There are a few reasons why COVID-19 and self-isolation are affecting our anxiety around food.
Firstly, (and obviously), a massive proportion of the Australian population have lost their employment. With this comes the fear of not being able to afford groceries. Some people, are now already going without food or severely restricting what they eat, fearful they will not be able to buy food for a long time.
Secondly, self-isolation in itself makes it difficult to purchase food. Online food deliveries are now (and rightly so), limited to the most vulnerable in our community, which leaves the rest of the population to make their daily focus securing food and general necessities at the supermarket both of which heighten our anxiety further.
Thirdly, daily anxiety even without financial distress or food insecurity can affect our eating. It might cause us to eat way more than we want or feel our body needs but it can also cause us to restrict what we eat as a means to cope.
It’s important to state that feeling vulnerable, unsure, anxious and fearful are normal emotions in uncertain times like these. Unfortunately though, they not only affect our eating, but also make it tough for us to think clearly and make good decisions. They also impact the way we communicate with others and we can become more reactive to our loved ones during stressful times.
So what can we do?
Ordinarily, mindful eating is a powerful tool for managing difficult eating behaviours such as binge eating. If you haven’t heard of it, just like meditation or yoga, it’s a particular way of eating that allows us to be really present when we eat. Eating mindfully helps us to slow down to eat, focus on what we are eating, what it tastes like, and we become more aware of our internal cues to eat like hunger, fullness and satisfaction. It also allows us to notice our thoughts and feelings more closely and how they link with our own eating behaviours.
Now the middle of a pandemic may not best the time for many of us to learn about all aspects of mindful eating. However, managing our anxiety through general mindfulness, will help us a lot. So if you are noticing you are overly restricting or overeating at this time and/or feeling stressed and anxious, creating a general daily mindfulness practice is a great tool to help.
Importantly, you don’t need to be an “expert meditator” to include mindfulness into your life but here are five simple tips you can try:
1. Focus on your breathing
When it’s all getting a bit much, take 2 or 3 deep breaths in and out.
If you can, make the “out breaths” longer than the “in breaths”. When we do this, it sends a signal to our body to ramp up our parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces our heart rate, blood pressure and keeps us calmer. It also dials down the sympathetic nervous system, which is the one that puts us into ‘fight or flight’ mode (not helpful!)
2. Ground yourself
Now it may sound a bit ‘woo woo’, but grounding can help and is particularly great for anyone that is unable to meditate or focus on their breath
Grounding means finding something to connect your senses with and keep you present. You can do this by placing your bare feet on the carpet or grass outside, splashing water on your face or taking a whiff of your favourite essential oil.
3. Get enough sleep
We all know if we’re not getting enough sleep, it’s going to make it difficult to manage day-to-day and our eating may be affected.
If you are struggling to sleep, switch off your devices and the TV well before bedtime. You might also like to try one of the many of the mindfulness apps which have sleep programs. These can be great to use if you find you’re waking up frequently during the night.
4. Stay Connected
It’s obviously important to have physical distance from each other right now, but staying connected socially is also vital. Make sure you reach out and schedule regular online or phone catch-ups with your loved ones if you can.
Importantly, don’t be afraid to reach out for help from health professionals. Not only can your local GP help, but also the Butterfly Foundation helpline is a great tool for anyone with an eating disorder and Lifeline is available 24/7 for assistance to talk through any personal crisis.
5. Don’t buy into diet culture
Many of us are spending more time on social media right now, so be aware that weight loss and “wellness” social media posts can heighten our anxiety and thoughts about our bodies and our eating. Therefore, click ‘unfollow’ if you’re noticing these kinds of posts are triggering you.
Being non-judgemental and kind to yourself are key principles of mindfulness and mindful eating, it can also help when it comes to avoiding diet culture. It’s OK to buy whatever food you can access and nourish yourself with what you need now - without judgement.
If you are having financial difficulties and are unable to afford groceries, head to the Foodbank and SecondBite websites. They can provide you with information on local charities who can help you access food and meals.
Mindful eating and mindfulness aren’t the magic fix for managing all things related to self-isolation, but they are key foundations that will most definitely help all of us.