How Being at Home More Can Change Your Relationship With Food

Image of woman eating toast at the table.

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Whether you are still working from home or are back in an office, it's likely that how you eat now may look a little different than it did pre-pandemic. Research shows that this is very much so a trend, for better and for worse in some cases.

There are some parallels across the eating behavior surveys about how relationships to food have changed on a global level. Let's take a closer look at these changes then dive into expert-advised solutions.

Domestic Eating Behavior Changes

A survey conducted in April 2020 by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) revealed that 80% of Americans have changed their eating habits since lockdown began in March 2020.

Increased Snacking

From the 1000 participants who responded to the survey, 41% of those under age 35, as well as adults with kids, noted an increase in snacking from before and during the lockdown.

Increased Thinking about Food Among Women

The results revealed further gender differences between panelists. Individuals who identified as female reported to have increased thoughts surrounding food and found themselves eating more frequently than their male counterparts.

Increased Usage of Tech to Benefit Health

The survey also discovered that one in five Americans (around 18%) use a monitoring device or health app to help track diet and/or activity. Of participants using these devices, 66% noted a positive health change they wouldn't have otherwise made.

Global Eating Behavior Changes

Research published in the June 2020 issue of Nutrients looked at responses from female participants to an online survey that asked questions related to their physical activity and eating behaviors since the pandemic lockdown spread globally.

The majority of responses came from Europe, Africa, and Asia, a small 3% of panelists being from "Other" countries.

Increased Disordered Eating Behaviors

While the research did not clearly specify if eating disorders or disordered eating patterns were noted in these women, a separate smaller survey was conducted in Portugal to gain insight on how the pandemic had impacted disordered eating behaviors in women. The research revealed was that female participants experienced an increase in meal skipping (52.8%), grazing eating behavior (80.9%), overeating (81.0%), loss of control over eating (47.2%), and binge eating episodes (39.2%) during the lockdown.

Increased Snacking, Especially on Less Nutrient-Dense Foods

What the survey responses revealed was that women noted a decline in what they perceived as "healthy eating behaviors". Of note, women felt that since the lockdown began they experienced an increase in food consumption, noting eating less nutrient-dense foods while also consuming more frequent meals and snacks.

Increased Need for Stress Management, Specifically for Women

Similar to the results pertaining to women in the IFIC survey, these research surveys clearly indicate there is a need for more tailored interventions directed at women to help them psychologically manage the stressors of the past year on their own health and eating behaviors.

What Do Health Experts Recommend

How one chooses to eat is a personal choice that is influenced by many factors. With the emotional stress that has occurred this past year (coupled with the increased duties at home often placed on females), many appear to have drifted from listening to their body's physiological cues to eat.

Meme Inge, MS, RDN, creator of The Path to Living Well and author of The Intuitive Eating Guide to Recovery, recommends people start by getting curious instead of judgmental about their food and eating choices.

"Critiquing your body, bodily cues, and food choices will interfere with your ability to listen to your body," Inge says.

Instead, Inge suggests you ask yourself internally how you feel, what you are wanting, and the choices you make before, during, and after eating. She recommends becoming in tune with what your personal hunger cues are.

"Be on the lookout for these cues, and feed yourself whenever you notice them," she says. "This builds trust in your body. And the more trust you build, the better your ability to hear your body's cues will be."

Meme Inge, MS, RDN

Be on the lookout for these [physiological] cues [to eat], and feed yourself whenever you notice them. This builds trust in your body. And the more trust you build, the better your ability to hear your body's cues will be.

— Meme Inge, MS, RDN

For individuals who find this style of eating challenging, registered dietitian EA Stewart, MBA, RDN, of The Spicy RD, recommends scheduling time for self-care before turning to eating.

"Working from home allows us more time for daily self-care," says Stewart. "We can use these self-care breaks to our advantage by scheduling regular 'me time' to recharge and de-stress in various ways that don't involve eating."

Stewart recognizes that this may be tough for many who are juggling many hats right now, and suggests trying different meal timing strategies to see what works best for you.

"Some people do well with eating listening to their intuitive cues, but if this causes you to eat constantly throughout the day, try experimenting with three meals per day, or three meals plus a snack. Keep a food, mood, and hunger journal to see what times of day work best for you," Stewart advises.

A Word From Verywell

Global lockdowns have caused people across the world to discover insights into their own eating behaviors since dining at home was the norm for many this last year. Whether the concept of intuitive eating, intermittent fasting, or another way of eating has taken interest in your household, the most important thing professionals advise is to find what works for you and lean into that.

If you or someone you know has developed disordered eating as a result of the pandemic stress, professionals encourage you to seek help for your condition. Consider working with a registered dietitian to help you identify the plan that works best for you so you can feel like your healthiest self moving forward.

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Article Sources
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  1. International Food Information Council (IFIC). 2020 Food & Health Survey.

  2. Ramalho SM, Trovisqueira A, de Lourdes M, et al. The impact of COVID-19 lockdown on disordered eating behaviors: the mediation role of psychological distress. Eat Weight Disord. Published online March 13, 2021.

  3. Ammar A, Brach M, Trabelsi K, et al. Effects of covid-19 home confinement on eating behaviour and physical activity: results of the eclb-covid19 international online survey. Nutrients. 2020;12(6).