by Brigid Chunn, BSc Registered Nutritionist
The last 4 weeks have been a time of incredible uncertainty.
For some, that may come with a raft of emotions: apathy, stress, worry, anxiety, lack of sleep, and even depression.
On the other hand, some may have been relishing lockdown time to simplify life and enjoy such pleasures as cooking, gardening, walking, and baking that our previously busy lives may have not afforded us. Whatever the reason, weight gain may be proving to be an unwanted outcome.
If stress and the consequent emotions are what you are experiencing there are reasons for overeating and hence weight gain:
• Stress affects your gut and digestive system. Initially the appetite decreases so that the body can deal with this new reality. Prolonged stress can result in increased cortisol (stress hormone) which increases appetite as well as cravings for sugary or fatty foods
• Stress is also associated with increased hunger hormones and they may also contribute to cravings for unhealthy foods. Studies show that stress not only increases consumption in certain individuals but also shifts their food choice from lower fat to higher fat foods
• Studies have also found that symptoms of anxiety and depression were associated with larger weight increase in both men and women
If stress isn’t the reason for lockdown weight gain, accessibility, boredom, emotional eating, and time on your hands – may well be the reasons why:
• Being home with the kitchen, pantry and fridge very accessible therefore increasing availability
• Time on our hands/boredom. Studies have shown that boredom may be a factor in over eating
• Ease of baking and cooking may become a focus for the day, and with that the inevitable eating of what’s been produced.
• Food becomes a reward!
What to do??
Strategies to help combat the potential weight gain whatever the reason behind it. Managing stress, getting enough sleep and eating well are vital pieces to the whole picture:
• Exercise – the wonderful weather hopefully has encouraged us go outside and get walking.
Bookend your days with walks for both physical and mental upkeep. The air’s never been fresher and getting some vitamin D will support your immune system
• Put a framework around your day. Eat your meals at regular times, 3 main meals with 1-2 snacks if appropriate
• Vegetables!! Add as many as you can to each meal. They are not only beneficial in supporting your immune system but also they will increase the fibre content of your meal helping not only with satiety but your gut health
• Meal plan – rather than keeping a food diary, plan your meals for the day/week. This will help to keep you focussed and remove mindless food choices. It will also help with shopping and budgeting
• Allow yourself a little treat or two during each week. Make it small and delicious!!
It’s an ideal time to take time for putting strategies in place – for life. You can do it.
Food selection changes under stress. A.Zellner et al. Physiology & Behavior Volume 87, Issue 4, 15 April 2006, Pages 789-793 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2006.01.014
Stress may add bite to appetite in women: a laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating behaviour Elissa Epel et al. Psychoneuroendocrinology .Vol 26, Issue 1, Jan 2001, Pages 37-49 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306453000000354
High/low cortisol reactivity and food intake in people with obesity and healthy weight. Benedict Herhaus et al. Translational Psychiatry volume 10, Article number: 40 (2020)
The associations of anxiety and depression symptoms with weight change and incident obesity: The HUNT Study. B Brumpton, et al. International Journal of Obesity volume 37, pages1268–1274(2013
Stress-induced eating and the relaxation response as a potential antidote: A review and hypothesis . TasmiahMasiha et al. Appetite.Volume 118, 1 November 2017, Pages 136-143 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2017.08.005
Koball, Afton M.et al (2012). Eating when bored: Revision of the Emotional Eating Scale with a focus on boredom. Health Psychology, 31(4), 521–524. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0025893
Amanda C Crockett, et al. Boredom proneness and emotion regulation predict emotional eating Journal of Health Psychology. 2015 May;20(5):670-80.. Research Article Find in PubMed