Got a Weird Craving? Blame the Stress of 2020

060420_Stress Eating

Admit it: At some point over the last few days or weeks, you’ve developed a bizarre craving completely out of the blue. You’ll just be sitting on the couch for the 80th day in a row when all of a sudden your brain sends you an urgent message to eat hot fudge for some reason. Or kimchi. Or any manner of foods that hadn’t crossed your mind in some time. 

You aren’t getting these signals because you’re pregnant (at least probably not), but because the current pandemic—not to mention some other things in the news—are causing stress that can end up triggering some pretty strange cravings. 

According to Kent Berridge, a Ph.D and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Michigan who studies these sorts of cravings, there’s a certain link between stressors and how we process cravings. 

“Virtually all stresses trigger what’s been called the brain’s master stress neurotransmitter, CRF (corticotropin releasing factor) in hypothalamus, amygdala, and nucleus accumbens—parts of brain-craving circuitry," Berridge told Delish

That CRF response “can directly promote craving itself,” Berridge said, and also noting that “some foods may be eaten more then as ‘hedonic self-medication.’”

Given the pervasive aura of stress that has defined much of 2020, it’s entirely reasonable that the brain’s cravings system could kick into overdrive. “To the degree home isolation and financial consequences are stressful, that would definitely set the stage” for a CRF response that triggers cravings, Berridge notes. Most of the time, these stress-based cravings are for tasty, high-caloric foods, which could explain why you eat a whole bag of chips in one anxious sitting or scarf down pastries in a panic. 

Look, the world isn’t going to magically become a happy, peaceful place overnight. The least you can do for now is know that any strange and self-indulgent cravings you may have are a by-product of the current situation, and that beating yourself up for giving in is only going to make things worse. 

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