Are you among the millions staying at home during this pandemic? You may have seen the “COVID-19” memes about gaining 19 pounds during self-isolation at home. It’s easy for some people to overeat on a normal day, not to mention now, as we face unprecedented and unpredictable times. Have you been craving high-calorie and high-sugar foods lately? When faced with crisis, we tend to reach for these foods as they provide short-term bursts of energy. Elevated cortisol levels triggered by stress can also increase appetite, while sugary foods generate dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with motivation and reward. Boredom and anxiety may also lead people to emotional overeating. While “comfort eating” can feel good in the short term and provide initial comfort, this feeling doesn’t last and it is often followed by guilt (and weight gain), which in turn increases distress.
If you find that you’re reaching for (unhealthy) snacks more often than not, here are some coping strategies that can help in the long-run:
- Plan your meals and meal portions ahead of time. Meals should be balanced and healthful, with plenty of vegetables, adequate protein and good fats. Plan your portions, i.e. how much you will eat, before you start eating.
- Instead of buying an extra bag of potato chips or a box of chocolates, opt for healthier snacks like mixed nuts, kale chips or Greek yogurt with berries. Don’t buy or keep unhealthy snacks at home. When unhealthy snacks are “out of sight”, they will be “out of mind” as well.
- Eat around the same time every day and recognise when you are hungry. If you wait too long before the next meal, you may feel so hungry that you eat too quickly or too much.
- Eat slower. “Stretch receptors in the stomach are activated as it fills with food or water; these signal the brain directly through the vagus nerve that connects gut and brainstem. Hormonal signals are released as partially digested food enters the small intestine,” explains Ann MacDonald, a contributor to Harvard Health. This process of sending signals from your gut to your brain can take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, so it’s important to take your time to eat. Chew your food thoroughly and enjoy your meal.
- Before you reach for another snack, ask yourself if you’re really hungry. If you’re not hungry, think about how you’ll feel after you eat too much. Or, another tactic is to think about how you’ll feel if you don’t eat that food i.e. you will feel happy and proud that you didn’t indulge unnecessarily.
- When you’re not hungry but find yourself grabbing food, ask yourself why. Are you bored? Are you stressed? Are there other ways to manage how you’re feeling, like connecting with a friend? Journalling? Uploading a funny video to TikTok? Exercising?
- Stay active! Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating your mood and keeping you happy. If you are stuck indoors, there are plenty of online videos you can watch and follow to get your body moving.
Click here to read more about Dr. Yik’s “Be Your Best” weight loss program. Remember to practice physical distancing, wash your hands often and do your part in this outbreak crisis. Together, we can get through these turbulent times.