Pandemic Diets: Nourishing or Unhealthy?

The Comfort Eating Trend during Lockdown: An Academic Perspective

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdown measures have brought about significant changes to our daily routines, including disruptions to work and school schedules, social isolation, and restricted mobility. These unprecedented changes have led to considerable psychological and emotional stress, which may manifest in unhealthy behaviors such as overeating. In an interview with a 19-year-old from Sheffield, Chloe Taylor-Whitham revealed that she turns to food as a distraction from the boredom and stress of lockdown. Many others share her experience, with people raiding their fridges for comfort food.

Comfort Eating as a Response to Lockdown Stress

As the pandemic continues to take its toll, the prevalence of comfort eating has become increasingly evident. Taylor-Whitham, for example, attempts to recreate her favorite fast food meals at home. Similarly, Andy Lloyd, 43, from Oldham, admits to consuming more chocolate and biscuits as a way of coping with the pandemic-induced stress, despite being a diabetic. He justifies his behavior by saying that his priority is to survive the pandemic, and not his physical appearance. Amy Hodgson, 24, from Liverpool, who lost over 5 stone (33kg) over the past year, found herself snacking more when she had nothing to do after schools closed. She has since adopted an exercise routine to avoid comfort eating during mid-morning and now cooks for the whole family.

Academic Research on Comfort Eating During Lockdown

Researchers from the University of East Anglia have started to investigate the link between lifestyle changes and comfort eating during the pandemic. The study’s lead on nutrition and eating behavior, Prof Anne-Marie Minihane, compares this phenomenon to how people behave during holiday periods, where they tend to indulge in their favorite foods. She notes that people are using the pandemic as an excuse for overeating unhealthy foods and drinking more alcohol. Although the study’s findings are yet to be analyzed, Minihane’s anecdotal evidence suggests that people are adopting unhealthy behaviors during lockdown. She emphasizes that under-eating can be as detrimental to health as overeating and that undernourishment is a significant issue for older adults.

The Physiology of Comfort Eating

Prof Minihane also explains that there are physiological reasons for overeating during stressful times. The body releases cortisol, a hormone that triggers the production of fat and sugar, in response to stress. This hormone stimulates the desire to eat foods that are high in fat and sugar, leading to overeating.


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented changes to our daily lives, leading to stress and anxiety. Comfort eating has emerged as a coping mechanism for many people during the lockdown period. While studies are still underway to fully understand the phenomenon of comfort eating during the pandemic, researchers suggest that people are turning to unhealthy behaviors, including overeating and under-eating. The physiological response to stress in the form of cortisol production also contributes to overeating tendencies. The negative impacts of comfort eating, both physical and mental, make it important to seek healthier ways of coping with stress and anxiety during these difficult times.