Eating Whilst Social Distancing: How to Stay Nutritionally Sane in Isolation
In the last couple of weeks, the world has seen a lot of unexpected change, which is a lot to cope with. Psychological stress plays a major role in the way we eat. Frequent trips to the fridge may just be your way of seeking comfort. Although changes in your eating are expected at this time of uncertainty, stress eating can have adverse effects on health such as weight gain.
Fortunately, there are ways to address the needs for comfort whilst staying on top of your nutrition.
- Stock up on ‘good’ snacks
The issue with most snack foods, like chips and snack bars, is that they are very calorie dense making overeating easy. They often lack vitamins, minerals and fibre, and can make you even hungrier after eating. A 2019 study found that people snacking on processed potato chips and crackers gained more weight than those eating an unprocessed diet consisting of fruit and nut snacks. But here’s the interesting part; both diets were the same in terms of calories and macronutrients, which only tells us that foods are much more than just numbers. So whatever the science may be, make sure to snack on wholesome unprocessed foods to achieve the benefits of good nutrition.
- E-eat together
We often think that eating is dictated by hunger. However, social factors—the presence of other people and how they behave—have a profound effect on our experience. Social eating is pleasant and makes people more happy than eating alone. There’s also evidence that food tastes better when we’re around others. So if you’re seeking comfort, why not arrange a FaceTime dinner date with a friend or family member? Or try cooking this Butter Bean, Mushroom and Kale Curry with your isolation buddy and enjoy it together!
- Be mindful
In a 2017 review, researchers looked at whether mindfulness practices could help reduce emotional eating and eating in response to external stressors. There is no set definition of mindful eating, but in a nutshell it is all about “paying close attention to the effect of the food on the senses, and noting the physical and emotional sensations in response to eating”. In fact, the review found mindfulness practices so beneficial, that they proposed such practices to be included in general weight management advice to the public. So next time you are craving a sweet snack, try to bring awareness to your physical sensations, thoughts and feelings. Try this 20-minute guided mindfulness meditation for self-awareness:
- Get into a routine
If you are a routine person like me, changes in normality can be uncomfortable. For example, not having a set lunch hour whilst working from home can lead to constant nibbling, which eventually adds up. One way to tackle this is to schedule your mealtimes as you would schedule meetings at work. Creating an event on your calendar is a great way to hold yourself accountable whilst maintaining a daily structure. This will also ensure that you are taking sufficient rest breaks from work.
- Keep yourself occupied
Two separate research studies found that presenting participants with a boring task increased their desire to snack. Self-isolation will of course have its boring moments, but it doesn’t have to be all that tedious. There are many ways to keep yourself busy, but if you are out of ideas, here is a list of 100 things to do whilst self-isolating.
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- Warren, J., Smith, N., & Ashwell, M. (2017). A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: Effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews, 30(2), 272-283. doi:10.1017/S0954422417000154
Rusne is a United Kingdom-based writer passionate about nutrition as treatment and prevention of illness. She is currently completing her Bachelor in Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds, and has Research & Development experience in the reformulation of sugary soft drinks.
Apart from her studies, Rusne particularly enjoys cooking, travelling and exploring independent coffee shops.