Premier Health physician says stress eating is common during pandemic, offers tips for healthier habits

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – At the start of the pandemic, with gyms closed and staying home becoming more of a norm, personal health and fitness goals may have fallen by the wayside. Sports medicine physician with Premier Health, Dr. Aloiya Earl, said some people are still battling the unpleasant side effects of those unhealthy habits, and she said it’s not too late to get back on track.

“We’re sitting with our pantry and our refrigerator very accessible, right there, everyday. So it was a very common thing that many people gained weight during the early part of the pandemic and are still struggling with that.”

Earl said those who’ve fallen victim to losing sight of their health goals and stress eating are not alone, explaining that people often find comfort in indulging in tasty, and often unhealthy foods.  

“When our bodies are stressed, it increases a hormone in our bodies called cortisol,” Earl said. “It’s called the stress hormone, and it makes us crave calories for one, but specifically, it makes us crave like processed, carbohydrate, refined, sugary-type calories. Those things that are sitting our cupboard that are really easy to just grab like chips and sweets, candies.”

While they’re satisfying in the moment, they don’t offer many positives down the line.

“They kind of quell your stress very short-term, but long-term, it can kind of lead to more of that weight gain and even more stress as a snowball effect,” Earl said.

She said that’s because after enjoying those sweets and unhealthy options, physical changes could give way to emotional ones.

“The psychological toll is a really important thing to consider because not only are we dealing with this pandemic, something that none of us has ever with before, which is stressful in and of itself, we’re dealing now with the anxiety over our own behaviors during the pandemic.”

She added, with some people losing or having to switch jobs, as well as the sudden change in exercise and eating habits, a whole new layer of psychological stress begins to develop. But there are feasible options for getting back on track, starting with adopting healthy eating habits.

Manager of The Culinary Center at Dorothy Lane Market, Peggy Neary, said making healthy choices isn’t difficult, but requires dedication to small, consistent changes.

“Whole wheat pasta rather than just regular pasta is a great idea. There’s more fiber in it, or better for you. Stick to whole grains,” Neary said. “Make your own salad dressing. Put vegetables on your sandwiches. Use whole grain bread. Things like that.”

She added, substitution for your favorite foods is key to remaining motivated, trading sugary foods like ice cream for plain yogurt with berries, or another healthy alternative you’re sure to enjoy.

“Snack-wise, you can make your own granola. Popcorn is probably a great snack especially if you make it yourself and of course limit the butter,” Neary said.

When in doubt she added, starting in the produce section and shopping the perimeter of most grocery stores will offer exposure to options that more closely align with health goals in comparison to other items in the store.

Filling your pantry with healthy food items and purging sugary, salty and processed foods can help cement these changes.

Dr. Earl said if you’ve fallen off the bandwagon, walking is an easy and effective way to burn fat while doing other activities, like listening to music or podcasts, or talking to a friend. This can serve as a launch pad to new, healthier activities in the future.

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