How to tackle emotional eating in Covid-19

Why do we like to curl up on the couch as soon as the weeknd arrives and do little more than watch Netflix and gorge on a large pizza? Mostly, that urge comes from that liberating sense of a long week of work coming to an end, a welcome ritual that helps kickstart the time to relax. Anticipation makes guilty pleasures all the more delectable. But with quarantine, self-isolation and mandatory lockdown, that Thursday night scenario has been playing on repeat for many of us.

It’s time to address the difference between indulging in the odd guilty pleasure and emotional eating.

The latter, more often than not, results in guilt. Emotional eating often happens when our inner self is trying to navigate through difficult times and reclaim control. However, although normal schedules are all warped at the moment and unprecedented uncertainty looms, many things remain under our control –  especially how to care for and nourish ourselves.

Nothing worth having comes easily. And now, if the universe is asking us all to slow down and we’re listening to that message, there’s no better time to heal and learn what our relationship with food really is. 

The only way to get out of a pattern of emotional eating is to get to the bottom of it. It takes some practice, because mindfulness is just like a muscle – it gets stronger with use. 

The best way to begin is to turn inward. The next time you find yourself reaching for a snack, make a conscious effort to pause and ask why. 

By suggesting this I don’t mean you to judge yourself for it, because that only creates more guilt and that’s no way to practice self-care or self-love. Simply ask yourself what emotion you are feeling and what is making you want to feed it this way. Then ask yourself if a snack would actually help.

Asking these questions helps to create a sense of awareness and accountability for your emotions and actions. This is where you get to flex that mindfulness muscle with conscious practice.

Another way to put aside the guilt would be to focus on what made or makes you happy. If you find there is a certain thought you can’t seem to shake off, try swapping it for a more joyous one. When you watch TV and don’t like what’s on, you have the power to pick up the remote and change the channel. Empowering yourself with a happy, grateful thought automatically disconnects you from your normal, habitual reaction. That disconnect helps you understand how and why a certain food or food type is linked to your mood. When the mind understands, the heart follows suit.

Our increased cravings and temptations during Covid-19 are completely normal. One way to break that cycle is to again stop and ask why each time. Our cravings tell us a story. For example, wanting a doughnut might reflect a desire for softness and a mellow denseness. An urge to eat a packet of crisps and the satisfying action of crunching down on each one might help to appease some sort of latent aggression you might be feeling. Bringing awareness to those emotions brings power to your life.

Cravings often also spring from boredom, which is probably what many of us are experiencing right now. The best way to go about that is again shifting the focus to another activity – perhaps a relaxing bath, a face mask or turning up the music and dancing like no one’s watching.  Anything that can divert that creeping urge for a snack. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that when you do crave a particular food and end up eating it, often you don’t notice the texture, flavor or how it actually felt in your mouth. Truly savoring the moment without denying yourself the pleasure fulfills the desire in in your mind, body and soul.

Since we are what we eat, the way we eat also tells us much about how we live our lives. Simply by recognizing this, we can adopt healthier, more positive, satisfying ways to deal with mood and food. 

These times are providing opportunities for us learn about the connection between our mind and the body’s cues. No one needs to come out of this quarantine period with a “beach body”; we are all getting through it as best we can. However we can use this time to pause and reflect on how food can be healing to our physical and mental wellbeing and think about how our choices could very well be the way forward to safeguard our longevity. Here’s to a new mantra: Heal, eat, love and repeat!

• Dr Remy Shanker will hold a webinar on Conscious-ish Eating for MENASA Multaqa on Tuesday, April 7 from 1-2pm. is for every body and mind in the UAE. This magazine is all about moderation, making small changes, little additions and the odd subtraction.



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