Why It’s So Hard to Make Healthy Food Choices Right Now — and What You Can Do About It

It’s normal to turn to comfort foods in the face of stress, but choosing to fuel our bodies with healthy foods will make us feel better in the long run.

Rido / Shutterstock
Rido / Shutterstock

As the coronavirus continues to spread around the world, it’s nearly impossible to stick to our usual routines. Many of us are continuing to work from home instead of heading to the office, figuring out ways to move our bodies without hitting the gym, and trying to maintain a balanced diet when trips to the grocery store — and even the motivation to opt for healthier foods — are more limited. 

“It’s common to seek comfort in food when we are experiencing extreme emotions,” Kelly Bay, D.C., C.N.S., C.D.N., a certified dietitian and nutritionist, tells Thrive. Given the intense anxiety we’re all experiencing in the midst of the pandemic, it makes sense that opting for healthier choices feels more challenging now than ever before. “Foods with high sugar, fat, and salt — ‘hyperpalatable food’ — can actually activate the pleasure center in the brain and temporarily make us feel better,” Bay adds. What’s more, stress has a negative effect on decision-making, which explains why it’s tough to choose a healthy option over satisfying your sweet tooth. 

But consuming lots of our favorite comfort foods could actually be hurting our overall health. Sugar has been shown to increase inflammation, which in turn, contributes to conditions that put us at greater risk of viral infection. Other treats that might fall into the comfort food category, like deep-fried foods, have also been linked to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, all of which can make us more susceptible to illness. 

Enjoying these foods in moderation will not only help boost physical health, but also empower us psychologically. While much of what’s happening in the world is out of our control, how we choose to fuel our bodies is in our control.  And we can choose to do so in a way that’s beneficial for our minds and overall health. On top of reducing sugar intake and staying hydrated with water, Bay recommends consuming antioxidant-rich foods such as blueberries and blackberries, broccoli, and cauliflower, and dark chocolate. 

For more healthy-eating strategies try these Microsteps:

Swap in a healthy treat instead of your go-to sugary comfort food. 

If you find yourself reaching for unhealthy comfort foods, find a delicious snack that still feels like an indulgence — without the sugar. Try a bowl of berries instead of a cinnamon bun, or a fruit smoothie instead of ice cream.

Read the label on a food item in your home you think is healthy. 

Many foods — including cereals, juices, jams and even bread — are loaded with sugar, even though they’re labeled as “healthy.” A glance at the label will quickly boost your awareness so you can buy another brand or swap it for something truly healthy.

Swap one sugary beverage a day with water. 

You’ll stay hydrated and decrease your sugar intake. If you’re able, you might want to add a slice of lemon to make it more flavorful.

Today, cut out one item from your daily diet that has sugar. 

70% of our immune system lives in our gut, so what you eat directly affects your ability to fight illness. Sugar weakens our immune system by starving beneficial bacteria, making it easier for us to get sick, so retiring even one sugary food makes a difference.

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