4 Ways to Do Intuitive Eating During the Coronavirus Pandemic

intuitive eating mindfulness self care Mar 24, 2020

…and why it’s exactly what you need right now.

It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new to intuitive eating or if you’ve been practicing it for awhile. Over the last few weeks your daily routines – including your eating routine – have gotten sidelined.

The coronavirus has become a big stick that has stirred everything up, and we don’t know what it’s going to look like when everything settles into its new place…or when it will.

This temporary new normal can be overwhelming: staying at home and feeling isolated, navigating children full-time while working online, concern about paying the bills if your job is affected, worrying about elderly parents and your risk of catching the virus…

If you’re like many, this disruption has forced you to think differently about food. Forefront in your mind might be questions about getting food, whether you have enough food, what to eat and even how to prepare food when you’re used to dining out. Your favorite coffee shops, restaurants, and takeout places may be closed.

Going to the store for your favorite snacks is probably not a spontaneous quick trip right now, and you might find your favorite flavors or brands are out of stock for the time being.

While some may feel generally frustrated by the inconvenience of it all, others are feeling fear and panic around food. Because, if you have any stress around food and eating as it is, you’ve probably noticed all of your food and body issues rising to the surface, now more than ever. 

In fact, you might wonder why you should be thinking about intuitive eating right now, especially if you’re feeling out of control with your eating. 

Or perhaps you don’t feel like you can handle one more change in your life and food feels like the only thing helping you hold it together right now. 

As a human driven by the survival instinct, you are wired to feel uncomfortable or even fearful in the face of change. When events in your life are unstable or uncertain, you will search for ways to feel comfort to relieve your stress so you can feel better.

Right now, that might involve Zooming with your friends and family, watching more Netflix than you ever thought possible, learning to meditate, eating delicious homemade meals, or other forms of self care you’ve placed on the back burner for too long.

Some of your stress reduction methods might actually be habits that don’t bring lasting relief. Often, what seems to make you feel better temporarily only masks your discomfort by turning down distress signals. And that distress just doesn’t go away by itself.

As a therapist and certified intuitive eating counselor and coach, I know that distracting yourself from unpleasant or stressful situations can be beneficial sometimes.

The problem occurs when distraction becomes the only tool you have to make yourself feel better. Numbing out for a time only tunes out the noise that comes screaming back even louder when you reach the end of the ice cream bowl, stop scrolling through social media, or finish the last episode of your favorite series on Netflix.

The virus-related turbulence in your life has thrown you out of your comfort zone.

Your coping mechanisms are probably disrupted. And now you may be discovering that the emotional bandaids that you’ve used to hold yourself together no longer work.

Just being with yourself without distraction can put you at the edge of discomfort. This is when thoughts and judgements about food and your body can become the loudest voice in the room.

When stress is amped up, you might find yourself either binge eating or restricting your food. This makes perfect sense right now when fears surrounding lack of food, money, and challenges around accessibility of food are uncertain. Fears of not having enough food have triggered panic buying for many. For those with issues around food and eating, this can feel especially dire.

If there is a silver lining in any of this, it’s that feeling uncomfortable is an opportunity to investigate what you truly need right now to bring sustainable relief and change. This starts with understanding the choices that are available to you.

What choices are available to you right now?

Feeling fearful or anxious stems from stepping into the unknown and not being in control of what lies ahead. The emotional job of fear and anxiety is to keep you safe by predicting outcomes that might occur so that you can prepare for the worst.

However, when you get stuck in fear and panic, you don’t have the capacity to think rationally and calmly about what exactly it is you need to do to take care of yourself. Instead of compounding fear into catastrophic thinking, consider for a moment the decisions that you can make.

4 ways to do intuitive eating right now

1. QUIT THE SELF-JUDGMENT AND PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION

Intuitive eating is not just about food, it’s about self-compassion.

Give yourself a break from self-judgment and your ideas about how you think you should be eating right now.

Instead, opt for self-compassion with this practice:

  • Find a place to sit comfortably and take a few deep breaths.
  • Become aware of your heart center, in the middle of your chest. Place your hand on this center. Imagine that your heart center has a set of lungs and allow each slow, deep breath to move into and out from this center. Feel the sensations of this movement with each breath.
  • Keep your attention on your heart center. If your mind wanders, and it will, simply bring your attention back to the center of your chest.
  • Invite in a positive emotion such as joy, peace, love, compassion, worthiness or gratitude. Bring this emotion into each in-and out-breath. If you’re having trouble feeling something positive, imagine a time in your life that you felt something uplifting and recall how it felt.
  • Allow that positive experience to move beyond your heart center and into the rest of your body. Imagine each of your cells receiving a hug from this feeling.
  • Now, state aloud a positive affirmation that feels appropriate for you and repeat it several times. Here are some examples:
    • I’m okay right now, I’m safe.
    • I’m doing the best that I can and that is enough.
    • I am worthy of taking care of myself.
    • It’s okay that my eating is what it is right now.
    • Thank you, body, for helping me through this challenging time. We’re in this together.
  • Continue this practice anytime that you notice self-judgment or guilt around food or your body.

2. YOU ARE ALLOWED TO EAT FOOD

Building on self-compassion is allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat. This intuitive eating principle focuses on making sure you have enough food to eat. If you’re hungry, eat. It’s totally okay that what you eat, when you eat and how much you eat is not your typical “normal” right now.
 

If you find that you’re binge eating, know that this commonly happens when you feel that food is restricted. Check to see if you’re imposing food rules right now. Often, food obsession decreases when you know that you can eat food that you like at any time.

3. CELEBRATE THE PLEASURES OF FOOD

Self-care is critical right now. Intuitive eating focuses on the pleasures of eating and feeling satisfied with the experience of eating.

No matter what you have on hand, decorating your table with even a few simple items can enhance any meal. 

Here are a few ways to make your meals more pleasurable:

  • Turn your meals into an enjoyable occasion by setting a table with your favorite dishes, candles, cloth napkins, a houseplant or two (if you have them), relaxing music, and anything else that you find that enhances the pleasure of your meal. Pour your beverage into a nice glass or mug.
  • Spend a bit of time arranging your food so it is pleasing to your eyes. Get creative by adding a garnish for texture and color.
  • Before you dive in, stop and look around at the setting that you’ve created for yourself and notice how you feel. Take a few deep breaths. Your digestive system works better when you’re relaxed.
  • Now, smell your food. Does your mouth water? Take a bite, put your utensil down and close your eyes. Notice the flavor, texture, temperature, and sensations in your mouth while you chew.
  • Continue to enjoy your meal at a relaxed pace.

4. FIND ADDITIONAL WAYS TO COPE BEYOND FOOD

If you find that food is your primary coping mechanism right now, don’t beat yourself up about it. Explore additional tools that you might have overlooked that allow you to feel relaxed and satisfied.

What do you enjoy doing that you might not have done in awhile?

Here are some ideas:

  • Take a long bath
  • Read a novel
  • Listen to relaxing music
  • Spend time playing with a pet
  • Journal
  • Facetime or Zoom with a friend
  • Spend a bit of time outdoors if possible (or open a window) to notice the beginnings of spring
  • Dance to your favorite tunes
  • Dig an old hobby out of the back of your closet. Dust off your paintbrushes, guitar, camera, knitting, and so on
  • Learn something new by taking an online course

Life will be different after the coronavirus.

For now, let the basics of intuitive eating support you in creating opportunities to take care of yourself during this stressful time.

Starting with a practice of self-compassion, allow yourself to eat when you’re hungry and ground yourself in the pleasurable experience of eating. Find additional ways to nurture yourself that feel satisfying, including trying new activities or practicing old hobbies that you haven’t had time for in awhile. 


If you need additional support, contact me for a free 20-minute phone consultation or find out more information about intuitive eating here.

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