People commonly experience changes in weight when life shifts dramatically, as can happen during big events like marriage, divorce, losses of any kind, retirement, and even sheltering at home! While some individuals lose weight during stressful times, the majority of us tend to gain. If this describes you, consider trying these proven, time-tested strategies that involve slowing down at meals, mindfulness, movement and, believe it or not, really enjoying food, to prevent weight gain when your life’s daily rhythm and routine change.
Slowing Down at Meals
The most important strategy for anyone experiencing weight challenges is simply to slow the pace of eating anything at anytime. Scientists discovered important links between eating speed and appetite, calorie burning, satiety, and weight gain decades ago. Simply put, it takes time for your brain to register satisfaction and fullness at meals! After all, your brain is always working hard to make sure you get enough fuel, nutrition, and pleasure from food, and if your brain thinks you haven’t met those needs — it will tell you to eat more, even when your belly feels full. If you tend to eat meals quickly, or even while distracted by other activities, your brain won’t have enough time and attention to fully register what and how much you ate. By simply slowing down when you eat, and eating without distraction, you’ll likely discover that you are satisfied with less food. Slowing the pace of meals also increases your metabolism (the number of calories you burn throughout the day), because your brain knows that you are not starving and that you don’t have to store fuel as fat to use later on.
Mindfulness is simply paying attention to what you are experiencing in the moment. Slowing down and really enjoying your food is a form of mindfulness. Noticing when you are going to the refrigerator to relieve stress is another type of mindfulness. If you find yourself turning to food to relieve boredom (which is a kind of stress), worries, or anxiety, try putting a name to that behavior. Recognizing stress eating for what it is actually gives you more choices and control! In other words, when you act out of fear and worry, your survival brain takes charge, and that part of the brain can’t make the best long-term decisions. The survival part of your brain is only concerned about keeping you safe and alive in the moment. However, by simply naming a behavior, like ‘I’m eating because I am worried’, you start to hand the decision making over to the more logical part of your brain, which can come up with a bigger variety of options to help you feel better! Remember, if you do decide to eat in reaction to stress, be kind to your self and eat slowly, in a mindful and pleasurable way, as best as you can. You will likely eat less and feel more in control as a result.
Move Your Body
Movement of any kind is another key strategy for increasing metabolism and managing stress-related eating. Sheltering at home might mean that you are moving less, due to not working at all, working from home, or not going to the gym. Even small losses of daily movement can result in weight gain, especially as we age. If you are able, take advantage of our local green spaces, parks, and trails, where you can walk, bike, hike, play catch or throw a Frisbee while easily maintaining safe social distancing. Some gyms, including the local YMCA, are offering their members online classes, and many workout routines for every level of ability are available on line for free! Moving your body is also a time-tested strategy that’s guaranteed to shift your focus from food if you are stressed out or bored.
Lastly, don’t forget the importance of enjoying meals, because pleasure is one of your primary stress-relieving tools! If you take the time to make, eat, and truly find joy in your meals, even if you are eating some kind of ‘comfort food’, you’ll likely consume less and avoid feeling deprived – which can actually prevent weight gain! Of course, be reasonable with the frequency of your indulgences, for no amount of mindful eating will likely make up for digging into pizza and ice cream every night!