Jenna Petersen, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor

November 29, 2020

A lot of jokes have been made about stress eating during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has also become a real challenge for many people.

Have you seen anything like this meme?

This image points to the fear of weight gain due to stress eating.

These images are based on the assumption that a very short amount of quarantine would have negatively impacted someone’s physique, which is unlikely.

However, nine months into this global pandemic, people may still be struggling with stress eating, with resulting weight gain. 

Maybe it’s time to get a handle on stress eating, perhaps because of weight gain but more importantly because of other negative effects it is having. 

If stress eating, also known as emotional eating, is an issue for you, you are not alone. The first thing I want to do is validate the fact that NO ONE expected COVID-19 to cause this year to be so different. Everyone has had to adapt to working and schooling from home–sometimes in ways that serve us in the short term but not necessarily in the long term. 

If you can recognize how stress eating is serving you, you can work to meet your emotional needs outside of food. Maybe it’s helping you cope with your kids yelling in the background when you have already told them five times to settle down. Maybe it’s your “company” when you find yourself alone on the couch once more, a comfort when no comforter can be found. Maybe it’s your first line of defense when everyone needs you at work and no one is looking.

Stress eating clearly serves you. That’s why you do it, and that’s why it’s hard to break the habit.

However, stress eating also does not serve you. It doesn’t help you in a variety of ways that you could list right now. You’re ready for a change. That change comes with the practice of identifying why you’re eating emotionally, and determining what could help you distract from those emotions, directly engage with them, or nurture yourself.

For example, if eating something during work helps you feel less bored while working from home, what do you think will help you beat the boredom? Switch up your routine. Try a few minutes of deep breathing, a few moments of prayer, or a short walk. Give yourself a break that will actually help you de-stress. Find what works for you!

If you find yourself eating on another lonely night at home, see what you could do to distract yourself or directly meet this emotional need. Maybe a puzzle or a movie will distract you. Perhaps you could phone or FaceTime a friend to directly meet that social need. It all depends on what you are willing to try, as well as what you think would be most useful. 

We are not meant to feel our emotions 24/7, so it is important to remember that sometimes stress eating can be good. When eating food is the ONLY way that we are nurturing ourselves emotionally, it becomes a problem.

Portrait of lady with piteous face watching video on laptop. She is sitting and eating marshmallow. Copy space in left side

If you find yourself wondering how to pray about emotional eating during COVID-19 or any other time, consider using one of the following prompts:

  • Ask God to align your emotions with His. This is probably one of the most powerful prayers I have ever prayed. I realized in college that my emotions were often off base, meaning that my emotions did not align with what God clearly wants for me in Scripture. I asked the Lord to change my tears, anger, and laughter to mirror his. This prayer takes a lot of time; it would not be a quick fix for your emotional eating. However, it could be useful to pray and ask God for self-control in order to respond to your emotions in new ways besides eating.
  • Ask God for help to discern the difference between your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. You may have a hard time figuring out the difference between different needs, but this would be helpful in order to respond to them. Take some moments to journal your thoughts, praying to the Lord for discernment in those moments.
  • Pray based on Scripture. Slow down, spend time with the Lord, and ask Him to show you the truth of the Gospel. There is nothing more refreshing than the grace and truth of God’s word. Allow this practice to calm you when you feel stressed out.

Stress eating can be a pitfall, during COVID-19 or any other time! If you have questions about how to practice different strategies to conquer stress eating, reach out to Jenna (jenna@womeneatwell.com) to learn more.

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