- New nationwide survey suggests 100 million Americans are overeating an average of up to 18,000 extra calories per month.
- This is enough to gain up to five pounds each month
- There may be more post-pandemic binge eating because people may crash-diet during the re-opening to drop weight quickly.
- Focusing on weight loss should be put off until the link between stress, emotion, and overeating is largely dissolved.
We all intuitively knew we were eating more during the pandemic, but now we know exactly how much. In a recent, statistically representative, nationwide survey executed by Google (designed, funded, and supervised by yours truly) 1,500 adults were asked about their COVID-19 eating habits; 39.7 percent—representing 100 million Americans—said they’d been overeating more since the pandemic began, averaging 1,500 extra calories per episode and 2.8 episodes per week.
I'll do the math for you: That’s enough to put on five pounds per month. To get a sense of why people were doing this, we followed up with readers who matched survey participants:
- “I just started overeating to deal with the anxiety and the not knowing what would happen. I think I was using food like an alcoholic uses alcohol. Somehow I felt like my only escape was bread and chocolate.”—Erin, Pennsylvania
- “In March 2020, two unrelated neighbors I knew well died and I had a big binge. This started a binge and eat-correctly cycle that lasted about 11 months and resulted in a 40 pound gain.”— Amelia (retired), Florida
- I'm not going anywhere so I don't care if my clothes get tight. Nothing else to do but eat. Sugar makes me happy.—Patty, RN from New Jersey
- “My company locked down and I now work from home full-time. It's been a full year of being home, not socializing with co-workers and friends. The food is always available.”—Jeff, System Admin from New Jersey
- “I had three miscarriages in a year and was incredibly isolated. I went from teaching in-person to being 100 percent asynchronous and seeing no one but my husband. So, yeah. It was pretty much crying in bed, grade papers in bed, and eat in bed for a year.”—Megan, a college professor from New York
- “One of the reasons I was triggered to overeat during the pandemic was because of the shortages. During the early phases, stores had many bare shelves and there were rations on the foods I was using to help control my overeating. If I feel like I won't be able to get more food it tends to trigger me to overeat while I still have food”—Marti, Bookkeeper from Massachusetts
Now, the real problem isn't so much the weight gain that has occurred on a national (probably global) scale. The real problem is that most people are planning to fix the problem by dieting their weight off when this is all over. Unfortunately, using food to soothe trauma during the pandemic created a strong link between emotions and overeating for most people, and this may last long after COVID ends. The problem is, dieting after this experience (especially panic or "crash" dieting in an attempt to lose the weight quickly) can stress the individual and trigger the link, thereby creating even more overeating episodes.
I suggest: to correct for COVID-19 overeating, don’t diet right away, Instead, first focus on modifying the overeating behavior and severing the link between stress, negative emotions, and overeating. Working with over 1,000 binge-eating clients has taught me even if you’re bingeing every day, you can quickly retrain yourself to experience those negative emotions without the urge to overeat. To do this, I suggest the following crucial strategies:
- Create Clear Boundaries Around Trigger Foods
- Keep Your Kitchen Overstocked with Healthy Food
- Make Regular, Daily Socialization Appointments and Turn Your Zoom Camera On. In my practice, people who don’t Zoom with their video on are having much more trouble with food because it’s easier to fantasize that you’ll deal with the extra weight later if nobody ever sees you.
- Recognize It’s Critical to Stop COVID-Induced Overeating Before It Progresses
- Eat and Snack by Design: To sever the link between emotions and overeating, shift from an "eat on a whim" to an "eat and snack by design" structure.
- Wait until you’ve thoroughly severed the connection between emotional turmoil and eating before focusing on weight loss, which should become a lot easier and more natural at that time.
Or, for more survey details, insights, charts, and graphs please visit the survey support page.