What do you eat when you’re stressed? Jennifer Aniston will go first: exactly one potato chip.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that the wellness-obsessed star, who seemingly lives off of Smartwater, almond butter, and good vibes, wouldn’t be a bastion of binge-eating relatability. But her latest pull quote, from September’s InStyle cover, is truly very “annoying,” even according to Aniston herself.
When asked by editor-in-chief Laura Brown, “What do you eat if you’re stressed?”, Aniston didn’t opt for the normal answer like “a whole pepperoni pizza” or “an entire sleeve of Girl Scout thin mints.” Instead, she poetically said: “A chip. Crunch, crunch, crunch.”
“Just one chip?” Brown pushed. “Usually,” Aniston insisted. “I’m good at that. I can have one M&M, one chip. I know, that’s so annoying.”
Especially annoying, perhaps, as the rest of us cling to our one remaining, standby coping mechanism as the world crumbles each day: shoving fistfuls of junk food into our mouths. My most stable relationship during the past 18 months has been with my fridge door, which has dutifully held me up as I lean against it nearly every night while wondering what snack is going to make me forget about each compounding crisis.
Obviously, it is not just me: the New York Times has reported that sales of processed “comfort foods” rose during the pandemic (Chef Boyardee and Campbell’s soup being the most popular), and so did levels of emotional eating. For most of us, the question is not if we’re bingeing, but what.
One friend told me his go-to on stressful days—and nights, when he most finds himself snacking uncontrollably—is delivery food. “Fries, and whatever’s open late,” he texted. “Carb, carb, carb,” another friend told me. “Pasta, pad see ew. I’ll say I’m treating myself. But usually it’s just because I’m bored. Only when I’m bored do I have the space to notice my hunger.”
Nicole Ritieni, a graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and an RN at New York Center for Innovative Medicine, told The Daily Beast that the motivation for stress eating is similar to gouging out of boredom.
“Eating may be used to fill a certain uncomfortable void,” Ritieni said. “It can act as a buffer between an individual and the unwanted feelings they’re experiencing. Indulging briefly distracts us from our thoughts and is often used as a numbing strategy. When one is lacking the emotional nourishment needed at a specific time, food becomes a quick and easy coping mechanism.”
Risa Groux, CN, works as a nutritionist in Newport Beach, California. She said one “major reason” people stress-eat goes back to their childhoods. “When you’re a kid, you’re either rewarded with food or punished with it; you were a good girl, so you got the cookies, or you didn’t clean your room, so you didn’t get dessert,” Groux explained. “So as we mature and age, we still want that comfort and reward. When we’re stressed, food can be an immediate gratification.”
In the late ’90s, when Aniston was on Friends, I sat in front of my TV and watched Lay’s “Bet You Can’t Have Just One” ad campaign. I never felt any need to take them up on the offer; I was happy to munch with abandon. But on a recent weeknight I decided to test out Aniston’s stress-busting theory.
If I was only going to have one chip, I thought I might as well go crazy: I bought a bag of “Farmstand Ranch” kettle chips from the organic aisle of the grocery store and waited for some feelings. My boyfriend and I sat in front of our laptops to plan an upcoming trip. Neither one of us is good with logistics. “This is hard,” he said. “Do you want a cupcake?”
I did want a cupcake. I wanted six cupcakes. But what would Jen do? (Pilates, probably.) I bravely turned down the strawberry frosted sweet and reached for the kettle chip. I popped it in my mouth, and waited for the familiar “Crunch, crunch, crunch” Aniston spoke of. I quickly demolished the chip down to a salty paste and swallowed.
I could feel the mechanics of my body winding up to take another bite. I lifted my arm to grab the bag, and licked my lips in preparation for another handful. But then I remembered, that was it. According to Aniston’s logic, I was just supposed to stop.
I went on Instagram, and saw an acquaintance post about getting breakthrough COVID, despite getting vaccinated months ago. How on earth was I supposed to deal with this information without a bag of Cheetos?
I noticed a thin brown streak on my ceiling I’d never seen before, a telltale sign of a leaky roof. I’ll deal with this tomorrow, I thought, and went into the kitchen. I stared at dishes piled in my sink and felt like screaming. Time for another chip.
Last month, Aniston told People: “I’m in a really peaceful place. I have a job that I love, I have people in my life who are everything to me, and I have beautiful dogs. I’m just a very fortunate and blessed human being.”
Oddly enough, I am not Jennifer Aniston. I do like my life, enough as anyone can right now. But I wouldn’t say anything about my world feels “peaceful” right now. I am healthy, employed, and supported, which is all anyone can ask for right now. But I don’t have beautiful dogs. Maybe that’s the problem.
I’m not rich and content enough for the one chip stress diet to work for me. Few people are. So Aniston has millions of dollars, and I get complex carbohydrates.
The morning after my experiment, I woke up craving a greasy breakfast. I went to my bodega and watched the deli man slather an ungodly amount of cream cheese over an everything bagel. I took it to the park and ate while I sipped an iced coffee with extra cream and two sugars. I was happy. I felt peace.
So no, Jen, one Pringle will not ease my anxieties about Delta or Lambda variants, or the fact that I don’t know enough Greek to keep up with COVID’s mutation. But an entire roll of Pringles... well, it’s worth a try.