Blame. Binge. Shame. Repeat. 4: Covid fatigue and stopping eating
This is the last part of a four-part series about how to understand, manage and overcome comfort eating. If you are not sure whether your overeating is comfort or ‘emotional’ eating, you may wish to read my introductory article Are you a comfort eater?
You'll find the other parts of this series in my articles, or by searching for 'Blame. Binge. Shame. Repeat.'
In this final part, I'll pull together some things from the rest of the series to address how we all might be feeling at the moment, and I'll start addressing the compulsion to eat.
The truth is that we’ve been eating twice as much as we normally do since lockdown one. People started baking, stopped moving around so much, and experienced massive losses and anxiety, overnight.
At first, people made jokes about overeating on social media. Then it emerged that weight contributed to Covid-19 suffering, so Boris Johnson announced ‘a war on obesity’. Overeating was never a funny issue for the habitual binge eater, but it also started to be a real problem for much of the population.
Now, nine months down the line, we’re tired. The end is potentially insight, but we’ve still got winter to get through. So, if you’re feeling down, wobbly or tired, be assured that you are normal, and have a lot of good company.
You might find that you:
- become stressed more easily, feel more irritable or weepy.
- replay old memories and feel regret or grief.
- wake up at random times unable to sleep, or have vivid dreams.
- feel tired more often, or numb, & don’t want to do anything.
There are so many challenges at this time. Here are a few that I’ve seen just this week:
- Guilt and stress – Having lost work, feeling guilty for not being productive 24 hours a day.
- Fear – Fear about going out at all, catching Covid-19 and infecting vulnerable family members.
- Grief and worry – Being single, feeling grief, hopelessness and inadequacy for being alone, and worry about not having the opportunity to find a mate.
- Frustration and sadness – about not being able to see friends, family, or do normal things.
- Boredom, depression, frustration, irritation – Really not wanting to be home with nothing to do.
- Exhaustion – Just wanting to stay under the covers; feeling unmotivated to do anything. Being forgetful, disorganised or resentful. Generally being tired of this abnormal routine, and trying to cope with it.
Can you see yourself on this list? What would you have talked about if you were in my office this week? Any one of these things could lead you to overeating.
What can you do about overeating?
One of the most common questions people ask me is:
“How can I stop myself from eating?’’
Usually, this is followed by, “When I get the urge to binge, nothing can stop me; I just have to give in to it, or I’d just think about food all the time.”
This is a common experience for people at the moment. With so little else going on, we’re becoming obsessed with the walk to the cupboard, bread bin or fridge. I understand how strongly compelling this desire is. So, here are four things you can start to practice.
1. Do something else or pause
Getting up, moving, or doing something else may break the habit, take you out of the mode you’re in, and shift you into a different state. Pause for long enough to check in with your real reason for wanting not to eat and see how you are.
As mentioned in part one, work out all the reasons why you want to lose weight or to be someone who eats more carefully. Have a list to refer to, and check-in with it often. The more you familiarise yourself with this, the more likely you are to remember it when you need to; when that urge or habit strikes.
2. Acknowledge that this is a tough time
Ask yourself how you were feeling and what state you were in before you ate.
Before you wolfed down three puddings or finished up every possible scrap of something vaguely good to eat in the house, what was happening? What were you feeling?
Exploring the answers to these questions is going to give you valuable information about the feelings you might be trying to make yourself feel better from with food. Food (especially junk food) can soothe or give you a high. So, what state were you in, or about to go into, before you chose this particular drug? Then you can know what you’re really dealing with. The food can't help you with this.
3. Schedule ways to nurture yourself during the day
As human beings, we need light relief, movement, contact with others, contact with nature, and space for reflection. It is still possible to have these things. The chances are, that with the lack of your usual varied routine and the mixture of feelings you might be squashing, you’re defaulting to very simple ‘comfort zone’ habits.
Could you improve any of these areas for yourself by doing something different? Could you make sure you stop work at a certain time to go for a walk? Build in a bath to uplifting music? Listen to a helpful podcast? Watch stand-up comedy? Reach out to someone and tell them how you feel or what you’ve been doing?
The point is to make deliberate time for something other than work, worry, passive entertainment or compulsion. Time for your actual enjoyment.
Just like with pausing to acknowledge your real reasons for wanting to stop overeating, the more you do this, the more you tap into enjoying your life. It’s like exercising a muscle; it gets more flexible. Start small if this is a challenge. As this grows, pleasure and joy can be available when you need it. One day it might dictate that you don’t need food to be happy.
4. (Optional) Challenge the binge urge
This final option is not for the faint-hearted! It may be something that you need professional guidance through. But it might also just be the thing that stops you overeating for good. Here you challenge your ultimate nemesis!
Have you ever really let the urge to eat just keep happening, without giving in to it? Does it really go on and on until you eat, forever? How long have you actually tried allowing the urge, without eating?
My suggestion here is that you don’t really know for sure what would happen until you try it. Then, what happens is really worth paying attention to. All of the information in this series has been designed to help you start learning what you need to understand, in order to cope with that feeling.
What is that feeling? A sensation in your throat or jaw? A tightness in your hands and upper body? Desperation? Anger?
What is all of that about? What happens if you allow those feelings?
This is where you start to explore what’s really going on for you. You can then address what it is that you really need. This process may involve discomfort. But that is something you also need to learn to move through. This is possible.
In this article, I've pulled things together from the series, to understand why you might be overeating, by validating what you might be going through during the pandemic. I've also made suggestions for how to start tackling the impulse to overeat.
In this series, I’ve taken you through some of the common aspects of comfort eating, from understanding the emotion and the self-critic that lies behind comfort eating, to self-soothing and ways to stop yourself from eating.
Ultimately, recovery lies in self-compassion, especially at this time in our world. My hope is that you take away the fact that, as a human being, you are worth looking after - even if you find this hard to do. Being human is a delicate and complex business. Sometimes life is hard, but with compassion, it is possible to heal and to thrive.