“Bad habits began luring me in. There was this innate urge to huddle in the pantry, rifle down handfuls of salty Cheetos, Chex cereal.”
Ten years ago, after long shifts working as a guard at a county jail, I would stress eat late-night deep-dish Dominos, mummified taquitos from 7-11, chase it all down with sugary Twisted Tea. The disturbing profession made me seek comfort in junk food. It became my companion—the weight gain came with it. After the embarrassment of needing to request a bigger uniform, I ran and circuit-trained off 70 pounds. To cut calories, I stopped eating breakfast. No more fast food. I ate grilled chicken, brown rice, and a green veggie for dinner. Greek yogurt was my dessert before bed.
After I lost my weight, I spent the decade maintaining, trying to stay sane while dieting and exercising but also living my life. Using a calorie-counter allowed that sanity—I could indulge in beer or restaurant meals without the sour aftertaste of guilt. I decided to never again turn to unhealthy eating in times of distress.
Flash forward to March, and the attendant stay-at-home orders around the country. In the initial panic, most of us left our offices and jobs for what we thought would be two weeks, maybe three, unsure of what the virus had in store. My wife and I headed to Target and started, for the first time in our 10-year marriage, a pantry hoard. We bought canned soup and Cheetos, squabbled over which giant tub of nuts to buy. “Mixed or straight peanut?”
Whenever I had any sense that I was hungry, I returned to the darkened pantry to fill my belly. The knowledge that food was scarce didn’t deter me from trying to consume our stockpile well before we were recommended to emerge from lockdown.
“Peanuts are cheaper,” I said.
“Yeah but we’ll want variety.”
The cart filled with crackers, juice boxes, pasta, flour, bagels, pancake mix, Gatorade.
Bad habits began luring me in. There was this innate urge to huddle in the pantry, rifle down handfuls of salty Cheetos, Chex cereal. Spoonfuls of peanut butter turned into hourly occurrences. Whenever I had any sense that I was hungry, I returned to the darkened pantry to fill my belly. The knowledge that food was scarce didn’t deter me from trying to consume our stockpile well before we were recommended to emerge from lockdown.
Tomorrow’s frozen pizza is a generous hug; this weekend’s charcuterie board a much-needed get-together.
But in the weeks and months that have followed the initial onset of the virus, as we settled into a country of two camps—one that follows the guidelines from high-ranking medical professionals, the other still vacationing and attending weddings—I’ve stopped counting. On the app, I typically would fall into a 40 percent protein, 30 percent carbohydrate, 30 percent fat range. A nicely balanced pie chart. But now, if I dared log in, it’d be overrun by baby blue carbs, a sliver of soft green protein, with barn-red fat filling out the rest.
At first, veering sharply off of my strict diet gave me contentment. I told myself the break from routine and schedule was but a minor disturbance, it was actually healthy to let loose, that I’d be back to the gym, weights pressed above my head in no time. I’d shop the healthy perimeter of the grocery again, the inner aisles of temptation avoided. I would be prudent with my appetite, dispense with my plenitude of carb-laden snacks. Like my struggle with weight, when we all emerged, I’d account for what had happened, how we’d traversed the rupture, and how it was remedied.
But here we are. Covid still lurks and it’s pumpkin beer season and I avoid the mirror after I shower. I tell myself Zoom adds 15 pounds but I know it’s a lie because the scale accurately flashes a weight that I haven’t seen in a decade. I’m not mad at myself or disappointed. I can’t help but be ambivalent to gaining back much of the weight. The food comforts me during this emotionally taxing event, as it once had in the lost years of my early 20s, walking the jail tiers. I embrace the edible company. For now, a stopgap. Tomorrow’s frozen pizza is a generous hug; this weekend’s charcuterie board a much-needed get-together.