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Eat Better Today, and Why It’s Ok You Weren’t For a Minute

April 21, 2020

Hey, we’re human. Sometimes, humans crave comfort. And sometimes, those comforts come in the form of a blue box of mac n’ cheese. But now that we’re settling into the long haul at home, we may want to shake the cheese dust off to make small steps toward eating well, for our long-term health. 

During a recent interview with C-Style Magazine, our very own Leah Johnston, Registered Dietitian and SRW Strategist, explained six important ways to manage your eating habits during a stressful time. If you can even start with one of these now, that’s a huge win! Here’s a little Leah wisdom to help you get back to you: 

How does stress eating affect the body?

Stress eating or emotional eating is a phenomenon that almost everyone has dealt with. It’s a coping mechanism, and the most obvious potential side effect is your pants not fitting, but health is about so much more than that. To understand this better, let’s examine a few things that are going on in the body during prolonged periods of stress:

  1. When stress becomes chronic or extends for a long period of time, our adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol, and cortisol may increase our appetites. It may also ramp up motivation in general, including the motivation to eat. If a person’s stress response gets stuck in the “on” position — cortisol levels may stay elevated and promote the storage of energy (calories). 
  2. We also may find ourselves grabbing “comfort foods” that feel like they might help neutralize our stress, at least in our minds. This mindset may contribute to cravings for these typically calorically-dense foods. 
  3. Stress can lead to inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a normal immune response, however, chronic or long-term inflammation can lead to a higher risk of chronic illnesses and a lessened immune response. Healthy food helps fight against and reduce inflammation, but more indulgent, “comfort foods” can contribute to inflammation. 

What are some of the ways people can have comfort food but not blow out their whole diet? 

Try to consume healthy foods, like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean proteins, 80% of the time, then allow yourself time to indulge in those comfort foods for the other 20%. Think about it this way, if what you eat on a regular, daily basis is healthy and nutritious, it’s ok to splurge. This is very doable if you are putting some thought into your choices when you do get to the grocery store. 

If you really need a reset: Pick a day or 2 and keep a quick food journal. Write down everything you eat and drink during the day and then review it. So often we are not aware of what or how much we eat throughout the day, but writing it down forces us to be more aware and gives us an idea of where we can make changes to achieve 80% healthy and 20% flexibility.

Since people are limiting their time outside, what are some of the staple foods that would be good to buy in stock?

  • Frozen vegetables 
  • Lean proteins, like chicken, turkey breast or plant-based options like No Evil Foods, leaner cuts of pork or beef, eggs, grains, nuts or nut butters, lentils 
  • Whole grains are pantry staples – brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat or legume pastas like Tolerant, wheat bread.
    • In many stores, there are also frozen whole grains or blends available. I love whole grain and vegetable blends from Path of Life.
  • And fruit! Fresh or frozen.
  • Healthier takes on comfort food, so you have them ready when you want to indulge. Simple Mills cookies, Harvest Snaps for snacking, Base Culture bread for a delicious grilled cheese. 

What are some great substitutes for boredom eating?

Especially now, it is important to find ways to cope with stress that are non-food related. Keep your mind and your hands occupied. As a first step, identify if the “hunger” you might be feeling is a physical need for food or if it is emotional/boredom. A physical need is when your body is telling you that it needs energy. Your stomach might growl or feel empty, and your energy might be waning. Emotional or boredom hunger typically starts in your mind and comes on suddenly, rather than gradually. Once you have identified what kind of hunger you might be feeling, you are equipped to decide hope to deal with it. If physical, eat something! If it’s from boredom, here are some other ideas:

  1. Just get up and move however you can, even if it is just dancing around the house. Some call this “exercise.” That sounds intimidating, so we’ll just call it moving. 
  2. Tackle a household project that you’ve been putting off.
  3. If you have kids, play a game, take a free online class, get outside, read a book, or “move” with them.
  4. Call friends or family members for a chat, or even just shoot them a text.
  5. Drink water throughout the day. This fills the volume in your stomach, giving you the sensation that you are fuller. Plus, you might just be thirsty.

Doctors sometimes advise against fruit smoothies because of the high content of sugar. What might be a way to make it taste great so that kids will buy into it.

Smoothies can be a great option when you make them in your own kitchen, rather than purchasing a premade product. This allows you to take back control of what is going into that smoothie. There are a TON of good smoothie recipes available online with low sugar. 

  • Use frozen fruit – like berries, pineapple, mango, apples, bananas. If you wait until a banana is turning brown, it actually tastes sweeter.
  • A nut butter is a great addition to make a pb & j smoothie! One of my favorite nut butters is called NuttZo. They make a chocolate version too! 
  • Greek yogurt adds extra protein. If you are dairy-free, Kite Hill has a Greek version with more protein as well. 
  • Use a flavored protein powder – vanilla, chocolate, birthday cake. Nutritional Brands has a great vegan option. 
  • This might seem odd, but add a touch of salt. Salt is a natural flavor enhancer. Adding just a pinch is going to help bring out the natural flavors of all the ingredients.

People are trying to be supportive of the restaurant industry, what do you suggest for vegan and non-dairy eaters who might have limited choices right now?

Many restaurants are still open for takeout. If you are vegetarian or vegan and your fav spot is open, place an order when you can. Also, restaurants are often willing to make modifications or even make something that might not be on the menu as they are able to. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

If you want to support restaurants on the policy side, go to the Independent Restaurant Coalition’s site,, and find out how to get involved. There are also donation funds that have been set up to help support the restaurant employees. One is the Restaurant employee relief fund from the National Restaurant Association. Lastly, continue to promote your favorite local spots to your own personal social media community.

When it comes down to it, feeling good about your food choices happens by eating well. And next time you’re missing the social aspect of eating at a restaurant, have a bite over a video chat with your family or friends (tested and approved by SRW virtual lunch bunch hour).