Media Watch: How to Manage Eating Habits While Self-Isolating

As more and more people across the United States are self-isolating, some heeded the warnings early, stocked up and are now wondering how they went through their suggested “two-week supply” so quickly. According to a recent article the abundance of food in your house from the two-week supply, the loss of regular schedules, stress and boredom are all mixing to wreak havoc on people’s diets.

As for when cravings hit, Evan Forman, PhD, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Sciences told about a helpful technique called urge surfing. Rather than fighting cravings directly, Forman advises “surfing” them just like you might surf the ups and downs of waves on an ocean. Simply let cravings rise and fall and meanwhile find something to do unrelated to food.

He added the following tips to help mitigate the challenges arising from sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help with overeating while worrying about current events

Meaningful projects are a way to focus energies constructively. In the same way that we could decide to learn a new skill (like playing an instrument), we can make improving our dietary health and losing weight a project. We can learn how to shop for and cook healthier food, and how to prepare it in ways that are appetizing for us and those we live with. 

In fact, this may be a perfect time to learn how to cook more types of healthy, tasty and filling foods. We will be relying less on prepared foods and most of us have more time than we usually do.

It is worth remembering that our dietary health and weight have implications for how our bodies’ cope with an illness. Similarly, our dietary health impacts our overall psychological health and our ability to manage stress.

To help with overeating due to presence of food

As much as possible keep tempting food far from the eye and in inconvenient places, like in a basement, in a freezer or very high up.

As much as possible keep healthy food in a prominent place and make it easy to eat by pre-washing fruit or pre-cubing melon.

As much as possible, spend time in rooms or places that have no food and separate where you eat and where you play, watch TV and work.

To help with overeating because of boredom

Schedule your days as much as possible.

Look online and talk to others about entertaining activities that are still possible during the lockdown.

Be aware of feeling bored and of the temptation to eat when bored. Use that awareness to break the link.

Force a new habit. In other words, whenever you are bored, engage in a non-eating-related activity such as calling a friend.

To help with overeating due to stress

Learn several stress-management techniques and test them out. See which ones work the best for you. Examples include progressive muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, cognitive restructuring and mindfulness.

As with boredom, learn how to be detect feelings of stress and anxiety and of the temptation to eat when stressed. Use that awareness to break the link.

Replace the habit of stress eating with a different activity you engage in when feeling stressed.  For instance, whenever you feel stressed, go for a short walk.

Forman is a clinical psychologist who studies health-related behavior change, especially related to problems of obesity and overeating, food cravings and neurocognition of eating.

For media inquiries, contact Annie Korp at or 215.571.4244.

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