Is the Coronavirus Stressing You Out? - Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital
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Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital


Is the Coronavirus Stressing You Out?

Photo; Woman stress eating junk food

Find healthy ways of eating during stressful times.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

During times like the present, there’s a lot of uncertainty in our lives. With that also comes a lot more stress. When our stress levels rise and we’re confined to our homes, food often becomes our best friend. Mindless eating becomes a new habit. Food can fill voids, such as lulls in time when you can’t think of anything better to do than watch another Netflix movie. Food can bring a family together by getting everyone involved in making a new recipe or having a family meal together at the dinner table. Food does many things for us, including bringing comfort and good feelings when we eat them. Think about fresh baked chocolate chip cookies from your oven. You inhale that sugary sweet aroma. You take your first bite of warm, crispy deliciousness, then you taste warm melting chocolate. Mmmmm… So good, but so sweet that you wash it down with a glass of cold skim milk! I bet in that moment, you felt happiness and you probably forgot about all those worries and negative feelings you were feeling.

Although you may feel as if you have no control during these uncertain and stressful times, you still have control over your health by way of making good nutrition and lifestyle choices. Your VA has a team of registered dietitians available, amongst many other health professionals, programs, and resources to help you take control of your health. Because of the stay-at-home orders, you probably haven’t been grocery shopping as frequently as usual and you may have stopped dining out. However, you might be finding yourselves eating for emotional reasons to cope with stress or simply because you’re bored. Don’t let this pandemic put the extra unwanted pounds on! Consider some of these suggestions to help you continue to eat healthfully and keep your weight under control.

  • Make a plan and stick to it!

Planning meals for the next week can help save time and money. Browse grocery store ads in the newspaper or online to help save money, but to also help you come up with menu ideas based on what’s on sale. If you can prepare meals from scratch, these meals will be healthier and more nutritious than pre-packaged, processed foods and meals. Use the Healthy Plate model to plan balanced meals. Not only does frequent proper handwashing help prevent illness, but a healthy diet rich in fruits and veggies can help keep your illness-fighting immune system strong!

  • Make a (shopping) list and check it twice!

Write a list with the grocery items you’ll be shopping for based off your meal plan. There’s no need to stockpile groceries, but it is a good idea to keep a 2-week supply of food on hand at all times. 

  • Fresh, frozen, packaged, canned, buy food in any form that you can!

Being quarantined means less trips to the grocery store, but it also may mean there are less food items (and toilet paper!) available on grocery store shelves. To continue to make healthy choices with limited items available, look for nutritious foods that won’t spoil or go bad quickly. Fresh is great choice if you can find it and can afford it, but now is a good time to stock up on frozen, packaged, and canned foods that have long shelf lives. Consider stocking your pantry, fridge, and freezer with some of the following options, including but not limited to: 

  • Meats, Poultry & Seafood: Fresh, frozen, canned, dried meat such as beef jerky 
  • Meat Alternates: Eggs, egg whites in cartons, dry and canned beans, nuts, nut butters, seeds, soy-based meats, veggie burger patties

*Tip: Meats can be expensive, but you can “stretch” a pound of ground meat by adding any type of bean, lentils, refried beans, brown rice, barley, chopped mushrooms, or other vegetables to add more bulk and volume to ground meat.  Plus, you’ll increase the protein and fiber content!  

  • Breads & Grains: 100% whole wheat breads and bread products, such as tortillas, bagels, English muffins, whole wheat pasta or other dried noodles, brown rice, oats, quinoa

*Tip: Most breads, bread products, and cooked grains freeze well. 

  • Fruits: Fresh, frozen, canned in juice, canned in water, dried 
  • Vegetables: Fresh, plain frozen, canned

*Tip: Look for reduced sodium or “no salt added” varieties if you need to limit sodium intake or drain the canning liquid before use 

  • Milk & Milk Products: Fresh, refrigerated, canned, powdered, and shelf-stable packages. Plant-based nondairy milk alternatives, such as soymilk, are also available in shelf-stable packages

*Tip: Fresh cow’s milk can be frozen for later use 

  • Nip bad behaviors in the bud!

If you find that you crave high fat, sugary foods when you’re feeling stressed or other emotional reasons, consider keeping healthier versions or alternatives instead. It’s alright to eat high fat, sugary foods if it’s eaten in limited amounts with limited frequency. Consider some of these snack suggestions that aren’t too high in fat or sugar and some of which are simple to make at home:

  • Whole fresh fruit
  • Frozen fruit chunks (strawberries, blackberries, mango)
  • Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, apricots)
  • Nuts & seeds (almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds)
  • Trail mix
  • Raw veggie sticks or slices (carrots, celery, tomato, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower)
  • Dips for raw veggies, pretzels, or crackers: hummus, bean dip, low fat dressing, low fat ranch dip, peanut butter
  • Graham crackers, animal crackers (dip or spread with peanut butter for protein)
  • Angel food cake or rice cakes (top with fresh sliced fruit and lite whipped topping or spread with peanut butter)
  • Hardboiled egg
  • Mozzarella string cheese
  • Beef jerky

 “S.T.R.E.S.S. = Someone Trying to Repair Every Situation Solo” –   

Ask yourself these questions when you find yourself reaching for food during times of stress and heightened emotions and you’re aware that you’re not hungry:  Am I truly biologically hungry?  What emotion or what is it that am I feeling?  What is it that I really need, do I need more sleep or am I bored, and I need to find something to do? Work on managing stress levels by way of non-food related means, such as listening to music, meditate, take a bubble bath, go for a walk.

You’re not alone nor do you have to struggle with stress on your own. If you need help managing stress, contact your VA PACT team for more information on resources available through the VA. Your VA has a team of behavioral health providers amongst many other health professionals and programs that are ready to help you.

Brought to you by Truman VA Registered Dietitians and the Health Promotion Disease Prevention Committee



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