Stuck Home and Can't Stop Stress Eating? Dietitians Share 7 Tips to Help

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Setting boundaries and sticking to an eating schedule can help you avoid the mindless munchies.
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Only 31 percent of us predominantly work remotely, according to March 2016 data in a Gallup report. But recent times have forced a work-from-home situation upon most of us for the unforeseeable future.

There's a learning curve when it comes to WFH, especially under these new circumstances. Think: remembering to shower, structuring your day so that your work has clear boundaries and other crucial things like the fact that there's a Zoom filter to help smooth out any rough edges when "meeting" with your colleagues. (Yes, this really exists.)

But we're not just all working from home — we're being asked to stay at home as much as possible. For those who often turn to food for comfort, this can add even more stress to your life now that you're stuck at home, potentially alone, with what is likely a kitchen stocked full of food.

It's also important to keep in mind that none of this is normal so we can't expect our eating to be either.

Even though these feel like lonely and isolating times, you are not alone: We're all trying to figure out how to navigate this new (yet temporary) norm. However, it's also important to keep in mind that none of this is normal so we can't expect our eating to be either.

And that's OK, but we can still try to do our best each day. To help, we reached out to two registered dietitians on how to avoid stress eating while we're stuck at home.

Get tips on how to stay healthy, safe and sane during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

1. Set Boundaries

When you have less structure in your day, your meals and snacks can begin to blur together. To help avoid this, make sure you have defined meals and snacks.

For instance, avoid letting breakfast continue on until you're at your third snack. Another piece of advice: When you have a snack, make sure it ends in a 'k' not an 's,'" says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.

To make that a bit easier, try to write out your ideal or normal eating schedule in a food journal. For example, if you usually eat breakfast around 7 a.m., have a snack at 9 a.m. and have lunch around 12 p.m. while you're at the office, keeping this schedule while you're WFH can help maintain the structure and prevent you from mindlessly snacking and overeating throughout the day.

Did you know that keeping a food diary is one of the most effective ways to manage your weight? Download the MyPlate app to easily track calories, stay focused and achieve your goals!

2. Be Thoughtful of Where You Set Up Shop

Many of us snack just because food is in front of us or because we're bored — two things we're experiencing, especially now, while in social isolation. If you're new to working from home, here's a helpful piece of advice: Avoid working near the kitchen, Taub-Dix and Erika Fox, RDN of 310 Nutrition, agree.

If you can help it, set up a work area that is more than an arm's length away from the pantry, countertops or fridge. If you're in a warmer climate and have a back or front yard, working outside is helpful to remove yourself from the kitchen, but also to ensure you're getting fresh air and sunlight.

If it's out of sight, it's out of mind. "Move your snacks to the back of the food cabinet to a place where you can't see them right as you open the cabinet door. Alternatively, you can also move them to an entirely separate location, like the garage or a drawer/closet outside of the kitchen that you don't usually go into," Fox says.

Instead of opting for "junk food" that's easily accessible and doesn't require any prep, meal prep some nutritious snacks that are just as easy to grab when you actually are hungry for a snack. These can be as simple as veggies and hummus, fruit and peanut butter and hard-boiled eggs with avocado, Fox recommends.

Just make sure that everything is fully prepped and ready to be eaten — this will make it easier for you to grab the healthy snack when the chip cravings strike.

3. Pay Attention to the Clock

We often tell people to listen to their bodies when it comes to hunger and to focus less on what time the clock reads. But because of our current situation, many of our feelings have been replaced with stress and anxiety.

So while it may go against what we typically teach with intuitive eating, you'll want to pay attention to the times that you're eating as it can all get a little cloudy.

For example, because you're stressed, you might think you're hungry — but a glance at the clock can remind you that you just ate lunch a half-hour ago, Taub-Dix says.

4. Switch Up Your Kitchen Strategy

Avoid making food easily accessible like on countertops or in clear containers, especially snack-type foods. While this might have worked when you were going into an office, it can be tricky if you're now working from home.

Instead, keep healthier foods in sight — like a fruit bowl or jars of nuts and seeds (and stick to a handful only) — so you can reach for something better-for-you if you're truly hungry.

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5. Find Other Ways to Be Active

Instead of hitting the gym when you can't, consider biking or going for a jog outdoors.
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Yes, gyms and fitness studios are closed but a lot of places are also streaming workouts online and, in some instances, for free. Now's the time to be as active as you can be at home.

Now more than ever, we need the mental stress-relieving benefits of exercise. So instead of thinking about exercise as a means to burn calories, think of it as a food-free stress buster that can help brighten your mood. Go for a walk outside, go biking, if you have stairs in your house, walk those. Do what you can to use up that excess energy.

6. Re-Think Your Drink

...Or at least pay attention to how much you're consuming. We are more stressed and anxious than usual with nowhere to go, so while it may seem like a natural pivot to pour yourself a glass (or two) of wine, just be mindful.

"The first thing I would do in this situation is to ask myself why I'm consuming more alcohol than I want to be. Similar to snacking, it could be out of boredom or even stress or anxiety," Fox says. Once you identify the reasoning, it'll be easier to find something to replace your glass of wine with.

For example, if you're bored, write up a list of hobbies you enjoy and try one of these instead. If you're stressed or anxious due to the current situation we are in, come up with a list of things that help you relieve stress. This could be going outside for a walk, playing with your pet and calling friends or family, Fox says.

However, if you do feel like you're drinking more alcohol than usual and would like to stop, please speak with a medical professional or mental health professional for proper guidance.

Tip

If you're enjoying a glass or two a day but want to keep your indulgence on the healthier side, one simple trick is pouring yourself a glass of sparkling water between drinks or watering your drink down with some seltzer. This will help slow down your drinking and help keep you hydrated.

7. Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Lastly, cut yourself some slack.

Yes, we want to try and eat our best right now so that we feel good and we keep our immune system healthy. But if you want a bowl of ice cream or some chocolate, that's OK, Taub-Dix reassures. We want to try and avoid excessive amounts but definitely don't beat yourself up for having a treat.

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