Superstorm Sandy ravaged the East Coast, killing more than 100 people, flooding cities and towns with a storm surge that reached 14 feet and leaving millions without power. The storm’s widespread wrath not only caused an estimated $50 billion in damage, but it also wreaked havoc on a highly coveted and meticulously maintained item: young New Yorkers’ trim waistlines.
Although some determined individuals in New York City diligently continued their exercise regimens during the hurricane, others holed up inside with food to placate storm-induced anxiety and pass the time — causing some New Yorkers to reportedly emerge from the wreckage a few pounds heavier. The New York Times has dubbed the weight increase the “Sandy Five,” comparing it to the “Freshman 15” many students gain during their first year of college.
Emily Marnell, a 31-year-old publicist who lives in Gramercy Park on the city’s east side, told the Times that she succumbed to junk food cravings after the power went out in her apartment.
“I can’t even talk about it — my jeans do not button,” said Marnell, who blamed the stress and boredom of sitting out the storm for her indulgent diet. “I went through Duane Reade and was grabbing Double Stuf Oreos, whole milk, Twix, Twizzlers, Sour Patch Kids.”
Others in the city who lost power but had supplies and a gas stove were driven into a cooking frenzy, in hopes of consuming perishable items before they spoiled. Union Square resident Andrea Lavinthal, 33, told the Times she created and devoured meals such as roast chicken with vegetables and five-egg omelets to use up the stockpiled nourishment she purchased at Whole Foods before Sandy arrived.
“Once the power went out downtown, the only thing left to do was eat — and eat,” Lavinthal said. “It was kind of like the movies. What you eat in the dark doesn’t count.”
Pilgrimages out of storm-damaged neighborhoods for food were also common. Amber Katz, a 32-year-old beauty writer, told the Times she traveled uptown for warm meals because the bananas and peanut butter in her powerless East 23rd Street apartment just weren’t cutting it. She classified her consumption in the aftermath of the storm as “stress-eating,” and she said she was “looking for comfort” during her daily quests for food.
“I have never eaten more fries in my life than I have during this week,” Katz said. “It was every day.”
But even those whose electricity stayed on throughout the hurricane gave in to unhealthy eating. After Sandy left the city, supermarket shelves remained barren and shoppers were forced to make do with whatever was in stock. Jamie Sanders, a copy editor and beauty writer, told the Associated Press that she wanted to buy apples and cucumbers at her local grocery store, but returned to her Upper East Side apartment with chips, salsa, Oreos and boxed macaroni and cheese.
“There was some canned food left and some Oreos,” Sanders 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.”
Geneen Roth, an expert on the psychology of eating, attributes Sandy-related overeating to a number of factors. The author of Women Food and God told the Huffington Post that storm victims could have turned to food for stability when their typical schedules were disrupted.
“The great thing and difficult thing about food is that it is there — it doesn’t talk back, you can rely on it,” Roth said. “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.”
Roth advises those who want to shed the “Sandy Five” to share their feelings with others instead of turning to food for comfort. She also told HuffPo that the hurricane-induced eating habits would subside once people resume their daily routines.
For now, some of NYC’s residents have alternate solutions to cope with the extra pounds. Lavinthal told the Times she credits her closet for helping her deal with the newly acquired inches around her waistline.
“I’ve never been so grateful for my jeggings,” she said.