By Elizabeth Fedrick, PhD, LPC

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” – Jim Rohn

As I looked around my room in dismay, I began to genuinely wonder if I might be recruited to star in an episode of Hoarders. Where did all of these empty chip bags and candy wrappers come from?! And exactly how many empty soda bottles might someone have in their room to be considered a hoarder? Wow, this is embarrassing. As I started to clean up my room, I felt completely stressed and overwhelmed doing so. What a mess. How did we get here?! I am definitely going to need a snack before I start cleaning, and while I’m in the kitchen, might as well grab another soda. Umm… what! And in that moment, I realized, it won’t be Hoarders contacting me, but more likely the producers of Intervention. When did snacking become my primary hobby?! And why do I feel so powerless to stop?!

When I think about how I have been spending my days since quarantine started, it usually consists of eating, texting, eating, TikTok, eating, eating, and some more eating. While the good news is that the stay-at-home orders have been lifted, so I am allowed to see my friends again; the bad news is, I’m still not seeing my friends. Most of my friends are still not allowed to leave their houses, and even if we do leave our houses, everyone is wearing masks, which is an ongoing reminder of the fear and uncertainty. Also, while I want to return to school to be with my friends, the thought of going back after so much time off is making me nervous. The dread of never-ending homework, how much different school will be because of the virus, and seeing people I haven’t seen in months, feels a bit nerve-wracking. Speaking of feeling stressed and anxious, excuse me while I go grab the bag of Hot Cheetos I hear calling my name.

Why is it that when we are feeling anxious, stressed, or sad, we are most likely to head to the kitchen for a snack? And why is it that when we get to the kitchen, we never grab a handful of grapes, but rather a handful of Cheez-Its? As we discussed in, The Increase of Anxiety and Depression During Quarantine, when you are feeling stressed or anxious about a situation, the amygdala sends a message to the body that you are in danger, and your fight-or-flight response activates. Your body gets prepped to respond to this threat by releasing a surge of cortisol (among other things). Science indicates that this increase in cortisol prompts us to reach for food, fatty and sugary foods to be specific, as these are the types of foods that will produce the energy that is needed to respond to the threat accordingly. Thus, it is no surprise that the amount of stress you have been facing over the past couple months has resulted in a vigorous training schedule for your future career in competitive eating (hope you like hotdogs!).

While we understand that there is a direct link between the hormones released when experiencing an emotional situation and our desire to eat, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is in our best interest to give into these cravings every time we are feeling stressed or sad. Research demonstrates that these behaviors can lead to unwanted weight gain and can have a negative impact on overall health and well-being (both physical and mental). Therefore, it is crucial to find alternative coping skills to engage in when experiencing the stressors of our current life situations. There are plenty of healthy behaviors that might help, such as talking to a trusted adult, calling a friend, journaling, going for a walk, engaging in a hobby (of the non-snacking type), and even reaching for the grapes instead of the chips. Finding ways to talk about your stress, and getting support for your worries and concerns, will be the healthiest way to combat emotional eating.


Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick is a Licensed Professional Counselor and owns a private practice, Evolve Counseling, in Gilbert, Arizona. She specializes in various areas, including depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues, and personal improvement. In addition to providing therapeutic services, Elizabeth also teaches Behavioral Health courses for Grand Canyon University.