11/04/2012 10:00 am ET

The Sandy 15: Stress Eating During The Superstorm

Jamie Sanders went to the grocery store in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy with good intentions. Cucumbers and apples were on her list.

But her local supermarket hadn’t gotten any new supplies — and with the prospect of working in her Upper East Side apartment for several days ahead, she joined the hordes of East Coast residents holed up in their homes who found comfort in the bottom of a crinkly bag, a brightly colored box or a perfect pint-sized cardboard container.

“There was some canned food left and some Oreos,” the copywriter and beauty blogger said. “I do like Oreos, but these were an impulse buy. I saw they were Winter Oreos with red cream and a snowman on top and I had to try them.”

Chips and salsa also went into the cart, although she would have preferred Doritos if any were left, and she sheepishly admitted to making a meal of some boxed macaroni and cheese, too.

Sanders isn't the only one to confess her sins. As New Yorkers gathered in the midst and aftermath of the hurricane, one common experience was rather extraordinary eating habits. While some people baked and cooked to pass the time or to host those displaced by the storm, others faced pantries full of foods they didn't typically keep on hand. People ate out of anxiety, boredom, sadness, novelty. People ate for fun.

"There are a lot of factors involved in this," says Geneen Roth, an expert on the psychology of eating and author of Women Food and God. "People have a structure or routine or way of doing things -- a way of seeing their lives and all of that has shifted for at least a little while. That change in routine might change the way they eat, but also it's a response to the unknown, to uncertainty and a feeling of the lack of safety."

"The great thing and difficult thing about food is that it is there -- it doesn't talk back, you can rely on it," Roth told HuffPost Healthy Living. "It's not going away. It tastes good. It's stability in a time where there is so much instability and change and some degree of chaos."

Indeed, research shows that eating certain foods -- the mac & cheese, cookies and fried potatoes of our Sandy confessions -- can actually boost mood. One Australian study found that those on a low-carb diet had the worst moods of any dieting group observed. And in another study, published in 2011, subjects given an intravenous high-fat solution were less likely to experience sadness than were those given simply a saline solution. Reported CNN:

Those given the fat were less sad, and brain scans showed dampened activity in areas associated with sadness. The researchers believe this shows that fatty acids can induce a signal from your gut to your brain, which may influence emotions.

In other words, those tasty treats are called comfort foods for a reason. So what is a person to do to avoid the actual weight gain that the term "Sandy 15" jokingly mentions? Roth recommends addressing the underlying feelings that may be leading to the overconsumption.

"Find somebody you can talk to about what you feel," she counsels. "Realize you've been through something, that you're in an atmosphere of loss. Then you can find a way to move on."

And if the temptation of a cabinet full of food is too much to avoid, don't worry too much: Once you've returned to your typical routine, your diet will follow.

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