Emotional Health

Here’s How to Curb Your Pandemic Drinking, Eating, and Spending Habits

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Did you find yourself sipping, snacking, and spending a bit more than usual over the past year? You’re not alone. Many of us overindulged during the stressful events surrounding Covid-19. Thankfully, life is returning to normal — and this summer is the perfect time to turn over a new leaf. Ready to curb those pandemic habits? We rounded up experts who shared their tips to regaining control without feeling deprived.

Drinking more? Give yourself a break.

Since the start of the pandemic, heavy drinking is up by 41 percent among women. “We’re so exhausted, we reach for a glass of wine and tell ourselves, I deserve this,” says award-winning speaker Dana Bowman, author of Bottled: A Mom’s Guide to Early Recovery (Buy on Amazon, $13). But that’s not quite on point. “What we really deserve is serenity,” she says, explaining that self-care can help stop this cycle. “Every day at 7 pm, I shut the door to my bedroom.” In fact, Bowman transformed it into a “spa zone,” with new sheets and scented candles. “Clocking out” at the same time for, say, a week, will let you discover what you need.

And while drinking a glass or two of wine may temporarily take the edge off, once you begin to cut back a bit, your world will open up in surprising ways, promises Bowman, who found comfort in exploring her creative side. “I even learned to play the ukulele!” Simply trying new things, she says, is the ultimate way to spark renewal.

Eating more? Ditch the guilt. 

During stressful times, our brain isn’t releasing enough feel-good dopamine for us to be joyful, so we turn to food, says Carolyn Coker Ross, M.D., author of The Emotional Eating Workbook (Buy on Amazon, $22) and CEO of The Anchor Program, an online coaching program for food addiction. To get back on track after a binge, reach for a “safe food.” “It signals to your body to wake up and become more intentional.” Dr. Ross recommends foods that aren’t packaged because processed foods trigger blood-sugar swings. “It can even be french fries, if they’re baked or made in an air fryer.” Any “real” food creates a physical reset that curbs cravings.

For so many folks whose daily routines changed during the pandemic, “grazing” became common. “To ‘reset,’ use a timer and eat every three to four hours,” says Dr. Ross. And go ahead and enjoy a treat! “If you’re going to have a donut, just eat, say, a handful of nuts afterward because the protein will slow the spike in sugar and help you feel satiated longer.” We don’t have to upend our pandemic habits completely, she notes — just make a few healthy tweaks.

Shopping more? Leave it in the cart.

We’ve all felt a sense of deprivation this year, and many of us have looked to online shopping to fill that void, says Angela R. Wurtzel, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in treating eating disorders, self-injury, compulsive shopping, and prenatal and postpartum concerns. “Simply put a bit of time between the emotion driving you to shop and the action itself,” she says, suggesting a strategy called “carting.” Just as it sounds, put a few items in your shopping cart, but instead of completing the transaction, wait five minutes, or even five days. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t buy anything, but you may very well buy less.”

Wurtzel also asks her patients to describe the “ritual” around their shopping. “Say you tend to shop at 10 pm — what happens if you do it at 10:07 pm? That small switch often creates a different result because it wakes you up.” Experiment with which part of the ritual you find comforting — maybe it’s not the shopping itself, but the cup of tea you pour every time you get online. Let yourself play with the process, and you will make lasting changes.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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