LONDON, ONT -- The memes are all over the internet, people joking about eating more or stress eating during the pandemic, and while it can be a funny post there is science behind the behavior.

Stress eating is a well-documented behavior in moments of anxiety and high stress, but the current pandemic has brought on a communal aspect to the behavior.

If you find yourself grabbing that salty or sweet snack more often these days it may be because comfort foods subdue negative emotions like anger, anxiety, boredom, or even loneliness.

“Stress eating can manifest as overeating or binge-eating,” said Amy Reichelt, with the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry in London, Ont.

“Others may notice a ‘grazing’ behaviour where they want to eat constantly regardless of hunger – this is because eating can provide a welcome distraction from the situation that we are currently facing, and can provide a coping mechanism during uncertain times,” said Reichelt.

A stressed brain tends to need more energy, and quick source of that energy is glucose which is found in sugary foods such as candy, chocolate and chips.

“This release of dopamine in the brain from eating carbohydrate-rich foods is rewarding and can soothe negative feelings caused by stressful experiences. We learn that rewarding foods can make us feel good, and that they are an acceptable treat in unpleasant times,” said Reichelt.

While these foods may give a momentary release or feeling of satisfaction there are dangers to this sustained eating pattern.

Excessive eating of junk foods impair cognitive functions and can also increase anxiety and other mental issues which can lead to a further cycle of stress eating.

The challenge is our brains are looking for distractions and it may be as simple as finding other distractions such as light exercise or reading to redirect that tendency to reach for the candy bar.