When stress awakens the emotional eater in you

Author: Joanne Steen

Has the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic reawakened the emotional eater in you? If so, you’re in good company. We often turn to comfort food when we get stressed and life gets crazy.

In today’s world, in addition to the regular stressors we contend with, such as personal, workplace and family stress, this pandemic has unleashed sources of stress that are new and uncomfortable to us:

  • Fear for our personal health and that of our family
  • Strain of the extended quarantine
  • Angst over isolation from family and friends
  • Panic caused by loss of employment and savings
  • Anxiety over life after COVID-19
  • Grief because of countless losses
  • And more…

Cheesy PizzaPhoto: Fatima Akram on Unsplash

Just writing this list has me craving a pepperoni pizza with extra cheese. 

We all have stress in our lives and, most of the time, we manage it pretty well. However, this pandemic has put us in an uncomfortable and strange place, and the mindless muncher and emotional eater have been reawakened in many of us. Comfort foods chock full of sugar, fat, and calories have become our constant companions. With no firm end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be time to take a look at what we’re eating. 

Let’s start here:

The car engine theory

Think of your body as a car engine, one that’s designed to run on mid-grade gas. In simple terms, you put gas in the tank, the engine does its job, and you get power and acceleration to drive wherever you like. 

Perhaps a few weeks ago, you started using cheap, low octane gas. Initially, you didn’t notice a big difference in your car’s performance but, lately, your car seems to have lost its get-up-and-go. It’s sluggish. And your gas mileage has dropped considerably. If you keep using that cheap gas, you may end up with some serious car problems as it gets older, problems that go far beyond the standard, your-car-is-out-of-warranty issues. Much like the gas you put in your car, the food you eat will play a big role in how much energy you have now and how healthy you may be down the road. Summing it up goes something like this:


Just like cheap gas, a steady diet of high sugar, high fat, and high calorie comfort food will catch up with you. 

Listen to your mother’s advice

Your mother was right—you should eat all your fruits and vegetables. They are a great source of the nutrients and health benefits, stuff you won’t find in a bag of tortilla chips. An easy way to get the needed vitamins and minerals that are found in fruits and veggies is to strive for variety and color in them. Fruits and veggies come in an abundance of colors, shapes, textures, and tastes. Don’t like fruits or veggies, you say? Then you haven’t found the ones you like yet. But don’t worry; the odds are in your favor that you will. 

The benefits of fruits and veggies are many. They can strengthen your immune system, making you more resistant to illnesses. They can also give you more energy, improve how you feel, and help put you in a better mood. And they can save you money, because they cost less than prepackaged, take out, or fast foods. Just try not to wash them down with full-sugar sodas. 

Now is a great time to take care of your car engine and listen to your mother! You’ve got nothing to lose. You may find in a few weeks that you’re in a better mood and have more energy. And since we have a lot of time on our hands now, check out the healthy eating guidance provided by the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition on eating healthy.

Stay safe. Stay indoors.

Joanne Steen

Joanne Steen is a board-certified counselor with more than 20 years of experience as an author and trainer on grief, loss, and resilience with a focus on line-of-duty loss. She is the author of “We Regret To Inform You: A Survival Guide for Gold Star Parents and Those Who Support Them.” With Regina Asaro, she co-authored the award-winning “Military Widow: A Survival Guide.” She is the remarried Gold Star widow of Lt. Ken Steen, a naval aviator who was killed in the line of duty.