Stress eating in stressful times? We can help.

Are you stress eating as we all try and figure out what our "new normal" is? 

Our routines have been changed because of COVID-19. Caroline Thomason, a Registered Dietitian with Wake Forest Baptist offer guidance to help us maintain balanced eating habits amid social distancing and virtual learning.


Disclaimer: learn more about the latest developments on visitor restrictions and testing.

Episode Highlights

Why do we eat as a stress reliever? 
We are really adjusting to a new normal. A lot of our primal instincts are to find comfort or an escape and that can be when stress eating occurs. Eating can offer us comfort during this stressful time and we begin to revert back to old habits.

Why do we like the sugary and salty foods? 

It comes down to the food industry and the way these foods were engineered. People often mention being addicted or have these habits and a big reason is because fat, sugar and processed food has a competent to it called hyperpalatability, which is that delicious texture that makes food melt in your mouth and makes you want another one. That was engineered in processed foods to make them more craved and addictive. When we are looking for that sense of comfort, it’s an instinct and our brain is drawn toward those foods as it will provide that reward. It takes a lot of practice to override that, especially in times like this when we are under tremendous stress. 

What can we do realistically to break the cycle of stress eating?
The first step is to stop having hyperpalatable, or processed, food around you all the time. Remove the stimulus. Right now, fresh foods might not be as available, but there are good options for canned or frozen vegetables, fruits, and proteins. Start super basic and go back to real foods. The restrict and binge cycle happens a lot with stress eating. By the end of a stressful day you are so zapped that you start overeating and you get to the bottom of the package (which we all do) and say “I can’t believe I ate all that!”. You then feel super guilty and you overcompensate by doing things like skipping meals the next morning or next day. But we need to start fresh and stick with a normal eating schedule, because if you overcompensate you are going to stay in that bad cycle. These overeating tactics are us trying to find a way to avoid stress, but the stress doesn’t just go away because we finish the bag of food.
Many people have stocked up on groceries and have more food than usual in their home. What are some tips to help not overeat when we have all this food?
The fear and panic we’ve had when grocery shopping is something we all face, and we end up buying so much and overcompensate. Override that feeling and stick to a list of healthy non-perishable or minimally-perishable options. If you have children, get them involved in preparing meals with what you have at home and teach them how to put together different ingredients. That can be fun activities for the family and will implement those habits now so that you can continue to prepare balanced meals. 

How do we make a balanced healthy meal?
PFC and Vegetables is easy to remember. That stands for Protein, Fats, Carbs, and Vegetables. Protein can include eggs, meats, tuna, fish, chicken, beef, dairy products. Healthy fats include avocado, nuts, peanut butter, cheese, olive oil, butter. Healthy carbs include rice, brown rice, quinoa, whole grain bread, wheats, beans, squash, corn, peas. Vegetables are the most important part. Five servings a day is the goal. You can start with a small goal now though, such as one or two servings, and work your way up. 
Keep in mind the Plate Method. Your plate should be half vegetables, a quarter protein and a quarter carbs

Do you have a quick and easy recipe? 
Any canned good options like beans and lentils are a good complex carb that has a lot of protein and fiber. With these you could make chili, bean soup, minestrone, etc. Lentils are good with a curry, sauce, or spice which can add a lot of flavor. Rice or salad on the side. 

What if I have a dietary restriction? 
A lot of people think that because this has never really happened before, they have permission to fall back into their old habits, but it’s important to really push yourself on the good habits you’ve been working on and know we are going to come out of this. Even if you aren’t staying perfectly aligned with your diet, try to stay as close to it as possible. Every day is a new day, just keep focusing on your goals.