COVID has almost all of the country under quarantine. Being tethered to our homes, as so many of us are right now, can have some perks, like family board game sessions in the middle of the day and finally cleaning out that junk drawer.

But erratic eating, extending to foraging through the pantry for potato chips or nursing a tub of rocky road while freaking out at the news, is wreaking havoc on diet plans — and waistlines — everywhere.

Social media is awash with posts about COVID-19-related stress eating; @thecut posted a “Quarantine Meal Schedule” on Instagram that included “Panic Snack w/news.”

With people feeling unsure about their next paycheck, seeing empty shelves at the grocery store and spending days on end at home, it’s no surprise that stress eating is a real thing.

Remember the freshman 15? We are in the midst of the COVID 20, and that’s if the quarantine is lifted soon.

As challenging as it is, getting back to better eating habits is more critical now than ever, especially to fortify the body’s immune system as the virus continues to spread.

Sounds Bites of Advice from Experts

  • Registered Dietitian Ashley Koff: “My clients are calling it the COVID-20, in reference to fears of gaining that much unwanted weight before this is all over. We’re all in a situation where the gym is shut down, we’re home a lot, we’re stressed, and it’s making it easy to overeat.”
  • Christian Gonzalez, naturopathic doctor and integrative oncologist: “In acute times of stress we release cortisol and prolonged stress, which is what we are now experiencing gives us elevated cortisol, which increases hunger. The prolonged mental stress signals our body that food may be scarce, and when that is not the case, we begin to graze, snack and overeat.”
  • Neal Malik, department chair of nutrition and basic sciences at Bastyr University in San Diego: “While many of us have been binging due to boredom, there are foods to help us feel fuller for longer. And they provide important nutrients to support overall health and wellness.”

20 Ways to Minimize COVID Quarantine Weight Gain

Here are 20 ways to quit stress-snacking and start eating better during the COVID quarantine. After all, we’re going to have to get out of these sweat pants one day.

1. Look for protein-dense snacks that will support your health. Suggestions: nuts, seeds, dehydrated kale chips and meat sticks.

2. Use what you’ve got before shopping. Start with your freezer and pantry and build a meal from there, using the store to fill in with produce and meat.

3. Be the gatekeeper for what comes into your home. People used to complain about having to walk past somebody’s candy jar at the office at 3 p.m. So don’t have that candy jar at home. Think of this time as a way to double down on your health.

4. Eat beans for breakfast. Beans tend to have a second meal effect, which generally leads to feeling less hungry throughout the day.

5. Plan snacks just as you would plan meals. It’s easy to buy carrots and cucumbers and pair them with store-bought hummus or a dip you make at home. Factor in snacks as you’re thinking about your meals for the week.6. Watch the sugar. The WHO says 6 teaspoons a day of added sugar is acceptable for adults. But since sugar can depress the immune system, some experts advise sticking to 4 teaspoons and spreading them out during the day. Instead of having sweetened coffee and cereal at the same time, split them up.

7. Don’t hoard. People are overbuying and, combined with immense stress and being at home more than ever before, it’s a dangerous situation for willpower and the waistline. Don’t stock up on junk. Remember, if it’s in your house, it’s in your mouth.

8. Shop the perimeter. The noodle shelves are bare but nobody is panic-buying broccoli.  Most stores have plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit. Start there. You’ll also save money when you don’t buy the packaged stuff.

9. Watch portion sizes. Nuts are great but not by the handful. They have it all: protein, fiber, and most contain heart-healthy fats. When combined, these nutrients contribute to feelings of satiety. No need to go overboard here — one-quarter to one-half cup of mixed, roasted, unsalted nuts is plenty.

10. Get help if you need it. Many nutritionists, dietitians and fitness coaches are working virtually. Schedule a consult via FaceTime, Zoom or Skype, especially if you’re trying to stick to a specific meal plan.

11. Buy fermented food. The soup shelves might be bare, but there’s always sauerkraut. Buy it. The probiotics in fermented foods help modulate the immune response, lowering the risk of septic shock in response to serious viral infections. Plus it’s a good source of vitamin C.

12. Keep the same timetable as you would if going to work outside the home. Get up at the time you would otherwise, have breakfast, exercise, and just do what you would otherwise. Finding a sense of normalcy will help you keep regular eating habits.

13. Drink plenty of water. When you think you’re hungry, drink water. Hydrating will stave off hunger pangs, and when you do eat, you will eat less.

14. Get up and move. Work in three-hour blocks of time. Don’t be sitting for longer than three hours. Get up, move, have some water, andget in a few minutes of deep breathing every few hours.

15. Focus on fiber. For example, quinoa cooks quickly, has 6 grams of fiber per serving and paired with vegetables is an easy snack. It’s a complete protein and it contains all of the amino acids to help support our body’s tissue and muscle growth. And the combination of protein and fiber will help curb those cravings.16. Even snacks should be “real food.” If you want potato chips, can you make them from scratch at home? If not, find some where the first ingredient is potato and not some highly processed potato starch.

17. Being stuck at home doesn’t mean being sedentary. It’s important to be as active as you can in the house — walk the dog, take a dance break with the kids. Build those into your day. If you’re keeping your mind busy, you won’t reach for snacks.

18. Stick to a budget. With economic uncertainty looming, buy inexpensive produce like potatoes and sweet potatoes — bake or roast them, add some beans or vegetables. They will keep you fuller for longer on a lot less money.

19. Pair processed with fresh. If you are going to eat something processed, like a chip or cracker, pair it with something fresh, like guacamole or salsa.

20. Experiment with stress-reduction techniques. As hard as it is right now practice gratitude. Even when life is very difficult, there’s always something you can be grateful for.

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