As the nation adapts to life in coronavirus shutdown, people across the country are being forced to establish new daily routines.
Health and diet are proving particularly difficult to manage as our regular exercise regimes are disrupted and millions of us are working from home with constant access to our kitchens – and the treats within.
Thousands of workers have taken to social media to reveal they are snacking more than ever and ‘grazing’ through the day now that the structure of the work day has been thrown into disarray.
This could potentially lead to millions of people across the UK putting on weight, which is of particular concern in the current climate as obesity is recognised as a key risk factor for COVID-19. A rise in obesity also poses a long-term threat to the NHS.
Speaking to FEMAIL, two UK-based nutritionists explained this apparent need to constantly eat is triggered by feelings of boredom, panic and anxiety brought on by fears surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and the government’s life-changing measures to stop the spread.
Tamara Willner, a nutritionist with Second Nature, a food plan backed by the NHS, and Jenny Tschiesche, a nutritional expert known as The Lunchbox Doctor, shared their advice on recognising, tackling and managing your diet in the long-term.
Thousands of workers have taken to social media to reveal they are snacking more than ever and ‘grazing’ through the day now that the structure of the work day has been thrown into disarray. Nutritionists reveal how to get your eating back under control. Stock image
WHY ARE WE SNACKING MORE?
Tamara explained: ‘Between stress around uncertainty, working from home, and reduced social interaction, emotional eating might be particularly prevalent in the coming weeks.
‘Emotional eating occurs when food is used to soothe or suppress negative emotions such as isolation, anger, boredom, or stress.
‘Often comfort or emotional eating ignore feelings of physical hunger that come from an empty stomach. The most common foods craved are usually ultra-processed, such as biscuits, crisps, chocolate, and ice cream. These foods are scientifically engineered to quickly target the pleasure receptors in our brains.
‘Most of us experience emotional eating at one time or another. However, when emotional eating happens frequently, and food becomes the primary coping mechanism for a stressful situation, it can affect our health and mental wellbeing. This emotional eating can be more likely when we’re isolating ourselves.’
How snack foods are designed to be impossible to resist
Lockdown snacking likely involves treats like cake, biscuits, chocolate and crisps, rather than healthy options that we know are ‘better’ for us. And we can find ‘space’ to eat these, even when we are full.
That is because our taste system can be tricked when salt, fat, and sugar are carefully combined in expertly measured amounts to be ‘just right’, according to a blog post by Second Nature.
At this point, we keep coming back for more because we keep experiencing pleasure, even when we should stop.
Howard Moskowitz, an American market researcher known for creating addictive flavour combinations that fly off the shelves, coined this as the ‘bliss point’ – the exact measures of fat, sugar, and salt that make our taste buds tingle and override the brain’s natural ‘stop’ signals.
This bliss point plays a significant role in why we crave certain addictive foods, such as ice cream and crisps. Even in the most strong-willed individuals, these cravings can seem impossible to resist.
Jenny said: ‘During this period when those with compromised immunity are completely housebound and those without are confined to one form of exercise a day many of us will experience cravings or pangs for food we do not need.
‘For many, the hunger for food is actually a need to fill the boredom gap or a need for some form of distraction. Furthermore, a lack of daylight means in all likelihood a lack of vitamin D and that associated with stress at this time means we tend to want to eat sweet foods as a quick fix for low mood and low blood sugar.’
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO SNACK LESS?
Tamara outlined a four-step plan that anyone can follow to put an end to their emotional eating during lockdown.
Know your trigger
Keeping a food diary of what we eat, how much we eat, and what we’re feeling when we eat can help us identify what triggers comfort eating. For some people, it’s boredom, whereas for others it’s stress, anxiety, or sadness.
Find a new outlet for emotion
Once we know what triggers our emotional eating, we can find other simple activities at home to manage these without food.
The best tasks to do to take our mind off food are cognitively challenging ones. This means going for a walk, meditation, or taking a bath may not be effective ways to distract ourselves. However, something that engages your brain can be a better distractor, such as sudoku puzzles, crosswords, brain training apps, chess or scrabble, calling a friend, playing a board game, listening to a podcast.
A food diary can help uncover the emotional triggers that prompt us to snack. The science behind junk food means we’re more likely to reach for chocolate than salad. Stock image
We can prepare for when we feel compelled to emotionally eat by noting down some ‘if/then’ scenarios. For example:
Three quick habits to help reduce snacking
Sana Khan, founder of Avicenna Wellbeing, offered more practical tips on keeping snacking to a minimum
- Keep the snacks in the kitchen rather than on your desk
- Only take out as much as you need. For example, if you are snacking on oat cakes, place a few on a plate, rather than taking the whole packet
- Chew, chew, chew. Chewing improves digestion and increases satiety meaning you feel full and less likely to pick a snack. Adding a herbal tea to your snack times can also be useful to help limit the snacking
- ‘If I’m bored and feel the urge to buy unhealthy snacks, then I will do a crossword puzzle for 10 minutes’
- ‘If I feel lonely and start craving crisps or chocolate, then I will call my friend for a quick chat’
- ‘If I feel anxious and overwhelmed, then I will pause and read my book for 10 minutes.’
We can also prepare our environment, by avoiding having large amounts of ultra-processed foods (e.g. crisps, biscuits, ice cream, chocolate) in the house.
Instead, buying healthier wholefoods to snack on will mean we’re less likely to overeat and they’ll keep us feeling more satisfied.
Take away the guilt
It’s important that we don’t harbour feelings of guilt when we do experience an episode of emotional eating. One way to do this is to avoid labelling foods as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘treat’ or ‘syn’.
This can foster a negative relationship with food and create an ongoing cycle of comfort eating. Instead, we can class foods as foods that we enjoy every day and foods that we enjoy less often.
WHAT YOU SHOULD BE EATING
Jenny said it is important to try and stick to regular meal times, and to eat dishes packed with healthy, fulfilling and nutritious ingredients.
She said: ‘Try and focus meals on good quality proteins such as tinned fish, eggs (if you can find some), tofu, legumes and lots of vegetables either fresh or from frozen or tins if need be. These protein-based meals will keep you fuller for longer.
‘Furthermore, there are particular foods that can help boost the levels of the happy hormone serotonin, such as fish, nuts, dark green vegetables, seeds, oats, yogurt, eggs and poultry. Try and ensure you are eating these foods regularly too.’
Unsweetened peanut butter
High-quality dark chocolate (85%+)
Plain Ryvita crackers
Meal building blocks
Make sure you have these on your online shopping list to add to your meals, Jenny suggested.
Vegetables (fresh and tinned are fine)