COVID has changed our world and our dietary choices.
Many of us feel like quarantine is a chance to hang out and sharpen cooking skills and enjoy good food. For others, it’s a stressful, challenging time, and they find comfort in food. Most of us are finding COVID quarantine has put a LOT of focus on food.
I can’t tell you how many people during this time of COVID have expressed feeling trapped. Some describe it as being stuck in a room: it’s just you and food, and it’s a feeding frenzy. Others feel the need to exert an iron will and carefully control each bite, which often feels like losing the game.
For many, you might find yourself fluctuating between the states described above. What’s going on anyway??
It’s common to experience patterns of emotional eating when we’re stressed, sad, and bored. Staying put during the COVID pandemic means you’re likely feeling these at some point!
I have had a LOT of conversations with folks who feel stuck in a pattern of overeating and binge eating during COVID, which has become significantly amplified during this pandemic. What used to be occasional overeating may have morphed into full-out binges at times. It may feel like there’s so much time for food that stress eating has become the norm–a habit or hobby. It may feel like a run-away train. Many people are feeling helpless about this.
This pattern is typical, and I would argue very “normal” to happen, given our new circumstances. AND there’s hope for moving through it and setting a new standard.
Overeating or emotional eating can sometimes become what’s formally known as a “binge.”
Whether classified as a classic binge or not, its root often carries the same thoughts and emotions either way.
Here are some thoughts you may find yourself thinking:
- “Why do I always reach for these foods when I know they’re not nutritious?”
- “Why do I keep eating so much during COVID lockdown??”
- “Why is it that when I try to ‘be good,’ my willpower inevitably runs out, and I end up really over-eating?”
Here are some of the feelings that may go along with that:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and guilty
- Feeling out of control with food
- Feeling like a failure no matter how hard you try and how many attempts you’ve made
- Self-loathing, guilt, and hopelessness might even show up.
These thoughts and feelings are reiterated and continuously reinforced through diet culture. Your inner critic may say things like “just try harder,” or “you’re lazy” or “if you really wanted to make a change, you would be able to do it.”
These messages are B.S.!!! I can go on and on and on about all the misinformation spread by diet culture. Still, the root is the same: the inherent message is that you need to use willpower, and the constant outcome is what feels like “failure.”
I would argue that the way we’ve been taught to think about food has failed. The way we’ve been taught to take care of ourselves has failed. Diets fail. Many messages about being “healthy” have been part of the problem, not the solution.
Overeating and binge eating are mainstream.
In fact, the most common eating disorder in America BY FAR is binge eating. Take a moment to absorb that: the most common form of disordered eating is binge eating. This doesn’t just affect women – all genders are likely to suffer from binge eating disorder. Skinny people, people in bigger bodies, and every size in between can be silently suffering from binge eating disorder. Someone with binge eating patterns may or may not have any other medical issues. But the internal struggle is real, and it’s the same. It leads to a configuration of stress, guilt, frustration, and sometimes even defeat, helplessness, and depression.
Let’s look a bit closer together: what is a “binge.”
The word binge isn’t very clearly defined. It’s a subjective term that may or may not involve eating a lot of food. I’ll speak more to this later.
What’s simpler to define is binge eating. There’s a spectrum here: it may be overeating or a binge, and binging can be occasional a pattern or an eating disorder.
What is Binge Eating Disorder (BED)?
- More than 30 million people in the U.S. will suffer from an eating disorder.
- Although many people associate young women with eating disorders, men can have them too. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) estimates it breaks down to 20 million women and 10 million men.
- Over 50% of those with an eating disorder have binge eating disorder.
- Eating disorders affect all genders, ages, body sizes, ethnicities, and socioeconomic strata.
Binge eating might be a seldom occurrence, consistent behavior, or a disorder. When it’s a disorder, the health condition can be diagnosed by a therapist or a doctor. The diagnostic criteria are set forth by the American Psychological Association as:
Recurrent episodes of binge eating. Both of the following characterize an episode of binge eating:
- Eating a lot of food in a set time period that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
- A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode
The binge eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
- Eating much faster than normal.
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
- Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry.
- Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much you’re eating
- Feeling disgusted, depressed, or very guilty afterward
Additional criteria includes the following:
– Marked distress regarding binge eating is present. Feeling guilt and shame about the binge eating
– The binge eating occurs at least once a week for three months, on average.
– The binge eating is not associated with purging or compulsive exercise as a way to compensate for the food
Overeating is a Spectrum
There is a broad spectrum when it comes to overeating.
There are many variations:
- Stress eating
- Emotional eating
- Disordered eating
- To a formal, diagnosed eating disorder.
I’ve heard some common themes over the past ten years as people have shared their food stories. Here are some examples:
- Eating to relieve stress, comfort yourself, or avoid worries
- Desperation to control weight and eating habits
- Feeling guilty, disgusted, or depressed after overeating
- Eating normally around others, but gorging on food when you’re alone
- Never feeling satisfied, no matter how much you eat
- Eating continuously throughout the day, with no planned mealtimes
- Eating in secret or going to get food when no one knows about it
- Hiding or stockpiling food
- The strict control of food: you feel like certain foods can never be in the house
- Thinking about food all the time
- Feeling stress or tension that is only relieved by eating
- Embarrassment over how much you’re eating or what you’re eating
- Feeling like it’s ok for others to eat certain foods, but not for you
- Feeling numb while eating—like you’re on auto-pilot.
- Feeling powerless to be in control around food
- Feelings of self-loathing, especially related to body image and weight
Do any of these stories resonate with you? If a few of them strike a chord for you, you’re not alone. If so, you may have some deeper food issues that haven’t healed. Diets don’t work. Trying harder doesn’t work. It isn’t about “eating right;” it’s about finding a path to heal your relationship with food.
When you are ready to find your healthy relationship with food during COVID and for life, contact Ruby Health and Wellness!