Embrace the Lawlessness of Quarantine Eating
Nothing else makes sense, so go ahead and eat three breakfasts
I used to think I knew how to feed myself. My meals followed a routine: I started each morning with oatmeal, had a lunch I’d meal-prepped the Sunday before, and went out to dinner on the weekends. If I baked a dessert or bread, it was because I expected guests. None of these felt like rigid rules I struggled to follow. They just felt like regular life.
Of course, that was before I was stuck in my apartment during one of the most surreal and stressful periods in many of our lifetimes. Now, there are back-to-back bowls of Froot Loops (who knew they still made that?), rosemary focaccias devoured in one sitting, experimental homemade pizzas. Lunch is late morning spaghetti one day and an early evening mug brownie the next. The cooking and eating schedule I previously depended on for a sense of order has vanished. But, like the maple-tahini cookie dough I made at midnight, I’m rolling with it.
I have entered the culinary Wild West.
This is the first time in my adult life when I really don’t know what the next month will look like, and have little personal power to change my circumstances. I can’t rely on the things that would normally bring me comfort during a rough time, like grabbing drinks with friends or booking a slightly out-of-budget weekend trip.
So, food, by default, is that outlet. In an utterly unsurprising 2014 study on how emotions affect eating habits, researchers found that negative feelings can lead us to choose more immediately satisfying, less healthy foods. It makes sense when the goal is to improve one’s mood in the short term. And when I eat as if I’m on vacation, I feel like I’ve regained a level of control at a time when I otherwise have none.
According to Loretta Breuning, the author of Habits of a Happy Brain, our brains are prone to planning for rewards, like a night out with friends or a vacation. Without those things to look forward to, food can temporarily fill that void—especially if you make it yourself. “It’s the anticipation of reward that starts the dopamine [release],” says Breuning. “When you bake bread, you get a lot of dopamine because you have to plan the ingredients and how you’re…