Stress Eating is Causing People to Put On The "COVID 19 Pounds"

Many of us are diving into our stockpile of food in an attempt to relieve the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marcia Wendorf

Have you heard the expression, "Freshman 15"? It refers to the 15 pounds (7 kilograms) of weight college freshmen typically gain from stress eating during their first year of college.

You might be hearing about the "COVID 19," which refers to the almost 20 pounds (9 kilograms) many of us are going to gain from stress eating while confined to our homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On social media, people are reporting plowing through the food they have stockpiled and hoped would last for months, in just days. If anybody wants to know, I have no idea what happened to the two cans of peaches that were in my cupboard.

In a March 20, 2020 article, Nielsen Market Research disclosed to MSN Money that Americans are stocking up on more than just toilet paper, they're also buying chocolate candy, ice cream, potato chips, popcorn, and pastries.

The article quotes Nielsen's executive vice president of U.S. manufacturer client success, Laura McCullough, as saying that consumers are grabbing "the types of foods that may make their social distancing even a little more tolerable."

Besides making isolation more tolerable, stress eating is helping to relieve our stress, and what people are choosing to eat is interesting. In my family, it's pasta (OK, that's me), tomato soup and Oreo cookies.

In a poll I recently conducted on a local Facebook group, people in my neighborhood reported snarfing:

  1. Girl Scout cookies
  2. Curry
  3. Chips and soda
  4. Oreo cookies
  5. Mountain Dew

The comments people left varied. Caroline said, "Butter noodles" (a girl after my own heart), and Nytasha said, "Soups mainly, and it's funny because I hate soup." Misty reported, "Chicken in a biscuit crackers. That's what I hoarded, 5 boxes," and two people, Bryan and Gabby, said, "Fruit and veggies, no one shops in those isles."

On Twitter, people are posting their indulgences, with Yahoo! news reporting one user, Chiara, as having posted, "I'm going to eat a tube of Pringles. Now getting fat is the lesser evil #coronavirus."

Twitter poster, Jenny, shared a photo of her stockpile of snacks, and I just want her to know that if she needs any help eating that, I'm available.

Jenny Eselius/Twitter
Stress eating stockpile Source: Jenny Eselius/Twitter

Yahoo! also reported that in Italy, sales of flour and sugar were up 80% and 28%, respectively, since people were first confined to their homes on March 9, 2020. Italians are making homemade bread, pasta, and cakes.

In a March 17, 2020 article, the journal Psychology Today described the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty that people are experiencing due to the outbreak. Those feelings, coupled with the need for social distancing, is creating a perfect storm of stress.

The journal explained that during stressful situations, through eating or not eating, we attempt to suppress or soothe our negative emotions. Some people binge-eat, eating large quantities of food quickly, while others "graze," feeling the need to eat constantly throughout the day. Others restrict their eating in an attempt to exert control over themselves and their environment.

With many store shelves empty, people are experiencing fear over the availability or future cost of food.

Stress causes changes in our levels of cortisol, which plays a role in regulating our energy. When stressed, we crave simple carbohydrates and foods high in sugar, which provide a quick hit of energy.

Finally, the Daily Mail quoted Twitter user Moiz as asking, "Is anyone else eating 3 days worth of food in 1 day during the quarantine? If not, me neither." Moiz, I have no idea what happened to the two cans of peaches either.

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