How To Stop Overeating While In Quarantine

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Being stuck at home with no work (or lots of remote work), no social activities, no play dates or parties is a recipe for weight gain. Anxiety is high, schedules are off-kilter and many people are cooking and baking to stay occupied. It's almost worse than the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

"When there's a pandemic raging outside your front door, it's natural to turn to sources of comfort," says Kelly Nohl, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Henry Ford Health System. "Many people turn to food to manage uncomfortable emotions, such as stress and sadness."

The Coronavirus 15

Overeating during a global pandemic makes sense. Not only has COVID-19 destroyed any sense of routine, many Americans have stockpiled nonperishable foods to avoid frequent trips to the grocery store. Unfortunately, many of these foods are among the worst for our waistlines.

Other factors converge that drive people straight to their pantries and refrigerators, including:

  • Stress
  • Boredom
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness

To make matters worse, people are lonely. "FaceTime and Zoom are great, but they're a poor substitute for face-to-face interactions," Nohl says. We can't go to the mall. We can't go to church. We can't see a movie in a theater. We can't go out and do anything but get our groceries and medications. Even essential workers are only occupied during their working hours.

Rein In Overeating

Getting a handle on overeating can be complicated. You don't want to feel like you're depriving yourself during a global pandemic, but you do want to eat in a way that supports healthy living. A few ways to achieve that end goal:

  1. Create a structured routine: If you're not going to an office, or are no longer working, it can be difficult to keep track of time. "Trying to stick to a schedule, even if you're not working, can help you better manage meals," Nohl says. So instead of grabbing snacks every time you pass the kitchen, schedule eating times for breakfast, lunch and dinner and stick to them.
  2. Snack smart: It's okay to have a snack between meals, but don't polish off a big bag of chips or pint of ice cream. Instead, portion out a reasonable amount of healthy options, like popcorn, pretzels or homemade kale chips . Put them in a bowl or on a plate and sit down at a table to eat.
  3. Take stock of your kitchen: Make sure you have a bounty of immune-boosting foods in your kitchen and purge your fridge and cabinets of unhealthy choices. If you don’t have junk food on hand, you’re more likely to grab healthier fare. During a pandemic, it's especially important to eat nourishing foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting nutrients. Strive to eat a variety of vibrant produce, such as leafy greens, berries, sweet potatoes, onions and garlic.
  4. Plan ahead: One key obstacle to healthy eating for a lot of people is preparation, so get that out of the way on a particular day during the week. Buy your fruits and vegetables, wash, peel and chop them up so you have a stash of healthy foods at the ready.
  5. Eat with a friend or loved one: With the round-the-clock news cycle, a lot of people are eating in the living room with the news on. "Try to create a sacred space for eating — separate from entertainment or work," Nohl says. "You want to focus on what you're doing and the food you're eating." Even better, eat with loved ones and family members. Can't be together in the same room? You can set up your computer or phone and eat together by using FaceTime or Zoom.

Healthier Eating During The COVID-19 Pandemic

In some ways, it may be easier to eat healthy when you can't dine in restaurants. Food prepared outside the home isn't generally as healthy as home-prepared meals. Plus, if you have more time on your hands, you might focus on collecting healthy recipes, exploring different types of cuisine and exercising more frequently.

"If your emotions are getting the best of you, and you're turning to food for comfort, take a step back and pay attention to your triggers," Nohl suggests. To curb negative behaviors, ask yourself a few key questions:

  • What is leading you to overeat?
  • How can you better stock your kitchen so you don't fall into dietary traps?
  • What can you do to establish healthier eating patterns?
  • What supports are available to you?

"This is not an easy time for anyone. It's okay to be struggling. But it's also important to understand that you're not alone. Getting the help you need is often right at your fingertips," Nohl says. Many therapists and dietitians are offering online support. Nonprofits including the National Eating Disorders Association can link you to appropriate resources.


Want more health and wellness advice? Subscribe to our health and wellness newsletter to get all the latest tips. To find a doctor or a registered dietitian at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Kelly Nohl is a registered dietitian nutritionist for the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

Categories: EatWell