If you’ve put on weight during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone.
According to a survey of nearly 100,000 people conducted through the COVID Symptom Study app, snacking has increased significantly in the U.S. during to the pandemic. The app was created through a partnership between Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, King’s College London, Stanford University School of Medicine and health sciences firm ZOE to study the symptoms of COVID-19 and track the spread of the illness.
Of 97,000 respondents to the COVID Symptom Study survey, 31 percent reported an increase in snacking with an average weight gain of 7 pounds from March through June.
“We’ve been through a lot over the past few months, so it’s not a surprise that people have experienced weight gain,” says Kelsey Tiller, a registered dietitian with Tidelands Health. “Although people react differently to stress, one of the most common responses is a change in eating patterns.”
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 cortisol can prompt the brain to think the body needs more food to fuel the body’s response to the stress-causing threat.
“The anxiety associated with this type of outbreak can be a trigger for stress eating, but it doesn’t have to be,” Tiller says. “If you’re aware that anxiety can affect your eating habits, you’ve taken the critical first step in taking control over the impulse.”
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Tiller offered the following tips to help manage your desire to snack:
- Consider whether you’re actually hungry before reaching for a snack.
- Keep healthy snacks on hand. Eating well also helps manage stress.
- Meet with a counselor or therapist to develop healthier ways to manage your stress. A registered dietitian can also help you create a nutritional strategy that’s right for you.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity can improve your mood and relieve stress.
- Sleep at least eight hours every night. Rest boosts immune function and can regulate your appetite.
- Don’t skip meals. Create a routine and stick to it.
- Buy produce with a longer shelf life. Keeping grapes, carrots, celery, apples, oranges, cantaloupe and pineapple in your kitchen guarantees you’ll always have a healthy snack on hand.
- Beware the “all-or-nothing” mentality. It’s not the end of the world if enjoy a treat, but don’t let one treat become a habit.
“Don’t get down on yourself, even if you haven’t been eating as well as you’d like,” Tiller says. “Instead, focus on ways you can improve, which will make you happier and healthier in the long run.”