How to Make Food Feel Less Stressful Right Now
“It’s just bringing up a lot of hard stuff I thought I’d gotten past, you know?”
My friend and I are doing what passes as “socializing” in 2020: walking together outside at least 6 feet apart in the summer sunshine, sharing our vulnerabilities through masks.
She’s telling me about how the pandemic has affected her eating habits and how those changes have impacted her emotionally as well. She’s caught herself saying some pretty unkind things to herself about her lack of inspiration to cook (and eat) fresh meals, the “bad” patterns she’s returned to, and then the “good” habits she has inadvertently given up.
Of course, I wish I could reach over and give her a big hug. I can’t, but I share four questions to help her get through this challenging period—and I’ll share them with you, too.
But first: Let’s all remind ourselves that we are in the middle of unprecedented times. Things are different in every which way. Our stress levels are impacted. And getting through this pandemic with graciousness and compassion for ourselves is the only path forward. (Got it?)
4 questions to ask yourself about your food habits right now
Were my old food habits sustainable? Life has thrown us a curveball over the last few months, so it’s not surprising that some of our eating habits have fallen by the wayside. We’re cooking for more people, we’re trying to limit shopping trips, and we might be more mindful of our food budget.
But routines that only happen when life is going smoothly aren’t very sustainable. If meal prep can only take place when the kids are occupied, the dogs are quiet, and the groceries have been delivered by 2 pm on Saturday—there are going to be lots of weekends when those stars don’t align.
The best habits are sustainable habits, ones we can maintain even when life is stressful. If your pre-pandemic food habits are too complicated or time-consuming for your current life, scale it back and make things simpler. It feels a lot better to follow through with your own expectations than to have unrealistic ones and disappoint yourself as a result!
Do my old food habits serve who I am now? Once we’ve developed a food habit it’s easy to ride it till the wheels fall off. But the fact is: Our lives, bodies, and health change. The routines that you created five years ago might not work for your life at the moment.
Maybe your body wishes you’d add big leafy green and every color of the rainbow to your lunch, because you need more mood-boosting nutrients these days. Maybe it’s time to get your kids involved in meal prep because they’ll be out of the house in two years. Maybe you can’t handle your three-cups-a-day coffee addiction anymore.
When you’ve maintained a habit for years, it becomes almost invisible to you. What if you used this time to really consider if these ingrained patterns actually serve your current body and life?
What if I approach these changes with curiosity and self-inquiry? When your food habits change, it can be easy to spiral into negative self-talk. “I can’t believe I fell off the morning smoothie wagon. Ugh!!” “I’m so weak; I’ve been eating mindlessly for weeks now.” But what if you looked at these changes through the lens of curiosity or self-inquiry? “Hmmm, I’m not really craving my usual morning smoothies any more. I wonder why that is?” When you consider these changes without judgment, it’s easier to get to the root of the issue.
Maybe you stopped making smoothie bowls because everyone is home now, and you feel bad running a noisy blender at 6:30 am or you’re conscious of blending up too much produce, which might lead to an extra grocery store run.
These are both great discoveries, and when you know what’s behind these habits changes, you can adapt as necessary without judgment. Is it time to turn the page and start a new chapter of my food story? These last few months have led to huge shifts most of us never saw coming; now might be the time to turn the page and start a new chapter in your food story.
Maybe you’ve realized that you want to focus more on food that protects your immune system. Perhaps you’ve self-soothed with plates of comfort food, then said unkind things to yourself, and you would like to have other tools to turn too in addition to food. Or maybe these last few months at home has helped you realize that you’re quite a good cook, even though you’ve been joking that you “burn water” for years.
You are constantly evolving and changing. That means, there’s never a reason to stay stuck in any one place. As the author of your food story, it’s in your power to pick up the pen to create new patterns, release outdated ones, and transform your relationship with food to serve you, your health, and your life right now.