Deb Lang PsyD, RD; Licensed Psychologist

The idea of connecting food cravings with the restrictions of COVID-19, came to me after reading a message from a client. 

She shared with me how hard it has been for her to be stuck at home and not be able to get out and do the things she usually does.

She went on to say that she has often wished for this time at home and

now that she must stay home,

all she wants to do is go out.

I feel the same way.

I am trying to look at this time, at home, as a gift.

And there is something deep inside me that is feeling restrained and not liking it, one bit.

Can you relate?

deprivation and restriction

There is something about being told we can’t have something that makes us want it all the more.


one way of thinking about why restriction is difficult is the idea that we have to think about it to think about not having it - it is the idea of not thinking about pink elephants

Maybe it is the pink elephant idea.

When someone tells you not to think about pink elephants, all you can do is think about pink elephants.

Try it.  

Whatever you do, don’t think about pink elephants – no pink elephants.

Have pink elephants on your mind?

So, when we keep hearing about the need to stay away from public places and practice social distancing, what are we going to be thinking about?

not being able to go places 

or be with friends.

or, maybe your favorite gathering place.

when we have to practice social distancing, we feel deprived


It could be that all the talk of not going out keeps us thinking about it and maybe it also has to do with scarcity.

Early in our history, as humans, our survival depended on having the things that were important to us.  

So, when we felt deprived, we felt uneasy and afraid and had a strong pull to get them so that we survived as a species.

I’m just hypothesizing on that and it makes intuitive sense to me and seems to fit with how many of us are feeling right now.

food cravings

So, what does all of this have to do with food cravings?

I’m wondering whether you blame yourself for your food cravings?

restriction leads to thinking about what we can't have and a pull to get it

Most people who come to see me do.

They tell me that they lack willpower or self-control.

restriction and food cravings

When I try to explain the impact restricting has on cravings, most people have a hard time believing that the problem isn’t personal.

Struggles with eating and weight often lead to strong internalized messages about oneself.

These messages are rarely positive.

I call them old “diet wires.”

These are beliefs that you have “wired” about who you are based on your struggles with food or weight.

it isn’t personal

This is where I think anyone who has blamed themselves for their food cravings or failed dieting –

can learn from what is happening right now as we try to prevent the spread of the virus.

If you are restricted to home, I bet you are craving what you can’t have right now – getting out.

Being told we can’t have something seems to make us want it all the more!

Just like my client, I have a ton of projects at home that I have been anxiously waiting to tackle and now that I can’t go into town, what do I want to do?

Go into town.

It doesn’t have anything to do with willpower,

a lack of motivation or

whatever other explanations you may have ascribed to your cravings and failed dieting.

bring some new information into those old wires about your food cravings

So, if you have been feeling the impacts of the restrictions on your activities, as we try to prevent the spread of the virus, see if you can use it to bring some new information into the meaning that you have given to your food cravings and diet failures.

It isn’t personal.

It isn’t about any weakness on your part.

It’s about being human.

dieting and restriction leads to cravings.  This is normal.  It is about being human and not about some deficiency in you.

If you want to eat in a different way,

how about learning to eat in a way that cares for you and your body

rather than fighting what seems to be an instinctual reaction to deprivation or restriction?

If you would like to learn more about non-dieting approaches to health, click here.

suggestions for dealing with fear

And if you, like so many others, are feeling afraid right now and would like some help with your fear, here are some suggestions.

  • Sign up for the Library, below, and select Anxiety as a Resource.  I have been writing articles about how to deal with fear and anxiety.
  • Or if you would like individual support, click here to learn about working with me online.

I hope you have found this useful. I would love to hear your comments. You can leave one below.

With warmth and kindness,

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