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The Earnheardts | Eating my way through COVID

Will my pants fit when this is over? It’s the question that has been on my mind since March, maybe not all the time, but definitely on the occasions when I’ve eaten my feelings.
The Earnheardts: Clockwise from top: Mary Beth, Katie, Sadie, Adam, Ozzie, and Ella.

Will my pants fit when this is over?

It’s the question that has been on my mind since March, maybe not all the time, but definitely on the occasions when I’ve eaten my feelings.

The thought is usually followed by another equally important question. Do I care?

Somedays the answer is “yes,” and on those days I activate my exercise app and take the fattest of our two dogs for a walk. On the days when the answer is “no,” I eat bread and butter and remind myself that, not only do I keep fat clothes tucked away, I also have a fairly large collection of super fat (and leftover maternity) clothes in a tote I store with the Christmas decorations. 

It’s good to have a plan in case things go completely off the rails. Life’s hard enough without having to go shopping for a new extra-plus-sized wardrobe on top of everything else that’s going on right now.

I don’t think I’m alone in making the observation that COVID-19 has changed the way we eat, drink and exercise.

In some ways, interrupting our nutrition and health routine has been good. Because we’re not constantly running from one activity to the next, we have time to make meals at home. This allows for greater control over the quality of ingredients and helps us avoid the temptations of delicious, but high calorie, restaurant food. 

It should be a good thing, except that Adam and I were both “loved with food.” And during a pandemic, who couldn’t use a little extra love?

If you are someone who, as a kid, had the adults in your life make your favorite dishes, snacks and desserts to prove that you were cared for and special, then you too were “loved with food.” When Adam or I feel lowly, we eat the comfort foods from our childhood to recreate the warm feelings of being nurtured. I believe this is a common occurrence and I fear that I’m passing it on to my children. Even though I should know better, I’m making the foods I believe will help them feel valued in these strange times. I’m using food to nurture them.

If I have a rough day at work, we’re all eating buttery popcorn for dinner (not microwave; it must be cooked on the stovetop). If Adam gets a terrible email, it’s all about the ice cream. He’s always happy to drive to Handel’s and to grab a pint of his aptly named favorite, Spouse Like a House. 

Based on her reaction to the smell of the house when I melt butter with Worchester sauce, I’m betting that someday my oldest daughter will crave the homemade Chex Mix I’ve been making when she needs a pick-me-up. I’m not sure what rule it is that says the foods one uses to show love have to be carbs, but I’ve never met anyone who feels comforted by celery and carrots (unless, maybe, it comes with a pot of ranch dressing). 

It’s not just that our food lifestyle has changed, so has our drinking. I’ll admit, when the pandemic struck, I was a little frightened about the role alcohol would play in my life. In college at Clarion University, my nickname was Party MB. While that part of my personality went dormant after graduation, I wasn’t sure if this was a conscious choice or if it was because the pressures of my busy, professional and personal life took over. I’m happy to report that I am indeed a social drinker. Without a bevy of people around to join in the fun, I have been less prone to pouring a drink. Party MB remains happily retired.

While I’ve gained a little bit of weight, Adam was winning the COVID diet. He’s lost about 50 lbs. since March. He used that early extra time away from the office to workout and, for most of the summer, I fed him a diet of rice, lean protein and veggies. 

It was going well until we returned to work. Even Adam will admit there are now cracks in his resolve. He’s stopped working out and he’s back to the occasional bowl of ice cream. The pandemic lifestyle is threatening his weight loss success, but so far, his fat pants are still in the trunk.

Our kids have made the need to exercise and diet a bit harder, although through no fault of their own. First, allow me to explain how they’ve impacted our nonexistent exercise routines. When they returned to school, Adam and I decided school buses were where we would draw the line. So we drop off and pick up twice a week (our kids are on a two-day-a-week blended schedule). 

Driving the children to school is not bad, but negotiating the responsibility has made juggling our professional schedules even more chaotic. On the days the kids do remote learning, we’re both in a constant state of motion between our jobs and helping with assignments. This leaves less free time for exercise, which any fitness guru would tell you “sounds like an excuse for not exercising” — and that’s exactly what it is, even if it’s a good one. 

Second, it turns out the school is providing all the students free lunches through December, even for the days they aren’t in school. We weren’t expecting this perk, but the kids are ecstatic about receiving free school food. As Adam can attest, some of the stuff they send home is good — really good — especially the frozen applesauce cups, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and the occasional ham and cheese hot pocket. 

The problem, of course, is that our kids don’t eat everything, and, you know, we can’t let food go to waste. Certainly not during a pandemic. So, somebody has to step up to the plate (and clean it).

At this point in life, I’m just trying to maintain a relatively healthy weight so that as I age, I’m still mobile and don’t need a motorized go-kart to get around. I’ll never wear “skinny” clothes, so my battle is for a healthy middle ground. I don’t want to stop eating the foods that remind me of the people I love and I don’t want to stop making food that nurtures my family.

So, I won’t. The pandemic won’t last forever, and for now, we all need a little extra love even if it comes with a few extra calories.

Mary Beth Earnheardt is a professor in the Anderson Program in Journalism at Youngstown State University where she advises student media. You can follow her on Twitter at @mbexoxo.