How Social Isolation Is Impacting Our Food Choices

As this extraordinary year draws to a close, we continue to face major changes to our routines like stay-at-home orders, curfews, closed schools and increasing joblessness. The COVID-19 pandemic continues on, with disruption to holiday plans forcing less in-door social gatherings and other celebrations, it’s no surprise that all Americans are feeling a little isolated and stressed. And, what do we do when we’re stressed? That’s right, we over-eat on unhealthy foods.

Let’s examine the facts. There are 10 million fewer jobs than when the pandemic started and 3.6 Million Americans have been out of work for 27 weeks or more, classed as long term unemployed. Life-changing circumstances like the loss of a job or breakdown in relationships can lead to social isolation, diminishing kindness and a lack of warm touches that slowly ebb into deeper seated problems.

When it comes to our mental health, we know that depression affects your ability to perform simple daily tasks, communicate with others and even think clearly. All of these can interfere with grocery shopping, meal planning and sustaining a nutritious diet. Plus, those struggling with metabolic disease are already predisposed to experiencing depression since there is an inherent link between depression and chronic health conditions. In fact, Cleveland Clinic found that one third of people with a chronic illness or condition suffer from depression

Take the effects of election night that brought about a national wave of anxious, fast-paced munching and guzzling. Naturally, Google Trends reported record-high searches for “fries near me” and “liquor store near me.” And if you need any more evidence that stress-eating is a real thing, searches for topics like “anxiety” and “breathing exercises” were also at their highest peak. More concerningly, fast food delivery service Grubhub shared that 8 of the top 10 foods ordered on Election Day were cheesy, fried, or both. An ode to the American diet of 2020.

These food types are commonly known to lead to high cholesterol, obesity and heart disease. But for some of us, the consequences of reaching for your favorite emotional pacifier runs deeper still. A study by Gastroenterologists at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that stress eating can actually alter your gut’s microbiome, the bacteria that helps to breakdown foods and build a healthy resilience to illnesses. Simply put, we are more likely to experience disease flares, increased inflammation and poor health during periods of stress and these have lasting consequences. 

The picture is even more complicated by the fact that we each have a unique response to foods. In a study by DayTwo’s founding researchers, we learned that individuals show a different blood glucose reading for the same foods, meaning that something relatively harmless to one person could push another with high-risk of metabolic disease into a full chronic diagnosis with potentially deadly consequences.

This year has seen a huge increase in the shift towards online resources including telehealth services, video conferencing and an influx of apps geared towards emotional and physical health. Employers and Payers have been quick to take advantage of this fast-paced innovation to support the mental health of their employee and member populations. But have they done enough to help build healthy and sustainable eating habits that can improve their underlying health outcomes? DayTwo’s program uses a combination of telehealth and precision nutrition that works with your family food culture and eating preferences to balance foods and food combinations and make them work better for your unique biology. To consider piloting this program with your employees or members email employers@daytwo.com.

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