As we enter the coldest winter months of the year and another round of COVID restrictions take hold in our province, it could be tempting to use food as a way to manage difficult emotions and stress. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

We have some great tips from our partners at the Heart and Stroke Foundation about how to keep your relationship with food healthy and happy as we navigate the next few months together!

The emotional-weight connection

Emotional eating is a coping mechanism that some people use to soothe stress, fear, anger, boredom and loneliness. Sometimes, emotions get so linked to eating habits that you reach for comfort food without realizing it.

If you’re an emotional eater, you’ve likely learned that relief from food doesn’t last long. This habit can cause weight gain over time, especially if your go-to foods are high in calories, sugar and fat — and they usually are.

Excess weight can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and other chronic disease — not to mention adding to the stress you’re feeling.

Mindful eating

If you’re eating for reasons other than hunger, it’s time to retrain your habits. Mindful eating is a technique that dietitians use with clients to help curb emotional eating. It involves deliberately paying attention to your food choices, and being aware of what is happening in your body and mind.

Mindfulness teaches you to focus on your emotional and physical responses before, during and after eating, without judging yourself. You should experience meals with all of your senses, so you truly see, taste, hear, smell and feel your food. It removes guilt associated with food choices, and lets you focus on what being hungry and full really feel like.

Studies show that mindful eating techniques can you help curb binge eating, stop impulsive food choices, stop rewarding yourself with food, control weight and reduce body mass index.

Get started

You can learn to refocus your eating patterns. Consider getting help from a dietitian and/or a psychologist who specializes in mindful eating. Meanwhile here are some tips to get you started:

  • Write it down. Start a food and mood journal, to keep track of what and how much you eat, and how you’re feeling when you eat. Look for patterns to see the connection between your mood and food cravings.
  • Break the cycle. If you identify a negative pattern, take steps to change it. Maybe you can substitute healthier alternatives to replace junk food, or reduce portion sizes. Or, take a walk when a craving hits to distract yourself from temptation.
  • Ditch the distractions. When you’re eating, turn off all screens and focus on your food – how it tastes, smells and looks. Enjoy every bite and pay attention to your fullness cues.
  • Rate, then bite. Before you reach for a snack, take a second to rate your hunger on a 1-5 scale. Are you really hungry, or just bored? Start with a glass of water — sometimes thirst masquerades as hunger. After a few minutes, if you’re still hungry, enjoy your food.
  • Go slow. Set small goals to change your behaviour. For example, start by eating meals at a table, rather than while on the go. Or, put down your fork between bites to take time to savour your food. Changing longstanding habits takes time and commitment.

With some practice, mindful eating can help you find the joy in food and learn to listen to — and love — your body.