PANDEMIC DIARIES: Emotional Eating

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

March 26, 2020. Day 14, I think. Losing track. Went to Trader Joe’s yesterday. Wore my N95 mask and latex gloves, even though most people still aren’t. Grabbed my shopping bags from the backseat. Got in line, because you can’t just walk in to grocery stores anymore. Not like it used to be, two weeks ago, when everybody just jammed into the parking lot, grabbed a cart, raided the place and left.

Back in those days, if you sauntered in around 5pm unaware that panic shopping had been happening all day and were hoping to get a few things for dinner, all you found were a few remnants of lettuce leaves on the floor. One woman who also didn’t know what was going on asked me if the shelves were empty because the store was closing. When I told her, no, this was panic buying, she shook her head and said she feared for the future of the human race.

The rules have ramped up since then. First they stopped letting people walk on their own into stores and made us wait in lines. Next they put lines of tape on the ground to keep us all six feet apart. Yesterday they said they no longer want us to bring our own bags. They will supply everyone with complimentary paper bags. They had a guy whose sole job it was to wipe down every cart and basket before handing it out. When he gave me one, I said, “Wow, that must be a really tedious job.” He rolled his eyes and said it was. I thanked him for doing it. He thanked me for saying it.

I had a list. More cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, milk. And wine. Somehow the stash keeps disappearing. I am aware that daily cocktail hour is starting to take its toll, and the pounds are beginning to pack on. Along with the gym being closed and whole lot of sitting around going on, a girl’s gotta be careful. At my age, it doesn’t take much. So I eat a lot of salad, and hike, and occasionally do exercises at home. Okay, once I did that.

But all of a sudden, something came over me. I passed by the ice cream freezer and looked at the choices. Usually, I walk right by. But after surveying the options, I reached for the mini-ice cream sandwiches and started listening to that little voice, the one that always gets me in trouble, who said that these were not like eating ice cream. These were little. TINY.

Unfortunately, once that was in my cart, the floodgates opened. In went chocolate chip cookie dough and oh why not, some cheddar crackers. By the time I hit the wine section, I was on a roll. Went right past my usual economical choices and decided to kick it up a notch. Get that Napa Valley cab I’ve always wanted.

And even as I was doing it, there was a vague knowing that the real reason, the real warped thinking going on was that ingesting these things would make me feel good. They were a small reward; something to comfort and soothe the feelings created by the horror show going on around us.

NPR had a show earlier this week about why people were panic-buying, even though the stores aren’t having a supply problem. And they posed the possibility that when everything else seems out of control, we look for something we can control. Apparently, having a tower of toilet paper and a multitude of dried pasta does the trick for some people.

But I’m wondering where my behavior fits in, because I distinctly remember a moment where I stopped being the disciplined shopper I usually am, and enjoyed a feeling of out-of-control abandon as I popped these items into my cart and, eventually, my mouth. It was almost as if my mind decided that if the world was going to be out of control, then I could, too.

And it did feel good. I fully enjoyed the creamy ice cream sandwich (I confess to eating two of them before putting the rest in the freezer), thrilled to the crunch of cheddar crackers while making a spartan lunch salad, and swooned to the warm sweetness of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies that night after dinner.

The guilt hit this morning like a food hangover. I only feel mildly purged after a 6 ½ mile hike up the mountains. Would anybody like a slightly used box of ice cream sandwiches and a half roll of chocolate chip cookie dough? I’ll wear a mask and leave it on your front step.