Emotional Eating and Weight Gain

We are almost one year into living in a COVID world. How has your COVID year been? For many, it was filled with stress, anxiety, financial struggles, and possibly weight gain. A UF survey of 3000 recently published in The Gainesville Sun people showed that, during the period of March-May of last year, 44 percent of people reportedly increased their sweets intake, and 37 percent increased their salty food consumption. Additionally, 38 percent said they gained weight during the same time period. Mainstream media has joked about the “quarantine 15,” but it is certainly something to take seriously.

Weight gain leads to increased risk of many conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoarthrosis, certain types of cancer, and more (CDC.gov). Furthermore, having co-morbities or preexisting conditions, such as the ones just listed, can raise the likelihood of having a more severe case of COVID if contracting it. So how do you avoid the quarantine 15? The same way you thwart any weight gain during any time of year or global circumstances: move more and eat right. How do you know if you’re feeling physical hunger or emotional hunger? Look for certain triggers (Smith et al., 2020):

  • Emotional hunger hits you suddenly, while physical hunger is more gradual
  • Emotional hunger doesn’t care if your stomach is full, while physical hunger tells you to stop eating once you’re full
  • Emotional eating leaves you feeling guilt, shame, or powerless, while physical hunger doesn’t make you feel bad
  • Emotional hunger craves comfort food, while all types of food sound good if you’re physically hungry.

If you’ve been eating comfort foods to cope with ongoing stress, try finding new ways to relieve stress. Go for a walk, practice a few minutes of meditation, write a few sentences in a journal about what’s bothering you, keep only healthy food at home, or call or text someone to share what’s on your mind.

Craving comfort food is normal during times of stress, but if done regularly, it can affect not just your physical health, but mental health, too. Relying on food during stressful times doesn’t make the problem go away or easier to handle, and it can make situations worse. Finding healthier outlets, as well as working with a professional therapist, can help you learn ways to handle emotions and emotional eating, especially as we enter 2021 with COVID stressors still front and center.

Featured image by Brent Hofacker – stock.adobe.com


Smith, M., Robinson, L., Segal, J. and Segal R. (2020). Emotional Eating and How to Stop It. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/diets/emotional-eating.htm


Shari Bresin, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for Pasco County Extension
Posted: January 20, 2021

Category: Health & Nutrition, Work & Life
Tags: Eating, Emotional, Weight Gain

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