By Margaret Pauly, MS, RD, LD, Culinary Nutritionist, UAMS Culinary Medicine Program
I saw a funny meme today about eating, pandas and the pandemic. I don’t want to lose you in the telling of the joke, so here’s the meme:
It’s cute, and it helps relieve our stress a bit through laughing at the funny pandas and a bit at ourselves. Often we will make jokes about our food choices or over-eating but many times we are crying inside. Know the feeling? I do!
I want to share a few tips with you on how to avoid the crying inside part and help you during these hunger games. I call it hunger games because your head is playing with you. Your stomach says, “nah, I’m fine. I don’t need that ____ (insert food of choice here – cupcake, king-size bag of Cheetos, bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese, etc.) You don’t need that big ol’ bowl of comfort!” But then your head starts talking and says, “Come on, what’s one more cupcake going to do to you? And Cheetos only have 140 calories per serving. So what if you ate the whole bag? You’ll work it off.” And so the battle begins.
This is a stressful time, no doubt about it. We feel that we need comfort food. We look for, think of, and make comfort food. It helps us feel better. Momentarily. Then the guilt sets in and the evil cycle begins.
Let’s look at how we can stop that cycle and end the hunger games.
- If you don’t buy it, you can’t eat it.
Sounds simple and it is – if you are the only one in the house. Remember, if you don’t need the junk food, no one else needs it either. You all will survive.
- Keep healthier food available.
Have a bowl of fruit on the counter and cut-up veggies and a low-fat dip or hummus in the fridge. The reason that junk food gets eaten is its availability. If you have to go out and buy the fruit or get in the fridge and cut up the vegetables, you might not do it. Do a bit of prep in advance and make the healthy choice the easy choice.
- Drink a glass of water.
Is it thirst or hunger? Sometimes we don’t know. Drink an 8-oz. glass of water when you think you are hungry and then wait 15 minutes. If you are still hungry after that, then go ahead and have a healthy snack.
- Ask yourself – “Am I Hungry?”
I use this for myself and share with patients. Just like children need to be redirected at times so they will stop doing something you don’t want them to do, we may need to redirect ourselves. We get into patterns where we eat emotionally – boredom, anger, and stress can all work against us and make us want to eat even if we are not hungry. Pick 5 things on the list that you like to do and highlight them. Keep this on the refrigerator or pantry door and refer to it the next time you want to reach in for a snack. Ask yourself if you are hungry. If not, then go and do one of the 5 things you highlighted. Trust me on this, it will help you get more in tune with your hunger cues.
- Take a walk.
Or a run, bike ride, hike, or dance in the living room. Exercise – or activity – is a great way to get more in tune with your body. When you are in tune with your body, you are more mindful about the food choices you make. Activity and exercise can also relieve stress – an added bonus!
- Be sure you are getting enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation can cause people to overeat. Instead of trying to wind down at night by drinking an extra glass of wine or eating a snack, try meditation, yoga, or a short walk. Even simple stretching exercises can relax you enough to get better sleep. Try one of our 15 minute Yoga videos from the UAMS Fitness Center.
- Try some new recipes.
We have a lot of easy and inexpensive recipes in our Culinary Medicine program that are similar to comfort food favorites but are much healthier. They all come with nutrition information to help you eat the appropriate serving size. This is a good way to start cooking healthier and to avoid large portions. Healthy Recipes!
- Still need more help? Contact a registered dietitian.
UAMS outpatient dietitians are providing telemedicine visits and can help you make better food choices. More information available here: Outpatient Nutrition Services
I hope these tips help you through this difficult time and afterwards. May the odds be forever in your favor!