By the time you read this article, there’s a good chance you’ve already made a few trips to the fridge or the pantry. Or at least, more trips to satisfy your ‘hunger’ cravings than you normally would, were you not told to stay inside your home for days on end.
We’ve coined the term ‘quallowing’ – a combination of ‘quarantine’ and ‘swallowing’ – to reflect the niche nature of the situation we’ve found ourselves in. The idea of being told to stay indoors day after day is completely foreign to the majority of us, and a natural response would be to become bored. And what’s one of the easiest ways to satisfy boredom, even for just a few minutes? Yes, eating.
While overeating, or at least eating more than usual, will ruin any gains you may have made before the pandemic hit – unless you subject yourself to countless home workouts – there’s a perfectly justifiable reason for it happening. As the BBC says, “the body craves high-calorie and high-sugar foods during stressful times, as these foods provide short-term bursts of energy.”
“Stress leads to elevated cortisol levels, which can increase appetite. And sugary foods generate dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with motivation and reward.”
Before the pandemic, if we found ourselves in a stressful situation at work, we’d have to wait until we got home to head to the fridge or the pantry to find something to eat to make ourselves feel better. But now the fridge is just a few steps away throughout the entire day, so getting over the obstacle that would have normally been the office, has been removed.
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And let’s not forget that everyone seems to have become a master baker during the lockdown period. We can’t even begin to fathom how many loaves of banana bread have been made.
As Dr Lars Madsen said when we recently spoke to him about self-care,
“When we’re working, when we’re in our normal world, we’ve always got things that are structuring us, so we don’t have to think too much.”
This kind of situation, Lars told us, can lead to destructive self-indulgent habits like “watching endless amounts of TV, eating and drinking too much and even abusing illicit drugs or otherwise.”
If you’ve found yourself putting on a few extra pounds during quarantine, there is something that can be done about it. Speaking to CNN, Martha McKittrick RD, a registered dietitian in New York City, says “you need to first and foremost understand what it is that causes you stress so you can devise an action plan of how to deal with it.”
“Stress-inducing activities can include simple things such as watching the news or talking to friends that end up irritating you. You would combat these by watching the news for shorter periods or telling those friends you can only talk for five minutes.”
“If you’re unsure about what triggers you, you can use a food journal to document everything you eat, when you eat it & if you’re eating with someone else etc,” adds Carolyn O’Neil, a registered dietitian and author of ‘The Slim Down South Cookbook’.
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However, she continues by saying you shouldn’t completely give up the indulgent foods, as they can still bring you some happiness during this time of unrest. “The important thing to do is to establish a healthy relationship with your favourite foods so you feel in control and avoid a vicious cycle of stress eating and weight gain.”
“That includes savouring your favourite foods in sensible portions.”
If you know you’re going to be sitting especially close to the kitchen, Bonnie Taub-Dix, founder of BetterThanDieting.com says you should put away all tempting foods and replace them with something like a fruit bowl. You can also pre-portion any treats into smaller bags so you’re not tempted to eat an entire bag of crisps, for example.
“Try to keep things in your refrigerator that are better for you at eye level — like fresh fruits and vegetables.”
It’s also important you take breaks from your desk throughout the day, not just for your stomach, but for your mental wellbeing as well. The more time you can take away from being near the kitchen, the better. Whether you go outside for a walk or run, spend 15 minutes reading the next chapter of a book or even just browsing your social media feeds. Anything you can do to satisfy stress or boredom will keep you away from the tantalising treats.
The takeaway message is that anything is fine, in moderation. Reduce the portion sizes or number of visits to the sinful cupboard and you’ll be able to get through the pandemic with ease.