Lockdown restrictions have eased across Australia and people are slowly getting back to their daily routine. Many people, however, are still working from home and maybe continuing to self-isolate to avoid a resurgence in rates of COVID-19 infections. This means that mental health may continue to be affected as a result of the upheaval brought about by the pandemic.

Among people struggling with acute stress and other mental health issues, overindulgence in food, more commonly known as ‘stress eating’, is a common coping mechanism. This can lead to a number of negative effects on both mental and physical health and more importantly, does not lead to a long-term solution for mental health issues.

This post outlines common strategies that may help you avoid stress eating.

Stick to a routine

If you are working from home or are at home for extended periods, you need to try your best to stick to a routine for meals, so that you have the same level of discipline you would otherwise have if you were not at home.

Stress that lasts for an extended period of time can cause your brain to think you are hungry. However, it’s also important to note that you may, sometimes, get cravings if your body is lacking some essential nutrient. This means that you need to understand if these sudden bursts of hunger are natural and have occurred before.

If not, sticking to set meals and mealtimes will help you avoid stress eating.

Get rid of unhealthy snacks

Though having a jar of cookies or a bowl of colourful candy on the counter may add to the visual appeal of your kitchen, this practice may lead to overeating. Having tempting food in your periphery can lead to frequent snacking and overeating, even when you aren’t hungry.

For this reason, it’s best to keep particularly tempting food, including sugary baked goods, candy, chips, junk food and cookies, out of sight, such as in a pantry or cupboard.

Keep healthy snacks at home

If you can’t seem to avoid eating snacks, try and buy snacks that are healthy. In order for this to be truly effective, you must also try and avoid buying and storing unhealthy snacks such as those with too much sugar, salt or spice.

Replace your potato chips with sweet potato chips or kale chips. Eat dark chocolate instead of the regular kind.

If you’ve been in the habit of keeping snacks on your desk at work, you can do the same and keep healthy snacks close to your workstation at home. In this process, it’s also important to ensure that you’re not snacking excessively and disrupting regular mealtimes.

Practise portion control

It’s common for people to snack on food directly from the containers in which they are sold, which may lead to overeating. For instance, grabbing a pint of ice cream from the freezer and eating directly from the container, rather than serving a single portion into a dish, may cause you to eat more than you intended.

To combat this, practise portion control by serving yourself a single portion of food rather than eating out of larger containers. Even if you’re eating healthy snacks, you may end up defeating the purpose if you eat more than you’re supposed to.

Keep yourself occupied

When you find yourself with plenty of free time, boredom can quickly set in. To prevent this, make good use of your spare time. When you’re not working or resting, consider picking up a new skill, tackle a home improvement project, organise your living spaces, take an educational course, or start a new hobby.

These types of activity can not only prevent boredom but are also likely to help you feel more accomplished and less stressed.

Avoid unhealthy habits and maintain better mental and physical health

While indulging in comfort food occasionally, especially during times of stress, is completely normal, overeating regularly can take a toll on your mental and physical health.

Consult Dr Suhirdan Vivekanandarajah, an interventional gastroenterologist and hepatologist in Sydney, to find out more about how you can prevent stress eating for improved gastrointestinal and mental health.

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