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Health & Fitness Coronavirus: Overeating At The Moment? You're Not The Only One

13:15  20 march  2020
13:15  20 march  2020 Source:   graziadaily.co.uk

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‘My main worry, food wise, is that I won’t be able to get enough lean protein.' These were the words I ignorantly uttered just a week ago when discussing the prospect of a lockdown situation.

Well, a lot can happen in a week. In the time it has taken for the world to be flipped upside down, my diet – normally relatively controlled and health-conscious – has gone haywire. According to Woody Allen, if you want to make god laugh, just tell him your plans. Well, I imagine the almighty was in stitches when he saw my intended nutrition programme. I feel the chia seeds in my cupboards and the green beans in my fridge taunting me.

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Just days into the strange new world of social-distancing, I am becoming closely acquainted with my new best friends, Easter eggs (the big ones), which I am consuming as ‘snacks’. I am demolishing family-sized packets of crisps, croissants and toasted cheese sandwiches, which have graduated from treats to daily necessities. I am skipping meals and then eating three in one sitting. I am, in short, a woman who has lots all grip of nutritional reality – and consequences.

Another friend had ice cream and a bottle of wine for dinner, explaining, 'There is no normal right now.'

And I’m not the only one. Several of my friends – all of them smart, successful women with a competent grasp of adulthood – all seem to be in the same state of dietary chaos (the memes doing the rounds on Instagram would suggest we’re not alone). One told me she’d bought three packets of fish fingers – and eaten the lot in a day. ‘Not sure why I’ve reverted to being a child,’ she told me. Another had ice cream and a bottle of wine for dinner, explaining, ‘There is no normal right now. Without those parameters, it all goes pop!’. One friend bombarded my phone with pictures of Bounty cookies and stress-ate a Filet-O-Fish. ‘I just ate a cheese sandwich for no reason. Didn’t even enjoy it. I can’t stop eating,’ she texted later. ‘It’s like Christmas in hell’.

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But the thing about Christmas is, it comes to an end. You can repent for December’s decadence and debauchery with the enforced abstinence of January. Right now, we have no idea how long this unsettling, frightening, bizarre state of affairs will last.

If you’ve found your eating has got out of control, understanding why is the key to managing it. ‘This “end of the world” mentality can lead people to think “to hell with the consequences”,’ says Clive Meindl a cognitive therapist specialising in eating disorders, addiction, depression and anxiety (who will still be seeing clients via video call during the next few weeks). ‘People often overeat, or eat junk food, when they are looking for comfort – something many of us are searching for right now. Reaching for sugary foods, for instance, can help quieten those inter voices. Boredom can also be a trigger. When you’re stuck inside all day and the fridge is nearby, it’s understandable that you might distract through snacking. The problem is that when you’re eating based on emotions, it’s a short-term fix rather than a long-term solution’.

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‘This is as hard time for us all and comfort eating will be something that many engage in, turning to foods high in fat and sugar that are tasty and will lift our mood instantly,’ adds Rachel Clarkson, Harley Street's leading Consultant Dietitian in the area of Personalised Nutrition (who is also seeing clients for one-to-one weight management programmes via video calls). ‘The theory behind this is due to a well-known chemical messenger in the brain called serotonin – this can enhance your mood and make you feel great. Serotonin is actually made with a protein called tryptophan that we get from the diet and interestingly more of this protein can get into the brain when carbohydrate-rich foods are eaten. This could be the case why we feel the way we do when we eat foods such as sweets, chocolate, biscuits, crisps and fizzy drinks but there isn’t enough robust evidence in humans to confirm this’.

Convenience, and the prepper attitude stoked by the hysterical supermarket shelf-stripping going on, is also a contributing factor to many of our ‘to hell with it’ food choices right now. But that doesn’t have to mean cupboards stuffed with biscuits and crisps. ‘I think it’s important as a registered dietitian to firmly state that “convenience foods” that are frozen, tinned and packaged can support a healthy balanced diet and we shouldn’t be afraid [of them],’ says Rachel. ‘You might want to think about veggies first as we should always think about their magnificent vitamins and minerals. Choose frozen or tinned.’ She urges caution around rice and pasta (two fist-sized portions per meal, if you are a pasta fan), however. ‘These only contain carbohydrates to an extent. Think about grains that are higher in protein such as quinoa, beans, lentils and high protein pasta made from chickpeas and lentils.’

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Another factor contributing to our ‘eat like nobody’s watching’ mentality is that, well, nobody is. Turns out being home, especially if you’re on own your own, means many of us are closer to Kevin McCallister than we might have realised. If that’s you, then remember the importance of routine. Even if you're not seeing anyone in a day, make the effort for yourself; get dressed, paint your nails, cook something, be the caring adult to your reckless inner child. Self-care doesn't need to be complicated.

a woman sitting on a bed: Junk food during social distancing © Getty Junk food during social distancing

Consider hosting a virtual dinner party via the wonders of your phone: all the zingy conversation and sense of occasion of an IRL version, but without the need to get an Uber at the end of the night or kowtow to the nuances of someone else's dietary requirements. Make a pact with some friends to each cook a meal (cooking is wonderfully soothing at the best of time; cooking for yourself is a pertinent ‘I am worth it’ gesture) and then eat together, apart. Connection is nourishing.

Indeed, perhaps what we need remember above all, is to take it easy on ourselves. It’s not difficult to feel guilted by all the self-improvement memes doing the rounds right now, but it’s OK to take each day at a time as well. When that comes to food, it might mean getting your greens one day; living off toast and Wotsits another. Food, in all its wildly different forms – sweet and salty, simple and extravagant, straight from the ground or picked up at the corner shop – is a joy. And we should take those pleasures wherever we can right now. It’s also a glorious intermission from the grinding fear, panic and irritation many of us are feeling at the moment. As one friend, cooped up at home with her husband and already being driven up the wall, joked: ‘Food is my only distraction since murder is illegal.’

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