Posted by Nutritionist Carol Anthony on 03/04/2020

We are in lockdown. Something we could never have imagined, have never experienced before, and hopefully never will again. However, it is our reality right now, and with it, a whole host of emotions, restrictions and challenges.

With lockdown comes a new phenomenon, the quarantine-15, being the new freshman-15. This prompted me to tackle eating during this time, in particular, and why we are acting so out of character. Right now, all the factors that generally lead to overeating exist, all at the same time, and are amplified 10-fold.

Let us examine lockdown for a moment:

We have been told to stay in our homes in order to survive this pandemic, we are fearful, socially isolated and restricted in our movements. Life as we know it, for the moment, no longer exists. When the lockdown was announced, our immediate reaction was to ensure our survival. Many, despite being advised against it, defaulted to panic mode which resulted in panic buying. Basic food stuffs, essential items, toilet paper in abundance and then lots of never- normally-eaten-items like beans, lentils, chickpeas, tinned peas and baked beans. And snacks, lots of snacks. Healthy snacks, snacky snacks, any snacks, in abundance. Just in case.

Then we waited. It felt surreal. We had no idea what lay ahead. To me it felt like being warned about a hurricane and then waiting for it to hit. Thankfully I have never experienced a hurricane, but somehow, I imagined that this was what it would feel like.

National television counted down the days, then hours, then minutes. When we woke up on Friday morning, we were in lockdown. We realised that keeping ourselves busy was going to be a challenge, as was restricted movement and social isolation. The days seemed endless and we started to eat and eat and eat.

Let’s examine what prompts us to eat during a time like this.

Many of us are emotional eaters. It is our go-to when they feel any emotion, happy, sad, scared, upset, worried. This is a very emotional time for all of us. People are worried about their jobs, they are concerned about being infected by this virus, the unknown, the fact the world as we know it may never be the same again. Many of us turn to food and find solace in eating at times like this. emotional eating is a reality for many.

Fear is a real emotion at this time. What better way to self soothe than to eat, and eat and eat some more.

Snacks are available in abundance. All those snacks and treats, constantly calling your name, how are you meant to resist?

Your routine as you know it has changed or no longer exists. Most of us are creatures of habit, we flourish when we have a routine, a purpose. We wake up, possibly got to gym, eat, go to work, eat, work some more, possibly go to gym later in the day, eat again and go to bed. Suddenly our routine as we know it has been disrupted, we sleep later, no gym so we eat, no work to distract us so we eat. Where we would normally suddenly look up from our laptop and realise ’oh it’s time to eat’, we now sit pondering the next meal long before it’s time to eat.

We watch the television, more fear, we eat again.

More boredom, the days seem endless, we eat again.

Social isolation is a real challenge for many people. You are missing your friends, family, parents, your children. Many will fill that gap with food, comfort food.

Endless, long days. No, you are not hungry, you are tired or bored.

A lack of movement or exercise, as well as the now lack of endorphin release that usually goes with exercise may leave people feeling mildly depressed, not as healthy or motivated as usual and result in them turning to food for solace.

Comfort food is a wonderful antidote to loneliness.

New daily rituals that quickly become habits. ‘Let’s have waffles with ice-cream and syrup for breakfast’, day 2 ‘let’s have waffles and ice-cream and syrup . . .’, day 3 ‘let’s have . . . ‘, day 4 you’ve pretty much established a habit that will be hard to break in these lockdown days.

Having said all of this, I want to reassure you of a few things:

  1. You’re definitely not the only one experiencing this out-of-character eating;
  2. It’s a normal reaction to a very unusual set of circumstances;
  3. With a conscious effort and a few simple ‘rules’ you can turn it around, minimise the damage and survive the lockdown without gaining 2 or 3 kg;
  4. And if you gain those 2 or 3 kg, this won’t last forever. Our lives may be changed forever but we will return to some normality or routine in time.

However, if you are concerned, the following may help to curb the munchies during lockdown

–  Avoid buying what you shouldn’t be eating. If it is there you will inevitably eat it, as a result of boredom, emotion, fear, lack of routine. At a time like this, willpower is a very limited resource. Buy only what you should be eating. Focus on healthy filling foods, lots of fresh fruit and veg and fewer sugary, oily snacks that will leave you hungry and wanting more in no time.

–  Establish a routine, wake up at the same time every day. Get up, get dressed and have a plan, a time to exercise, rest, time for activity and scheduled meal times. Do not allow yourself to snack, nibble or graze between meals, even if that means setting your alarm to indicate your next mealtime.

–  Stay active, stay in touch with friends, pick up on a hobby, build a puzzle. Move often, don’t stay in one place for too long, you will become bored, lazy and inevitable end up eating.

–  Keep a journal. Record your feelings, plan your day, even include a food journal.

– Find new recipes that are healthy, simple, nutritious and delicious.

– Stay hydrated. We often confuse thirst and hunger. If you are hungry soon after you have eaten, drink a glass of water. You are probably thirsty rather than hungry. Wait a while before eating. More than likely, you will no longer feel the need to eat.

– When you’re tempted to snack, ask yourself, ‘Am I tired, bored or hungry?’ Most times you will be the former rather than the latter.

– Track your eating, calories, macros, weight, whatever will bring consciousness to your eating. Be mindful when you eat, not only mindful of what you’re eating, but how much, how often and why you’re eating.

–  Eat mostly healthy food. So much has been written about boosting your immune system and making yourself as healthy as possible at this time. Junk food makes your body acidic and compromises your immune system. Make sure whatever you eat is healing not harming your body.

–  Form an accountability group, check in with each other regularly. Compare what and how much or how often you’re eating, rate your day, share healthy recipes, exercise routines and continue to encourage one another.

–  Move more, do body weight exercises, do whatever you can, just move purposely. Keep your metabolism stoked up, keep burning calories in order to counteract weight gain and ensure endorphin release

–  Eating for health should be a priority at this time. Avoid embarking on a stringent weight loss or restricted eating plan. Try to keep your weight in check as gaining a lot of weight in a short period of time is never healthy.

At the end of the day, stay safe, stay home, stay healthy. If this scary, unusual time does result in weight gain and less than ideal eating, it’s ‘ok’. It won’t last forever and we will fix it when we return to some kind of normal. Don’t give yourself licence to eat with freedom, but be gentle on yourself. This is all new to all of us but you will be okay and I’ll see you on the other side.



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