Are you eating more during lockdown?

Updated: May 10, 2020, 08:49 IST | Jane Borges | Mumbai

So many of us have a love-hate relationship with food. But for emotional eaters, the kitchen has become a toxic space

Everyone's Instagram and Facebook timelines—not just chef and food bloggers—are brimming with food pictures. First-time cooks, who just about perfected dal khichdi at the beginning of the lockdown, are now sharing updates on honey chicken and aam ras poori. Experimental recipes too, are cropping up by the dozen. And, suddenly—if anyone hasn't noticed yet—the carb-loaded banana bread has become a #COVIDBaking fad: Instagram has 14 lakh #bananabread posts till date, and the numbers are growing by the minute; so much so, that one Twitter user was compelled to ask: Is COVID-19 sponsored by banana bread?

That cooking has become a newly-discovered hobby for many, only means that everyone is eating, and a lot. But, for some, like PR professional Simran Chettiar, food is what's bringing comfort, where everything else has failed. A few months before the Coronavirus outbreak, the 21-year-old had started working out at her local gym in Vasai, shedding nearly 10 kilos. "Despite my hectic work hours, I would spare at least 45 minutes for the gym, even if it was late in the evening," she recalls. Her diet plan, which was chalked out by her personal trainer, included a lot of protein, like eggs, soups and greens. "I made my own meals, because I didn't want my mother to cook separately for me. My health had become priority." But the lockdown put a dampener on everything. For starters, Chettiar's commute-work-gym routine went off kilter. Being holed up with her working parents and sibling for the first time in years, was also unsettling. "I tried to feel motivated for a week or two, but the lockdown started getting to me," she shares. That's when food came to her rescue. "I started binging on wafers, chivda, chocolates and biscuits that were stocked at home. I went back to it almost every hour. And because, I sleep only at 3 am these days, I am eating right until then. It makes me feel good and guilty, at the same time."

PR professional Simran Chettiar, who lost nearly 10 kilos before the lockdown, has gained it back largely due to emotional eating
PR professional Simran Chettiar, who lost nearly 10 kilos before the lockdown, has gained it back largely due to emotional eating

Chettiar is aware of having turned into an emotional eater. "I am dreading checking the weighing scale, because I know, I have gained everything that I worked so hard to lose."

Reaching out for food, especially carbs, to comfort oneself during challenging situations, is a given, says Amreen Shaikh, head dietician and nutritionist, Wockhardt Hospital. "Boredom compounded by extreme stress is making us turn to food."

Maitreyi Bokil, nutritionist and exercise physiologist; Blessy Chettiar, yoga teacher and meditation practitioner
Maitreyi Bokil, nutritionist and exercise physiologist; Blessy Chettiar, yoga teacher and meditation practitioner

Pune-based nutritionist and exercise physiologist Maitreyi Bokil, blames our "emotional eating" tendencies on the complex mechanics of the brain. "The brain works on certain neuro-transmitters. When we exercise, a chemical called endorphin is released, which makes you feel good. That's why you go back to exercising. We call it the exerciser's high. Similarly, there is another neuro-transmitter called dopamine, which is released whenever we do something comforting or happy." When you are bored, stressed or angry, dopamine levels are low. "So, if a certain food makes you happy, you go back to it. It has nothing to do with a craving, it's just an association made by the brain. You eat what you eat, to get a dopamine high," she says. Foods with the right combination of crunch, flavour and taste, can make our brain cells pop, releasing high levels of dopamine. Sugary treats and chips, fall in this category. "Also, for some reason, in popular culture, staying at home is associated with binging and craving. And we tend to link it to comfort, even when that's not the case."

Bokil says that if anything, the lockdown period is going to be hardest for those with serious eating disorders.

Parul Parmar, 33, was diagnosed with binge eating disorder when she was in her late teens. Whenever she feels emotionally overwhelmed, she turns to noodles, pasta or something savoury. Parmar had just about started coping with the condition, after attending a meditation course last year. "But because I am confined to my home 24x7, there is nothing to distract me from my cravings. I have visions of food, of eating and even tasting it. That feeling just won't leave, until of course I have eaten something."

Parul Parmar, 33, who was diagnosed with binge eating disorder in her late teens, is finding it hard to cope with the lockdown. “I have visions of food, of eating and even tasting it. That feeling just won’t leave, until of course I have eaten something,” she says
Parul Parmar, 33, who was diagnosed with binge eating disorder in her late teens, is finding it hard to cope with the lockdown. “I have visions of food, of eating and even tasting it. That feeling just won’t leave, until of course I have eaten something,” she says

The results of binge eating, especially during the lockdown, can be harmful, because "not only are people consuming extra calories, lack of physical activity means we aren't burning them." The weight gain can lead to metabolic diseases, like obesity, diabetes, and blood pressure," says Shaikh, adding that in the last few weeks, she has noticed that her patients are deliberately skipping sessions, because nobody is in the mood to diet or eat healthy.

Yoga teacher and meditation practitioner Blessy Chettiar says that practising mindfulness meditation can help manage emotional eating. "By truly paying attention to what you eat, you automatically control the urge to binge and eat only till you're full," she says. A good way to begin when you crave food, is to take a moment and question if you want to eat because of the "natural urge or as an emotional response". "When hungry, eat smaller portions and keep away from all distractions. Appreciate the food in front of you, eat slowly, and involve all your senses while chewing thoroughly," she says.

Home workouts to keep you fit

Exercise scientist Benafsha Gazdar says that walking around the house, doing light on-the-spot jogging and jumping jacks, for about 10 minutes, every two or three hours, can ensure that you are active through the day. "These are easy exercises, and low on impact, and injury," she says.

Manasi Shintre-Rajadhakshya
Manasi Shintre-Rajadhakshya

Mumbai-based sports and musculoskeletal physiotherapist Manasi Shintre-Rajadhakshya, who runs The Body Lab and Rehab, suggests incorporating a mix of different components of fitness like strengthening, stretching, cardio, into your exercise routine. "Strengthening can be done using bottles filled with water, and body weight exercises like squats, push-ups, lunges, plank and supermans. For stretching, try yogic postures or normal cool-down stretches, held for longer and done in more reps. Cardio can be done via HIIT workouts, dance, zumba and skipping."

Curb emotional eating

  • Add items of great health value to your grocery list
  • Don't over-stock your kitchen
  • Eat a heavy breakfast within an hour of waking up
  • Drink lots of water throughout the day
  • Have 3 healthy meals, 2 snacks to nip craving
  • Consume green tea, instead of juices and colas

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