People who know me know that I am a disciplined eater. I can slice off the top of a muffin, eat half, and save the rest for later. So they would have been surprised to see me stuffing myself with heavily buttered sourdough bread shortly after the shelter-in-place edict came out. My husband and I had both gone to separate grocery stores searching for produce. I came home with a limp head of romaine and two apples. He came home with a crusty loaf of slightly warm, fresh-baked bread. I tore off huge chunks and put them in my mouth, stopping only to butter, until my husband pulled the remaining loaf from my outstretched hands.
The next day I put on my researcher hat to understand why this happened.
Why Stress Makes Us Eat More
The hormone cortisol is released when we are under stress. It increases the amount of glucose in the bloodstream so our muscles are equipped to fight off the next lion. Unfortunately if we are under chronic stress, the blood sugar levels stay high, about six times longer than on a stress-free day. This plays havoc with our metabolic system which releases insulin to bring down blood sugar. This combination of high insulin and falling blood sugar makes us crave sugary carbs. In addition, cortisol is also a powerful appetite stimulant.
Stress and Sleep
To make matters worse, high levels of stress can interfere greatly with our sleep. Poor sleep, in turn, releases two more hormones: one makes you hungrier and the other tells you that you aren’t full. It’s no wonder that researchers at Kings College in Cambridge found sleep-deprived people ate about 385 calories more per day – the equivalent of a large muffin.
Taking Control of Stress Eating
To ensure that the COVID-19 isn’t synonymous with the Freshman 15, here are a few tips:
Commit to a healthy weight during the next 30 days. The first step is always the right mindset.
Re-enlist regular routines. For example, stick to a schedule for showering, dressing, exercise, meal time, bedtime, and wake up time. If you’ve tracked your food in the past or weighed yourself regularly, re-enlist those habits.
Choose your treats wisely. It’s human nature to want some treats in the house, but make sure they are ones that you can control, and they don’t control you. Also be aware of what foods your family can’t say no to, so you don’t set them up for disaster.
Work somewhere besides the kitchen. Trust me, foods will call to you from the refrigerator and pantry if you are sitting there.
If all else fails, go negative. A friend in San Diego lost 84 pounds in a year, but has now found herself at home with too much time on her hands. When temptation is at its peak she watches past episodes of My 600 pound Life.
There are many things we can’t control right now, but eating isn’t one of them. Recommit to healthy habits now. It will make the summer months so much sweeter.