The stress of a worldwide pandemic, along with sheltering-at-home and social distancing guidelines, has caused many American consumers to press pause on their dieting goals.

According to The NPD Group’s Health Aspirations & Behavioral Tracking Service, adult participation in total diet or nutrition programs dropped from 48.3% in April 2019 to 43.8% in April 2020. The exceptions to this are lifestyle diets such as keto, gluten-free and clean eating. Participation in keto and other specialty diets remained unchanged in April from a year ago.

“Nutrition programs, like keto and gluten-free, offer a clear roadmap that provide consumers a sense of control,” says Darren Seifer, NPD’s food and beverage industry analyst. “On the other hand, indulgent comfort foods provide an escape from increased stress levels and offer a simple splurge that is popular during challenging times. Both paths are coping mechanisms to managing stress and disruption.”

Consumers report to NPD that a disruption in routine made it more difficult for them to maintain participation in diet and nutrition programs, while creating a rise in indulgent stress eating. Stress eating contributed to a 4% increase for in-home snack occasions and an 8% increase in snack foods consumption. Consumers report an increase in salty snacks and sweet treat consumption, as well as less avoidance of sugar, salt and alcohol.

“I believe this pause will be temporary because weight loss and overall wellness concerns remain strong, which suggests consumers will go back to nutrition plans when they feel they can incorporate them back into their lives,” says Seifer. “How long the US will deal with COVID-19 and related economic concerns, however, will determine how quickly we return to healthier habits.”