How to Manage Eating and Body Image During Social Isolation
If you’re socially isolating for Coronavirus, you may notice a change in your eating behaviors, stress levels, and how you feel about your body. All of this is normal! Read on for tips on how to manage your food and eating behaviors during the quarantine.
Change is inevitable – change in mood, change in behaviors, or change in circumstances. And, whether it be a new job, an increase in workload, a vacation to a tropical island, or having to suddenly work from home, any shift in circumstances is bound to have an effect on you somehow.
As circumstances are shifting for all of us in the midst of the current Coronavirus pandemic, I have gotten a lot of messages from women sharing that their body image has significantly worsened over the past week and that they are seeing more diet mentality thoughts have been popping up.
They’re telling me that they feel out of control around food – binging more, eating what’s convenient rather than cooking, snacking more frequently, etc. Some are expressing that they feel lazy – not working out “enough” or at all, watching more TV/Netflix, spending more time scrolling on their phone, and again, not cooking.
I share this to show that, if this is similar to how you’re feeling, know that you’re NOT alone!
The fact of the matter is, there has been a huge change in our day to day lives. The current Coronavirus situation is unlike any that most of us have seen in our lifetime. So, naturally, our behaviors, thought patterns and moods are expected to change, too during this quarantine.
Ways your body image may be affected during social isolation:
If you’re practicing social isolation indoors, you’re likely spending more time alone, with less distractions and less outside activities to keep your mind occupied. One of my clients also noted that having to work from home all day meant many more glimpses of herself in the mirror than she’d currently have in a typical day.
On top of that: there is so much uncertainty and so much out of our control right now. You may be having more negative thoughts about your body and more thoughts of wanting to “fix” or “change” it because what you are really looking for is control. It sucks to feel this level of uncertainty and have no control over what is going on. So we tend to fixate on what we *think* we can control: our bodies.
But it’s important to notice and be aware of times where this is showing up for you as body discomfort. Instead of trying to “fix” your body, can you sit with this discomfort? Ask yourself: what is really going on here? What am I afraid of right now? What do I actually need in this moment?
Ways your eating behaviors may be affected:
When food is scarce, our bodies feel restricted – whether through our own dieting behaviors OR at a time like this when food is legitimately scarce (hellooo grocery stores with empty shelves!) – our body often responds by increasing our desire to eat. It’s biological: your body is trying to keep you alive. It’s a pretty clear-cut formula: restriction & scarcity → food cravings, obsession and binge eating.
Now some of this scarcity you may not be able to help. But if and when you can, see if you can manage to find ways to show “abundance”. For example, a client of mine just bought four bags of Reese’s peanut butter cups so that she knows and her body trusts that there is no scarcity. You can do this with other food: stock up on food essentials and pantry and freezer non-perishables as you are able to.
Remember that it’s natural to see an increase in binge-type eating, eating to cope with stress/anxiety, or eating out of feelings of deprivation/fear during isolation. Times are weird, and it’s only normal that we, as humans, are having a reaction.
How to Manage Food and Eating Behaviors During Quarantine:
1. If you’re experiencing feelings of food scarcity or insecurity, know that these feelings are valid. It’s your body’s natural response to feel a sense of deprivation in times like this when there’s so much uncertainty surrounding a lot of things – food included.
2. Try to remove judgment around your eating behaviors. If you’re eating is changing, or if you’re eating more because of stress or anxiety, that’s OKAY! Try some of these tools to challenge any food police/inner critic voices that may be popping up.
3. Stock up on shelf-stable food items (and remove any judgment that you may notice pop up around certain processed foods) – ideally at least 2-3 weeks’ worth if you can. Check out this post on Instagram with more specific food and meal ideas.
4. Self-care is hard at a time like this but SO important – make sure you carve out time to relax, cope, and process your feelings. Journaling can be helpful, as can be processing things aloud with friends (or a therapist or dietitian via telehealth!). There are more self-care suggestions in this blog post.
5. Be gentle with yourself and have compassion for yourself – no matter how you are reacting right now or what you are having to deal with. Beating yourself up or feeling guilty is not going to help, and is just going to create more stress, which is so unhelpful right now. Try telling yourself, “I’m doing the best that I can in this moment.”
6. Remember that a few weeks off won’t drastically change anything. If you’re panicking because you can’t maintain your usual fitness routine, remember that a few weeks off won’t drastically change anything. Maybe this is a good time to take time off, rest, recover – or even find new ways of movement to help your physical and mental health. Cara Harbstreet has a great Instagram post about this.
More resources from some of my fellow anti-diet dietitians:
- Blog post: Why Processed Foods Can Be Part of Healthy Diet + creative suggestions for using these foods during this time of uncertainty
- The F*ck It Diet Podcast: this episode on Coronavirus and Food Scarcity
- Check out these free, weekly virtual connection Instagram live video streams, hosted by dietitian Anna Sweeney – this Instagram post has more info.
I hope you’ll find these tips helpful as we navigate through a shift in circumstances. I challenge you to rid yourself of the idea that this thing we’re all going through (social isolation/changes in our daily routines) is either good or bad. Remember that though circumstances are changing, we still have control over how we react to them. Use it as an opportunity to sit with your feelings and feel them to their fullest. Embrace the different behaviors you’re experiencing and show yourself some compassion.
If you’re eating more than normal right now, it’s ok. If you’re eating different food than you normally do, it’s ok. If your body is changing, that is ok. Your body will get through this. We will get through this.
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Alissa Rumsey, RD.
Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CDN, CSCS (pronouns she/her/hers) is a registered
dietitian, nutrition therapist, certified intuitive eating counselor, and the author of
Unapologetic Eating: Make Peace With Food and Transform Your Life. Alissa is
passionate about helping people reclaim the space to eat and live,
A twice-a-month round-up of inspirational stories, lessons, practical tips and encouragement for living your most authentic, unapologetic life.