Understanding How Trauma Impacts Eating Can Help Us Cope With The Covid-19 Crisis

Lucy Aphramor
8 min readApr 9, 2020
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash Image of three rows of empty supermarket trolleys under cover

In times of crisis, as in any other time, it can help to remember that food and eating have a more complex role in health and metabolism than just providing nutrients.

Of course nutrients matter. And what we eat by way of vitamins, carbs, antioxidants, probiotics and so on can have specific effects in the body. At the same time, food is more than nutrients, eating is more than a means of nutrient transfer, and you could be missing out on the health benefits of food and eating if you’ve not had chance to consider this wider reach.

Writing about non-nutrient aspects of food and eating felt timely as Covid-19 means we are plunged (differently) into powerlessness via disrupted routines, loss of income, fear, violence, scarcity. Entering a supermarket became a health risk. Pervasive uncertainty, isolation and abuse are among the issues that can translate into feeling newly confused around food, or heighten your existing struggle. Paying attention to food doesn’t touch underlying factors, but it might help you cope —

If you’ve been without food before, or know trauma, and you feel like you’re freaking out now that makes total sense. Your memory of surviving just came back to save you. Similarly, if you feel in scary new emotional territory with food, maybe you’re having a trauma response to your new situation.

Here’s the thing. Let’s say you’re hungry and I offer you a food that’s regularly eaten in some parts of the world but you consider it weird or foul-tasting. What happens to your hunger? Something, right? If we were wired simply to eat calories when we felt hungry, so that food was merely a means of energy input and we were basically energy-burning machines, we wouldn’t have this aversion.

But we’re breathing, healing, idiosyncratic, loving, creative, grieving human beings. Yes, I need food, but don’t teach me to think of my body, my glorious messy desiring self, or yours, as a machine.

What we need from food and eating to support wellbeing in times of crisis is what we always need.

First, safety.

Safeness has a beneficial metabolic effect. Living with insecurity (e.g. due to Covid) kicks off a different…

Lucy Aphramor

Lucy Aphramor is a radical dietitian and performance poet. They are Associate Professor of Gender, Power, and The Right to Food at CAWR, Coventry University UK.