Stress eating is now an American pastime, thanks to President Donald Trump
Do you find yourself skimming the news and subsequently wanting to drown your sorrows in multiple pints of ice cream?
You're not alone. Since President Donald Trump's inauguration people have complained that politics are making them stress eat and, subsequently, gain weight. On Twitter:
This stress-related eating might even date back to Election Day. A spokesperson from Lose It!, a food tracking app, revealed via email that members recorded 3.6% more calories on November 8, 2016 than normal Tuesdays.
"Most of us are just scared and eating ice cream." — Judd Apatow
Producer and director Judd Apatow admitted to stress eating to escape Trump's politics. In an interview with the New York Times, Apatow admitted he was trying not to gain 30 pounds from the stress of it all.
"There’s so many things that are hard to hear every day that you do want to have some Oreos," he said. "Like people say, 'what do you invest in during the Trump era?' I feel like, Hostess Cakes. Most of us are just scared and eating ice cream."
The weighty consequences of a Trump administration
"Right now, people are more stressed than ever before, and that promotes weight gain," Dr. Svetlana Kogan, a New York City-based physician and author of Diet Slave No More, said in a phone interview. She's observed her patients gaining more weight this year compared to other years, and she thinks it's because of politics-related anxiety. "High school students are telling me they're receiving notices to do walk outs, strike, demonstrations and they're stressed about skipping class ... older folks are telling me turning on the TV is stressing them out," Kogan said. The physician said she couldn't speak to the average amount of weight gain she's observed.
Caroline Passerrello, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said in an email that her clients and friends have "made the occasional comment" about exercising less and eating more comfort food after the election. But those behavioral changes "were short-lived and didn’t result in a noticeable weight change," she noted.
Why stress influences your appetite
"Often times when a stressful event first occurs we go into fight or flight mode, which sends out a signal to decrease our appetite," Passerrello said. But after that, the body may overproduce a hormone that increases appetite. If someone doesn't have a coping mechanism in place, they'll have a heightened appetite will eat more food, she said.
Plus, feeling worried about the past or future can result in mindless or stress eating. "There is less focus on your present environment, including your food choices," Passerrello said.
Stress can also trigger fat and sugar cravings, an article in the Harvard Mental Health Letter reported. Food rich in fat and sugar (hello, desserts and greasy fast food) can comfort our stressed-out brains, the article noted.
“The response is similar to what you see after a divorce or a death in the family,” Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity-medicine physician at MGH’s Weight Center, told the Boston Globe after the election. "I can say that if you look at historical events that are very stressful, they can lead to long-term weight retention.”
If you find yourself choosing french fries over addressing feelings of dread, it'd be wise to consider seeking out professional help.
"I have had clients who have expressed the desire to ‘eat their feelings rather than feel them,'" Passerrello said. "In these situations I would make a referral for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy." In other words, if you'd rather dive into a potato chip bag and never return instead of confronting your fears, you just might want to talk to a mental health expert. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which Passerrello referenced, is a method of changing behavioral patterns or thinking patterns by identifying and addressing underlying emotional stressors.
When stress leads to weight loss
Not everyone who's stressed should expect to put on the pounds. Passerrello noted that people have different coping mechanisms, and some people experience a decrease in appetite when they're anxious or depressed.
According to an NIH study, approximately 40% of people gain weight when stressed, while 40% decrease their caloric intake, Passerrello noted. The remaining 20% don't change their eating habits when feeling overwhelmed.
Lena Dunham made headlines on Monday for blaming her weight loss on Trump. "Donald Trump became president, and I stopped being able to eat food," Dunham told Howard Stern during a show on SiriusXM. “Everyone’s been asking like, ‘What have you been doing?’ And I’m like, ‘Try soul-crushing pain and devastation and hopelessness and you, too, will lose weight.'”
How to cope
While weight gain isn't the scariest consequence of a Trump presidency by a long shot, a little self care could restore your stamina for resisting a government that's causing you distress.
“It’s obvious and mundane, but this stuff is even more important when you’re living under the strain of an oppressive government,” lawyer Mirah Curzer wrote in a Medium post titled "How to #StayOutraged Without Losing You Mind."
For stress reduction, Passerrello recommends surrounding yourself with a supportive community, getting enough sleep and practicing mindful eating by recognizing when your body feels full.
Kogan suggested volunteering with kids or animals. "When we engage in charitable activities, we secrete more dopamine and serotonin," she said, explaining those hormones are associated with appetite regulation. Limiting the amount of news you consume can also cut down on triggering sources of stress, she said.
If you find yourself unconsciously wolfing down a donut or something else you didn't really want to eat, Passerrello said letting one indulgence be an excuse to go on a full-day binge isn't helpful. Telling yourself “Yes, I didn’t eat what I planned for breakfast, however it was delicious and I won’t let that change how I eat the rest of the day” will help keep you on track if you're trying to make heathy choices, she said.