With the coronavirus pandemic causing our brains to crave those ‘naughty’ feel-good foods (and wine), it can be hard to resist temptation and stick to healthy food habits. So, what can we do to give our bodies and minds the things they need, rather than the things our brains are telling us we want? Here, we find out more…
Published: 22 April 2020.
Boredom, anxiety and too many opportunities to open the fridge and kitchen cupboards have – for many of us – resulted in coronavirus dietary chaos. And that’s before we get started on our drinking habits – alcohol sales rose 22% in March, compared with a 20.6% rise in grocery sales.
“A lot of people are struggling with their eating right now – and probably in different ways than they’re used to,” says US-based clinical psychologist Cortney Warren. “There is certainly a great deal of research to suggest that when people are in a crisis situation, one of the first things that will change is their eating behaviour.”
So, just what can we do about it and how can we get some control over what we consume? We ask the experts for their thoughts…
1. Curb emotional eating
Boredom – a form of emotional eating – is a top trigger for snacking. But factor in increased anxiety and unrestricted access to the kitchen, and even people who see themselves as self-disciplined may find that they are struggling.
When cravings strike, psychologist Dr Michael Sinclair suggests asking yourself whether giving in to temptation will make you feel better in the long-term. “Ask yourself: Is this behaviour moving me towards the life I want to live?”
To help keep up healthy food habits, “it’s also worth sticking Post-Its around the house saying ‘health’ and ‘wellbeing’ to remind us what we really want.”
2. Get drink aware
From ‘wine o’clock’ on Zoom to a tipple in front of the press briefing, many of us are drinking far more than we would during our usual 9-5 working week. While there is ‘no reason you shouldn’t have a Zoom drink with your friends,’ says Drinkaware CEO Elaine Hindal, the key is moderation.
“Have some alcohol-free options on hand to alternate drinks and be aware of self-pouring – people often pour themselves bigger glasses at home than they would drink in the pub.” She also recommends using a smaller sized glass than usual and switching to drinks with lower alcohol content – prosecco, for example, which has an abv of 10 to 11%, compared to red wine at up to 14% and spirits, at 35% plus.
3. Build a better plate
Dietician Jo Travers recommends the simple tactic of sticking to a “plate of three”, where you fill half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with carbohydrate like pasta or rice, and a quarter with protein like meat, fish, pulses or eggs. “If you do that at meal times, the chances of getting what you need are really high,” says Travers. “It’s really interchangeable, so that means broadly speaking there are similar nutrients in beef as there are to lentils.”
4. Hit the sack
Getting enough sleep by maintaining a regular sleep/wake pattern, keeping your bedroom calm and quiet, avoiding tech for an hour before bed and limiting caffeine after lunch is vital for battling food cravings.
Research has shown that interrupted sleep patterns can change levels of hunger and appetite hormones in the body, with a study by Kings College demonstrating that the sleep-deprived grabbed more low fibre, low protein and high-fat foods.
5. Plan like a pro
Kate Nelson, registered dietician, suggests micro-planning for the whole week, from snacks to main meals, in order to beat cravings. “Plan everything you’re going to eat that week, right down to the snacks,” she says. “I have two kids at home and it’s sometimes really difficult to avoid the snack cupboard but if I have a meal plan that includes snacks between meals, I’m less likely to raid it.”
6) Snack healthy
Healthy food habits also apply to snacks. Healthy savoury snacks such as a olives are a great choice for those wanting a hit of flavour, while a pre-mixed fruit salad provides natural sweetness. Another good tactic is to stick to the protein-and-produce rule – a portion of protein (a matchbox sized piece of cheese, 2tbs hummous, a boiled egg, ten-12 almonds) and some produce to go with it – cherry tomatoes, an apple, some vegetable sticks. Delicious, filling, and the perfect cravings-buster.
By eating well, enjoying some tasty meals and snacks, and exercising once a day, you’re implementing behaviours which are vital for your psychological and physical wellbeing and that’s never been more important than right now.