These are uncertain times, and for many people the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has prompted an increase in stress and anxiety. Concern about the risk of becoming ill, drastic changes in schedules and routines and difficulty finding common grocery items all compound the situation.
People react to stress differently, but one of the most common responses is a change in eating patterns. According to the American Psychological Association, more than one-fourth of Americans regularly engage in stress eating – when we eat as a conscious or sub-conscious way of soothing negative emotions.
“The anxiety associated with this type of outbreak can be a trigger for stress eating, but it doesn’t have to be,” says Kelsey Tiller, a registered dietitian with Tidelands Health. “If you’re aware that anxiety can affect your eating habits, you’ve taken the critical first step in taking control over the impulse.”
Tiller says it’s natural to feel compelled to eat more when stressed because of increased levels of the hormone cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone. A part of the body’s natural fight-or-flight response, release of the hormone can prompt the brain to think the body needs more food to fuel the body’s response to the stress-causing threat.
To keep yourself eating normally and help your immune system stay in top shape, Tiller offers the following recommendations:
- Before reaching for food, take a moment to pause and consider whether you are hungry.
- Arm yourself with healthy snacks. By eating well, you will be better equipped to manage stress.
- Slow down and savor food rather than eating quickly. Doing so can help prevent overeating.
- Consider talking to a professional counselor or loved one about the cause of your stress.
- Make daily exercise a priority. Physical activity can boost your mood and help relieve stress.
- Make sure to get enough sleep. Rest is important to immune function and can help with appetite control.
- Avoid skipping meals. Figure out the routine that works best for you and stick with it.
- Keep longer-lasting produce on hand so you have steady access over time to healthier food options. Examples include apples, oranges, cantaloupe, pineapple, green beans, potatoes and brussel sprouts.
- Batch cook one or two meals a week – make it easy on yourself by choosing healthy leftovers for lunch or dinner.
- Beware the “all-or-nothing” mentality. It isn’t the end of the world if you indulge in a treat, just don’t let one treat turn into a habit.
- Eat your food mindfully and intentionally – preferably sitting in a chair at your table and not on the couch. We sleep in our beds, shower in the bathroom and drive in the car; it’s important to eat at a designated spot, too.