'You don't need to put the cookies down' - wellness expert on pandemic stress eating

Eating healthy (most of the time) and keeping up relationships while working from home are some of the practices that health and wellness expert Robyn Youkilis and clinical psychologist Dr. Kevin Gilliland say can curb anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic.

Youkilis, a mother and author of books "Go with Your Gut" and "Thin From Within," turned to food, and especially, cookies, for comfort in the pandemic.

"I've never eaten so many cookies in my life as I have in the past four months," she told Reuters on Tuesday (July 21). "Ideally, we're not eating refined carbs and refined sugar, processed flours, processed sugars. They do do a number on our bodies. However, we've never been in a pandemic before. Who am I to tell you to put the cookies down right now? I can't even put the cookies down right now. So I'm not about to be giving advice that I'm not following myself. But what I can tell you is, like most things in life, can you focus on the good? Can you focus on what you're eating most of the time?"

Youkilis said cookies were OK, as long as they were combined with healthy proteins and "tons of vegetables, even grains can be great if they work for you, then if you're having some cookies on that day, it's not so big of a deal. And so I just have to trust that I can handle the cookies, for now. When we go back into the full, open world again, we'll see."

Sales of cookies and salty snacks skyrocketed 50% at the outset of the pandemic, according to a study by IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. Consumers also bought more chocolate and ice cream.

New York City's June 22 Phase 2 reopening allowed office buildings to invite tenants back, as long as maximum occupancy stayed below 50%. But most employees have opted to extend their work-from-home arrangements.

Dr. Kevin Gilliland, a clinical psychologist and mental health expert, shared tips on how to stay sane while working from home.

"In a normal, working environment, we have lots of little breaks," he said. "It's that interpersonal connectedness, which is so hard to have when we're all remote, but likewise, our day should have breaks, and get up and just move. And maybe even call a colleague or a friend just to say 'hi' and 'what are you doing?' And catch up because it allows our mind to shift out of work and then back into work, because that's naturally what happens in an office."

He also stressed the importance of keeping home spaces distinct and separate for parents and children.

"Your whole house shouldn't be a school or work," he said. "Anchor it to a particular place, that way, other people know, 'hey, when mom or dad are over there, they're working,' or, 'young adult, they're working at school or they're in class.' And those things help us avoid a lot of misunderstandings."

As New York City moved into Phase 4 of reopening on Monday (July 20), including the opening of botanical gardens and zoos, Gilliland welcomed the emergence from the long, lonely slog of self-quarantining at the height of the pandemic.

"The most savage, psychological symptom is isolation," he said. "So we have to start being around other people in thoughtful, creative ways that are also mindful of this virus. There's not a new normal. This is just our normal."

(Production by Roselle Chen)

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