Writing about food for The Columbian during the pandemic has entertained and delighted me. It’s resulted in heartwarming connections with readers. It’s brought me joy when I’ve re-created special dishes from the past, sparking fond memories of my childhood and reminders of lively meals with friends.
In short, it’s been a caloric year. As I watched the numbers on the scale tick upward, my emotions spiraled downward. I called my health care provider and asked to be paired with a therapist who specialized in weight issues. That would take time, I was told, because everyone with that expertise already had a full patient roster. I wasn’t the only one struggling with food, weight and self-concept during the pandemic.
According to the American Psychological Association’s recent “Stress in America” report, 61 percent of Americans have experienced weight fluctuations during the past year. Forty-two percent of those surveyed said they’ve gained weight since March 2020, putting on an average of 29 pounds. Ten percent said they gained more than 50 pounds.
Those statistics don’t surprise me, but I wanted to learn more about why the pandemic has had such a big effect on weight. I called Stacy Schilter-Pisano, site director for the South Sound Emily Program in Lacey, which offers residential treatment for those with eating disorders and related mental health issues.
Some people use food or exercise to manage intense experiences, Schilter-Pisano said. For those people, the pandemic’s perfect storm of loss, anxiety and grief may have “flipped a switch,” she said, pushing them into disordered eating – that is, a sustained preoccupation with food and weight that impairs regular activities.