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Think You’re Eating More During The Stay-At-Home Orders? Experts Do, Too.

Randol White / Capital Public Radio

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that stress over the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing some California residents to adopt unhealthy eating and drinking patterns as they shelter in place.

Food can be incredibly comforting during uncertain times, but tapping into this stress reliever too often can have negative health effects, especially if the comfort food items are high in fats and sugars.

So, why do we turn to food at times like this?

Dr. Suzanne Phelan is a public health professor at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. She joined CapRadio’s Afternoon News Anchor Randol White to discuss the increase in stress-induced eating that’s happening during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Interview Highlights

Are we actually eating more?

It’s likely the case, but the Cal Poly Center for Health Research and others are looking into better defining what’s currently happening. This is certainly a stressful period for people and their typical eating patterns have been disrupted, which are a recipe for stress-induced eating.

How is stress-induced eating defined?

When people are faced with any kind of distressing experience and they turn to highly palatable foods packed with fats and sugars for comfort.

What’s going on in our brains during this process?

Stress has both biological and behavioral effects that can lead people to eat more. Stress affects the limbic system of the brain, hormones like cortisol, dopamine, leptin, insulin and maybe even some peptides. These effects lead to cravings to eat comfort foods. As the stress continues, these foods become increasingly rewarding and difficult to resist. 

Can mindfulness work as a deterrent?

Dr. Phelan believes it can. She says when you’re about to reach for some comfort food, take as little as five minutes to pay attention to the present moment without judgment, recognize your thoughts — even when they may contain troubling emotions and uncertainty — and accept them. Phelan says this simple act can have beneficial effects on stress, which could lead to more control over whether you fall victim to stress-induced eating.

Will it be tough to change the bad habits we may develop during the stay-at-home orders?

The goal is to use this period to improve eating habits and to maintain those post-quarantine, but should we slip into some behaviors that cause us to gain a few extra pounds, it shouldn’t be difficult to regain our previous patterns that were in place prior to the pandemic.

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Copyright 2020 CapRadio