Don’t scoff: overeating during lockdown may widen SA’s girth
Health experts fear scores of Saffers will turn to their fridges and cupboards for Covid-19 comfort
Have you reached for your third cupcake, devoured another bag of chips or lost count of the home-made pizza slices you’ve scoffed in a few hours?
You are not alone when it comes to your food woes.
With millions of South Africans in mandatory lockdown as the country battles the Covid-19 crisis, health experts fear scores will be turning to their fridges and cupboards for comfort and stress relief.
It is highly likely that South Africans will comfort eat during the national lockdown.Dietician Nasreen Jaffer
Registered dietitian and Association for Dietetics in SA (Adsa) spokesperson Nasreen Jaffer believes most people respond to stress by comfort eating.
“It is highly likely that South Africans will comfort eat during the national lockdown.
“If we do comfort eat for these three weeks, it will not bode well for the health of our citizens.
“We already have a high prevalence of obesity in SA.
“According to statistics, obesity rates are increasing rapidly, with almost 70% of women and 40% of men either overweight or obese.
“Furthermore, reports show one in four girls and one in five boys between the ages of two and 14 are overweight or obese, while obesity-related diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers account for 43% of deaths in SA.
“Therefore, we cannot increase these statistics.”
In the current pandemic situation, fear around the availability, accessibility and cost of future food may affect the eating experiences of many people.Dr Courtney Warren,
Jaffer said South Africans have to be mindful that supermarkets are open for trading during the lockdown, “so there is no need to stockpile any foods”.
Dr Courtney Warren, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, said in Psychology Today that when a “stressful situation of this magnitude arises, people often experience substantial changes to their eating behaviours”.
“Generally described as emotional or stress eating, we often start to eat (or not eat) in a conscious or unconscious effort to suppress or soothe negative emotions.
“These emotionally-based changes in eating behaviour range from overeating to binge eating to severe caloric restriction.”
According to Warren, when feeling strong emotional states, some people are more likely to binge eat, which is characterised by eating large amounts of food in a short amount of time, while feeling unable to stop.
“Others may notice ‘grazing’ behaviour, where they want to eat constantly throughout the day or night.
“Others may restrict their eating, sometimes in an attempt to feel control over something during a time of great uncertainty.
“Furthermore, in the current pandemic situation, fear about the availability, accessibility and cost of future food may affect the eating experiences of many people.
“The truth is there are many psychological and biological reasons that we eat when we feel stressed. Eating can decrease negative emotions in some individuals.”
Warren said eating could also serve as a “welcome distraction” from challenging life realities and a self-soothing coping mechanism during uncertain times.
“Biologically, stress is associated with changes in cortisol, which plays a critical role in energy regulation.
“We also tend to crave food higher in fat and sugar when stressed, in part because our body requires more energy to function when stressed, and simple carbohydrates are the fastest way to get a quick hit,” she said.
She warned that emotional eating could lead to regret, physical discomfort and weight gain “because the original stressors will remain independent of our eating behaviour”.
“Consequently, until we honestly address the actual emotions driving our eating, our desire to eat will remain when stressed, often leading to longer-term harm to our physical and emotional health,” she said.
Nasreen Jaffer’s top tips for not over-eating:
- Use up what you have first. You don’t want anything to go to waste. This means as many fruits, vegetables and colourful foods as you can. When it comes to expiration dates, read carefully and assess whether the food is safe to eat.
- Use fresh foods before turning to reserves of frozen and shelf-stable foods.
- You just need well-balanced meals. You do not have to live on non-perishable foods and canned vegetables. That’s going to get tiresome and boring quickly. Just eat and cook what you would normally do.
- Do not buy high-fat, sugar- and salt-containing foods, for example chips, chocolates and bakery items. When you are bored and/or peckish you want healthy foods to be at your disposal. If there are unhealthy options in the cupboard, that’s what you will end up eating.
- Buy healthy snacks such as yoghurts, fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats such as nuts, nut butters and avocado pears.
- Try to keep your structured mealtimes and snack times as per your normal day, so you don’t eat all the time.
- Make sure you eat at the table and not in front of the television or your computer, as you tend to eat a larger amount of food when you are doing something while eating.
- Try not to drink calories. It is better to eat them. Sugar-containing beverages are high in calories and can lead to weight gain.
- Don’t forget to drink enough water. Sometimes thirst can be mistaken for hunger.
- During a time when we will probably eat more, we should make every effort to maintain our physical activity levels.