We are all doing it. A visit to the grocery store for meat and vegetables turns into what looks like the makings of a 12-year-old’s slumber party. Cheez-Its. Cadbury eggs. Brownies. Cookies.
Or enough wine for a small wedding reception.
In the time of the hunkering down for the novel coronavirus, everything you knew about good eating, portion control and feeding your child’s brain has gone from your head. You want comfort. Now.
Comfort crunches, or pulls apart, or bakes at 350 for 30 minutes. It is coated in chocolate or covered in melted cheese and goes great with a glass of what your favorite bartender used to serve. Back before the worldwide pandemic that has kept us home, a little lost and a little heavier.
“What we’re going through right now is bringing up old issues of food scarcity, especially for clients who had to deal with food issues, or didn’t have certain food growing up,” said Carrie Dennett, a registered dietitian nutritionist who writes a weekly column for The Seattle Times.
Seattle life and nutrition coach Lisa Levine explained the eating this way: “Your brain wants to make sense of it all. But there’s no end to this virus, or social distancing and staying home. Everything is a giant question mark.”
Levine’s practice — Audacious Health & Wellness — is focused on “empowering people to take charge of their overall health and wellness.”
“Body, mind and spirit, baby,” Levine said. “Especially in times like this, because we are all feeling so terrified. We don’t know what’s happening, so our minds are going crazy.”
Which explains a recent Facebook thread about what people were buying for the first time since childhood, and consuming at their home desks: White Castle frozen burgers. Tim’s Cascade chips. Chocolate-chip cookies. Peanut M&M’s. Chicken and dumplings. Doritos, peanut butter-filled pretzels. Carbs seem to be the answer.
“Novel virus, novel times, novel food purchases,” Dennett said, comparing the current food mindset with traveling to another region, or another country: “So much of what we have come to know of normal life has been upended.”
We can’t change the stress, Levine said. “But we do have some control over what we put in our mouths.”
So as we enter another week of social isolation, it might be time to use that control to feel better — and help fight off the virus in the process.
For starters, Levine said, avoid refined sugar.
“It weakens your immune system,” Levine said, “and we all want to be healthy when we come out of this.”
You can still make sweets, but in a healthy way. Levine bakes something every two days, using recipes that have “healthy” in them. Instead of sugar, she uses a roasted sweet potato or maple syrup.
Dennett suggests people ask themselves whether they are actually hungry. And if the answer is no, ask what it is you’re looking for. Comfort? To alleviate boredom? To entertain yourself?
If you are actually hungry, Levine said, take advantage of self-isolation to try recipes you may not have had time for. Search for online recipes with words such as “simple” “quick” and “healthy.”
Make a big pot of vegetable soup with beans. “You’ll have the protein, fiber and vegetables that your body needs to stay healthy,” Levine said.
Our nervous systems are especially activated, she said, but we have the power to calm down, Levine said, “and step away from the fear.”
“Reel it in,” she advised. “Turn off the news, step away from the computer, open a window and take some deep breaths.”
It’s normal to throw things into your grocery cart — especially when you see others doing it.
“Fear is contagious,” Levine said. “I have 10 cans of tuna right now. It’s normal to come home with 12 boxes of cookies and one box of chicken broth and zero broccoli.
“It’s important to be aware when you are getting sucked into the contagious fear,” she continued. “Take deep breaths and put your hands on your heart and say, ‘Everything is OK in this moment.’ “
And most of all, stay in gratitude: “Because when you’re in gratitude, you can’t be in fear.”