I can’t be the only person who has noticed the increase of people admitting to “stress eating” in response to the election of our new….president…right?
“It seemed like this year, there wasn’t a balance of good and bad things. It was like, everything is awful, nothing is getting better,” says Shaun Duke, a 33-year-old PhD student at the University of Florida. His coping mechanism? Cookies, particularly Thin Mints. “It’s chocolate, it’s mint, it’s all the delicious together,” he says. And between that and other post-election sadness snacks, Duke says he put on five pounds in November that he is eager to lose.
The reality show-like tumult of the campaign and transition made it ideal for mindless eating, too.
Watching the campaign “would be like a bad movie where people might get hurt at the end of it, and you wanted some popcorn during it to maybe make you feel at ease,” says Jon Savitt, a 24-year-old Washington freelance writer and comedian.
“I think I ate five pints of ice cream in the week following the election,” says Stephanie Springer, a 39-year-old patent examiner who lives in Bradenton, Fla., via email. “And I end up eating cookies every time a possible Cabinet nominee’s name is announced.” [source]
They’re not the only ones. I’ve seen the phrase “stress eating” pop up on my news feed on facebook at least twice a day for the past three weeks. It’s not a game out here. Folks are stressed.
Alas, as a recovering emotional eater, even though I get how some folks are joking about “eating their post-election feelings” and some people approach “a piece of cake to make them feel better” as if it’s a passing experience, I know a little too well what happens when you get a little too comfortable with your “cake as prozac” and “eating your post-inauguration feelings” habit.
I’m calling this the “Trump 20.” As in, The Freshman 15? This is the 20lbs you gain from eating your “I’m watching the news and OH MY GOD THIS IS THE NEW AMERICAN KLEPTOCRACY” feelings. The Trump 20. I’m callin’ it now.
What’s important to understand is that eating your feelings only results in more problems for you in a country with an ever-decreasing safety net. If the more meaningful parts of the Affordable Care Act are gutted, high blood pressure and diabetes would be considered “pre-existing conditions” that insurance companies would no longer have to cover….conditions you’re likely to develop if you keep on with that “cake as lexapro” thing you’ve got going on over there.
I’m being mildly tongue-in-cheek here, but I do also have a few tips that I’ve learned along the way to help you handle a world that feels increasingly uncertain with regard to things we’ve always taken for granted, while also making sure you don’t make things harder on/for yourself.
1) Don’t make this “cake as klonopin” thing a habit. If you find yourself constantly keeping junky foods on hand because they “soothe your anger,” consider kicking the habit altogether in favor of less troublesome habits. If I need a minute, then I give myself a minute. Turn off the TV, log out, go take a shower, blast some music, and sing at the top of your lungs. Lay back in a warm tub with a book to help you breathe without inhaling and thinking about how awful the air’s going to be without the EPA keeping everyone in check.
2) Plan ahead… especially since you know the news is not likely to be good whenever you open it up or turn it on. Limit your exposure to the news so that you don’t spend your entire day scrolling and fuming, cursing, ranting, to the point where it overtakes you. Find healthy outlets for your downtime. Take notes on things that matter to you, and use them to help you piece together what causes matter most to you. Slowly try to change your response to bad news. Instead of “OMG I need a drink,” try deep breathing while acknowledging how terrible [this] is. Don’t let your deep breathing turn into hyperventilating, either. Deep breaths. In for four, out for three.
3) Find healthy outlets for your anger, frustration, or sadness. Feel like you need to cry? Turn on a sad movie. (I’m always a sobbing mess after Schindler’s List or Amistad…so much so, that I can’t even finish the movie. Helps me get out what I otherwise might not be able to.) Feel so angry you’re shaking? Take up a kickboxing class, join a boxing gym, or take classes that let you hit and punch things. Need to feel like you’re getting ready for the apocalypse? Take—and train for—parkour. Might be District 23 out here in a minute. Don’t mess around and find yourself as tribute.
In all serious, a phenomenal way to let off some steam is during a workout—it helps clear your mind so you can process your thoughts as more of a complete paragraph instead of a jumble of things that all equally piss you off. So, if the potential disbanding of the education system in America, combined with a voucher system that would disenfranchise poor students, all brought on by the confirmation of a person who has never even attended a public school infuriates you, by all means… go hit something. I sure as hell do. And, if you find that one particular issue is burning your toast more than normal, then leave class and…
4) Find a way to bond with other people who share your concerns so that you can activate together. So many organizations suffer from not having enough people to help them get the job done, or not having people with certain skill sets to help figure out how to get from point A to point B. What if you could be that bridge to help them get there? Or help them develop those skills or get those connections? What if you’re the person that helps these organizations get into neighborhoods that need them most? Between Google, the news, and Facebook, you can find out who is—or isn’t—doing what in your community, so you can always look up certain causes in your city and find someone making moves.
5) Catch yourself in the act. Research shows that people who stress eat don’t even enjoy what they’re eating when they’re stress eating—they’re literally only doing it for the sugar high they get after the fact. Same goes for drinkers—it’s not often that they enjoy the drink, they’re only drinking to forget the stress or pain. Stopping yourself in the act is actually a great way to help break the habit before it becomes a habit, y’know?
Most importantly, even if you do gain a few in trying to cope with the destruction of the universe, it’s okay. The “gaining a few” is far less important than ensuring you have sufficient coping mechanisms to help you handle bad news, overwhelming amounts of stress, and general purpose frustration and helplessness.
I might be joking a bit here but, on all honesty, everyone who stress eats feels justified in using food as a coping mechanism in this consistent way. “Things are bad,” they say. “I can’t even,” they say. And I’ve said those things, too, so I understand. But, because I also know the consequences of consistently being “unable,” I know that it’s important to get ahead of the game instead of chasing it into a downward spiral, feel me?
Taking care of ourselves helps us be better at taking care of each other, especially considering how you might someday need those “others” to help take care of yourself. And having healthy coping mechanisms helps you pass the good energy onto others who may find it infectious and pass it on.
So, really. Cope without cake. Your country will thank you for it.