Is President Trump Making You Stress Eat?

June 16th 2017

Mike Rothschild

If you've been stressed out since Donald Trump was elected president, you're hardly alone. 

 A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) in January noted, "more than half of Americans (57 percent) report that the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress."  The APA also found a 9% jump in people reporting at least one health symptom due to their stress.

One way people are dealing with their Trump stress? Comfort eating.

The "Trump 10."

Dubbed the "Trump 10"—or the "election 15"—the weight gain caused by stress eating in reaction to Trump's presidency is becoming a very real phenomenon,

MarketWatch described how online food orders from places like DoorDash and GrubHub massively jumped on Election Day and right after. For example, DoorDash reported "a 90% increase in orders from liquor stores, a 79% increase in cupcake orders," and "a 50% increase in orders from wine bars." 

And people weren't just turning to booze and cupcakes. The Boston Globe wrote of local Clinton voters stuffing their faces with sticky buns, mac and cheese, and chocolate to cope; while Pennsylvania news site PennLive described Philly Democrats gorging on "an endless parade of pizza, mac and cheese, nachos, Ben and Jerry's and General Tsao's chicken" to find comfort in the days after Trump's win.  

Celebrities have also shared about their stress eating in reaction to the Trump administration. "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” actress Jane Krakowski told Stephen Colbert that she'd have to work out more "now that I’ve put on my Trump 10," to which Colbert replied that he was stress eating "all the time" as well. Filmmaker Judd Apatow told the New York Times that he was trying to avoid his weight gain turning into the "Trump 30," and even Barbra Streisand shared that her diet was being supplemented by a steady supply of pancakes and maple syrup after watching the news.

As Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a psychology professor at Ohio State, told NPR these behaviors makes sense. "[W]hen people are stressed, they typically do reach for the higher-calorie, higher-sugar foods that are more likely to put on pounds." And Susan Weiner, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, told Healthline that in her professional experience, Trump-related stress eating "is a real thing in that the news cycle is so constant and so overwhelming and so stressful." 

Anecdotal evidence gathered by ATTN: seems to confirm these observations and a few people agreed to anonymously share the particulars of their coping. 

One person told ATTN: that she'd already been telling friends about the ten pounds she'd gained since the election, due to "stress eating and drinking" while watching the news. Another person said that she gained "four pounds the week after the election," and was on her phone all day, "stuffing chocolate and granola bars." And someone else told ATTN: that their "once-a-week indulgence of wine and chocolate" had become a nightly occurrence since Trump took office.

Why we stress eat.

So what is it about stress that makes that makes some frazzled people turn to fat, sugar, and carbs for comfort, instead of salads and exercise? 

According to a report by the Harvard Medical School, persistent stress can release the hormone cortisol, which "increases appetite and may also ramp up motivation in general, including the motivation to eat."  The report also notes that numerous studies have shown that "physical or emotional distress increases the intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both." And with good reason. These foods "actually inhibit the parts of the brain that process stress."

So, there actually is a scientific basis for "comfort food".

What to do instead.

But while the phenomenon makes sense, psychologists suggest a number of better ways to cope with stress other than eating junk food. 

NPR put together a list of foods to help tamp stress down, including eggs, leafy greens, salmon, and dark chocolate. And in Psychology Today, therapist Sherry Pagoto recommended getting a better understanding of the triggers that cause emotional eating and recognizing that chaos is a part of life, no matter the current political climate. 

And as Dr. Svetlana Kogan, a New York City-based physician, told Mic, getting active can also help. "When we engage in charitable activities, we secrete more dopamine and serotonin," she said. Kogan also suggested another kind of diet: "Limiting the amount of news you consume can also cut down on triggering sources of stress."