anything wrong with you. It’s because food is much more than nourishment (i.e. comfort, culture, connection, community) and it feels good to eat. We can only hold our breath underwater for so long!

Making peace with food starts by switching from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset. Think about toilet paper. Before it was scarce, I never worried about grabbing it at the grocery store. Now mid pandemic, my desire for TP and thoughts around it have gone way up. Ever since we went to BJ’s and scored 24 rolls of it, I feel fine! Same thing with food – allow yourself to feel safe around food by giving yourself unconditional permission to eat it. The strong desire for it may take a bit to go away, but once you know you can always have more, the intensified feelings tend to subside. This can take time, so try and be patient with yourself! Especially if you’ve been dieting or even subconsciously restricting food or certain foods for a longer time. (Read more here about how to find peace with “problem” foods”.)

Our bodies are biologically wired to save us. So in periods of restriction (not eating enough) our metabolism slows, our thoughts around food increase, our hunger hormone (ghrelin) goes way up all in an effort to get us to eat so we can stay alive. Our bodies just want to save us! ALSO it’s okay to eat past the point of fullness sometimes! The key is to incorporate self-care and mindfulness practices to listen to our bodies, honor and respect what they’re telling us.

Another layer in all of this has to do with food, emotions, and coping skills. Emotional eating means you’re human! It is natural and normal to have a physical, mental, and emotional response to stress, chaos and uncertainty. Send yourself some compassion for being human! If you notice yourself eating a bit more during this stressful time, know that it simply means you’re not a robot.

Food is meant to be comforting and rewarding. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t want to eat, and eating is of course essential for life so this would be a big problem. When we eat, hormones are released that make us feel good (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, etc) so if you feel good when you eat, congrats! You’re a human!

Using food for comfort might feel uncomfortable and problematic when eating is our ONLY coping skill.

Ask yourself, “What do I need to take care of myself in this moment?” Maybe it’s food AND…

  • Walk outside
  • Deep breaths
  • Move your body
  • Yoga
  • Facetime a friend
  • Spring cleaning
  • Cry
  • Meditate
  • Journal
  • Turn off the news
  • Netflix
  • Sleep
  • Play an instrument
  • Doodle, or do some art

When lessening the restriction/deprivation around food like we discussed above, often times it goes hand in hand with what we’re talking about here. We notice that the more we create an abundance mindset around food and truly give ourselves permission to eat without restriction or rules, the less of a desire we typically have to overeat when we get stressed. We’re able to comfort with some food or some soul food (examples I listed above) or both.

You also may be experiencing a loss of appetite. In times of trauma (read: pandemic) and stress, our bodies get activated into fight or flight mode. This means they’re on high alert of the next thing that may threaten us.

In that mode, our bodies conserve energy, effort, and thought and shift it away from procuring food. Basically, if you’re being chased by a bear (fight or flight), you’re not thinking of a yummy food to eat.

So for my friends who are not feeling like eating, here are some things to think about…

  • When you’re feeling up to it, make a list of all the foods that *might* sound okay (enough) to you. Have this list, and these foods on hand so you have “go-to’s” ready and waiting for when you’re ready to eat. Think of things that are simple, not a ton of ingredients, easy to throw together, and don’t take a lot of effort. Perhaps things like toast with nut butter, smoothies, ice cream, yogurt with granola and fruit, cereal, frozen pizza, etc.
  • What is the BEST/ideal eating environment for you? Where do you feel least anxious or upset? Maybe it’s in bed with a weighted blanket. Or for my moms out there, maybe it’s hiding in the bathroom! Maybe a picnic outside or on your porch.
  • Try having something small to eat every few hours – it keeps your hunger and fullness hormones regulated which can help with poor appetite.

I hope you found this helpful. In my work, I utilize the concepts of Intuitive Eating, Health at Every Size®, and body image work to help people find true wellness without obsession. If you’d like to continue the conversation and work a bit more on finding peace with food, your health and your body feel free to book an introductory call here and we can chat!

Follow me on Instagram @lexypenney so I can say hello!

In peace and health,


Disclaimer: this post is for educational purposes only and should not be used as substitute for medical care, nutrition counseling, or therapy.

Blog Lexy Penney Nutritionist Boston Intuitive Eating

Hi, I’m Lexy!

I’m a Registered Dietitian, yoga teacher, & body image coach.

I help women make peace with food and built trust with their bodies so they can live the lives they desire and deserve.

Hop on my email list for your weekly dose of food freedom, body liberation and self-care!

Lexy Penney Nutritionist Boston Intuitive Eating

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