10 practical tips to manage stress eating during COVID-19

As we navigate a new normal in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, our schedules are changing drastically, our gyms are closing, and we are experiencing significant emotional stress. Because of this, stress eating is reaching an all-time high. The good news? There are some reliable strategies to help curb stress eating to ensure you feel your best during this difficult time.

  1. Keep nutritious, satisfying snacks on hand. For those of us working from home, staying out of the kitchen throughout the day can be quite challenging. One simple way to get ahead of this is to stock your kitchen with healthy, appetizing snack options to help tide you over until the next meal. Consider these simple choices: a piece of fruit with 1 Tbsp of peanut or almond butter, raw veggies with 2 Tbsp of hummus, 5 whole grain crackers with a slice of provolone cheese, or 1 cup of Greek yogurt with blueberries.
  2. Reduce sedentary time. Exercise serves us in many ways and can be especially helpful with managing anxiety. Anything counts, so don’t negate the benefits of gentle movements like stretching or even completing household chores. Set a timer, or wear a fitness tracker to remind you to get up and move every hour.
  3. Listen to your body. Your body is designed to provide physical cues to signal when you are hungry or full. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Before you reach for that pantry door, ask yourself if you are eating because you are truly hungry.
  4. Remove distractions at mealtimes. Eating in front of screens prevents us from recognizing our body’s fullness cues. Try to eat most of your meals at the kitchen table.
  5. Recognize your triggers. Identifying the emotions that precede stress eating can be an important step in addressing your triggers. Pay attention to any patterns that have developed around stress eating and make changes to prevent them.
  6. Don’t skip meals. A global pandemic is not the time to deprive yourself by limiting calories or becoming overzealous with a weight loss plan. Be sure to get three balanced meals daily. Do your best to include a quality source of protein, vegetables, carbohydrates and healthy fats at each meal.
  7. Get sufficient sleep. Research shows that lack of sleep can result in increases in ghrelin, your hunger hormone, and decreases in leptin, a hormone associated with satiety and fullness. Create a bedtime routine and stick to it.
  8. Implement a stress management activity that works for you. Be intentional about doing something for your mental health every day for at least 15 minutes. Consider walking, calling a friend, gardening, reading, or watching your favorite show. Whatever works for you, enjoy it.
  9. Keep a normal routine. If you typically meal prep your lunches for the week in advance, keep this routine going. Go to bed and wake up at your normal hours and continue your exercise regimen.
  10. Go easy on yourself. Let’s face it, times are tough. Food can be a major source of comfort, and comfort foods certainly have their place in the midst of a pandemic. We are never going to achieve an absolutely perfect diet, and that’s okay. If you fall off the proverbial wagon, remember to be gentle with yourself and do your best to get back on track.



About Alex DePriest, RD

Alex DePriest is a registered dietitian for UofL Health Diabetes and Nutrition Care. She teaches diabetes self-management education and support group classes, and provides individualized medical nutrition therapy in the outpatient setting. Alex serves on the board for the Louisville Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is a member of the Diabetes Prevention Work Group through Healthy Kentucky’s Community Advisory Council. She also participates in the Kentucky Diabetes Network, the Kentucky Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Diabetes Dietetics Practice Group through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

All posts by Alex DePriest, RD