BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – How has your life changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Some may answer this by alluding to slight changes to their personalities.

Maybe they’ve acquired an apathetic view of a job they once enjoyed. 

Others might notice they have less tolerance for irritating social interactions.

Answers like these are in harmony with a recent study published in the journal PLOS. The study claims that after the pandemic began, many people in the U.S. began displaying less sociable behaviors and significant decreases in their desire to carry out their responsibilities thoroughly. 

So, if the difficulties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic affected our dutifulness and tendency to be compliant in social settings, are we also less dutiful and compliant when it comes to our own health and wellness? 

Two ways our diets have changed since 2020

Many experts say our eating habits have seen significant shifts since 2020. 

A November 2021 study published in the National Library of Medicine states that since COVID-19 appeared in the U.S. and upended our daily lives, more Americans have shifted away from healthier diets and started eating more ultra-processed foods on a regular basis. 

The study describes this change in eating habits as, “characterized by an increased snack frequency and a preference for sweets and ultra-processed food rather than fruits, vegetables, and fresh food.”

On the other hand, some doctors say those who struggle with eating disorders that trigger restrictive dieting and an unhealthy amount of exercise may have been pushed to the other extreme.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, these individuals may find themselves consuming less than their bodies require to function properly.

Dr. Allison Chase, cited in Medical News Today, said, “We have definitely seen a rise in the need for eating disorder care since the beginning of the pandemic. Early in the pandemic, the National Eating Disorders Association saw a 74% increase in calls to its helpline compared to the year prior.” 

So, why did the pandemic trigger such extremes in our eating habits? And, how can we personally ensure that we’re making our health and wellness a priority? 

How stress and sleeping habits relate to hunger

According to Psychology Today, our eating habits are impacted by the amount of stress we face in day-to-day life and by the amount of sleep we’re able to get. 

Gia Marson, Ed.D. and Dr. Danielle Keenan-Milller touched on this in the article they contributed to the previously mentioned science journal, saying, “stress in the brain can have a negative impact on your gut, and vice versa, due to neuronal links that connect the two organs. This means that stress can interfere with your body’s cues of hunger and fullness.”

In other words, when we’re stressed, our body can interpret this as a need for food. When this happens, we may end up eating more than we need.

Undue stress isn’t the only factor that can trigger feelings of hunger, a lack of sleep can do the same. 

The article goes on to say, “ Not getting enough sleep can leave you feeling hungrier and less full when you do eat and inadequate sleep is associated with binge eating.” 

Dr. Jillian Lampert, quoted in Medical News Today, also attributed America’s recent change in eating habits to increased stress and other emotional issues. 

Lampert says, “The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people very significantly. Isolation, anxiety, and strong social messages about weight, appearance, eating, and activity intensified significantly during this time, leading people to struggle with eating disorder [specific] thoughts and behaviors.”

Based on the comments above, it isn’t uncommon for stress to push a pandemic-survivor to engage in binge-eating or subscribe to an overly restrictive diet.

Anyone dealing with either of these symptoms of stress or anxiety should know their struggle is not a sign of weakness and that they’re not alone.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from anxiety in 2022.  

Shifting into a happier, healthier lifestyle

As the U.S. joins the global community in learning how to navigate a COVID-era world, many who deal with pandemic-related anxiety are also successfully making their way towards more balanced lifestyles.

How are they accomplishing this?

There are a variety of avenues towards better health, but when it comes to finding ways to truly enjoying life and sticking to balanced eating habits, most healthcare professionals point out the need for sleep.  

Psychology Today recommends getting adequate rest by creating a personalized nighttime ritual. It suggests implementing all or a few of the following routines before bed:

  • Make your to-do list for tomorrow
  • Turn off your phone
  • Shut down your computer/all other screens
  • Read a book or listen to music to unwind
  • As you lie in bed, take slow deep breaths, and once you’re relaxed, visualize one of your favorite places and imagine yourself there. 

Following a nighttime ritual similar to the one listed above may be the key to getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night. 

As far as healthy eating habits are concerned, Gia Marson and Dr. Danielle Keenan-Miller recommend ignoring fad diets or emotionally-triggered eating. 

Fad diets can be incredibly restrictive and lead to eating disorders.

But making thoughtful choices about food is always a good idea.

For example, when an unpleasant experience triggers feelings of stress, instead of grabbing the sort of snack that will make you sluggish or induce a stomach ache, take the time to enjoy a refreshing piece of fresh fruit or a brief walk outside.

And when you sit down for a meal, they suggest slowing down to “acknowledge how your body and mind respond to different foods, and allow yourself to make food decisions based on your energy needs, taste preferences, and nutritional balance.”

These two health experts say the point is to, “choose foods that you enjoy, make your body feel good, make you happy, give you enough energy to get through the day, and offer variety for a healthy gut biome.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic may have altered our lives, but research indicates that by tapping into our innate ability to adapt to new circumstances we can maintain and even improve our health and well-being.