Have you seen the memes circulating on social media about the “Quarantine 15”? It’s basically poking fun at the 15 pounds (6.8kg) weight gain from staying home and being just a couple of footsteps away from the kitchen.
The tendency to overeat during quarantine has become a coping mechanism. Since there’s no sense of stability nowadays, the mind tends to search for another aspect to rely on. This is already a tough time to process; the unknown job security, overflowing hospitals, the struggles to meet basic needs, and the undefined longevity of the pandemic. In most cases, the stability of having breakfast, lunch, and dinner is all that’s left.
Overeating is the act of excessive food consumption in one meal, more than someone would normally consume. Weight gain and eventually obesity will ensue if the habit continues in the long run. As a registered nutritionist, Simran Nanwani ANutr explained that nutrients from foods are meant to heal the body’s organs. But with overeating, the body focuses mainly on the digestive system, which causes gas and bloating, as well as feelings of disgust and sluggishness.
Think about this: are you eating because you’re hungry, bored, or thirsty? “We tend to confuse cues between hunger and thirst. It’s advisable to drink a glass of water before you eat to determine the body’s cue,” Simran pointed out. Constantly stuffing your face to fill that void of hunger can illuminate the fact that you just need to drink, thus never actually finding satisfaction. Of course, food shouldn’t be your only coping mechanism. Sleep, movement, (virtual) social connections, and therapy are needed to be pondered upon.
“Overeating is bad since we’re consuming more than our body actually needs,” she said. “Let’s say on a day to day basis, you consume 2,500 calories while your body is used to burning a certain number. Suddenly, you start consuming more and more, hence your body will get accustomed to that quantity.”
Every individual’s normal state of eating is different. There are days where you’ll be more active, then there are days where you laze around more often. It’s important to understand that the body always communicates with the mind. Eating by the clock is a habit most of society does, but “we should be in tune to listen to our body with what it wants,” Simran added.
It takes roughly 20 minutes for the digestive system to communicate to the mind that it’s full, so eat slower. “Think of your body as the most expensive car out there and it’s very low on fuel. What are you going to feed it?” she posed.
The food industry has created man-made combinations in processed foods such as fats combined with carbohydrates that stimulate dopamine, the feel-good hormone, creating instant gratification – it’s the same side of the brain that’s activated when one is addicted to drugs. We can’t deny french fries taste good, but it’s also the sentimental value of a food that makes it comforting: the nostalgia, security, or joy.
Instead, focus on the natural whole-foods type of diet, with more fruits and vegetables, because your body will easily send a signal to stop. No, you don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian. By developing this eating habit, the body absorbs all the nutrients it craves and thus feels satiated.
Getting this down can help with vicious cravings; the body’s way of telling you it needs some sort of energy or nutrient which you’ve been lacking. “Craving is your body’s natural mechanism to communicate with you but sometimes we mistake it for something else,” Simran indicated. Ask yourself why you’re having a craving. Are you having a stressful day, are you bored, is it that time of your month? Any of these, and more, can trigger your cravings. Substitute what you’re thinking about with a healthier option or reduce the portion of “the real deal.” “It’s okay to give in to your cravings because if you’re stopping yourself, you’ll fight back one day and overeat instead. Just remember to come back to your normal eating habit,” she assured.
Have a go at making substitutions for a few days, and continue in the long-run if you can. Consuming extra food requires the body to burn it off through vigorous workouts and skipping meals. Compensate a bit throughout the next few days by continuing to eat normally while cutting back on your portions – the key here is portion control. Understand the need to create balance, be wary of the food consumed, and focus on your body’s feeling after a meal; would you want to feel sluggish or great afterwards?
Knowing the body’s needs at a certain point of time reflects on the art of intuitive eating. “Do you eat lunch at 12-1pm because it’s time to eat or because you’re hungry?” Simran asked me. “Intuitive eating is building a relationship with yourself first, before developing a relationship with anything else around you, including food,” she explained. Once you build that connection, you’ll know when to take a step back.
Recurring episodes of overeating for a longer period may develop into a binge eating disorder. It causes the person suffering from this eating disorder to deal with a lot of shaming, wanting to eat alone to avoid people noticing how much they eat, gas, bloating, and feelings of disgust. Allow yourself to feel unguilty about what and when you want to eat as it will induce self-control around food and won’t perpetuate that out-of-control feeling.
Overcoming it won’t just happen overnight. Simran suggested gaining support from a professional. “There’s always something you’re not dealing with so you’re taking it out on your eating. Two things I learned from Tony Robin’s workshop based on what humans thrive on are not feeling loved enough,” she said.
As confident as you might think you are, a little part of you is terrified to gain weight because of societal measures and opinions that have been implanted in our minds. Thus, excessive, intense workout routines and obsessive diets have consumed the best of us. That’s not to say that body movement and watching what you eat is bad – too much of something will take a u-turn on your health. Falling off the bandwagon of your eating and exercise plan amidst this pandemic might be a sign that the routine you’ve built, is too strict. Eventually, it could happen with or without being quarantined at home.
Turn to these five ways to combat overeating whilst on lockdown:
- Limit snacking and clear your pantry from highly processed foods such as chips and cookies. Not having these foods around will help you sustain yourself since you don’t see them.
- If you must snack, find a healthier option since time feels longer than ever. Always keep healthy snacks on hand or prepare some in advance and store them in the fridge.
- Drink water each day to stay hydrated and keep your body’s systems functioning normally.
- Call a friend or family member to talk about your emotions. Getting your feelings out can help curb emotional eating.
- Buy foods in season. Simran talked about how to take advantage of Indonesia’s various types of tropical fruits and vegetables available. Realise how lucky we are to live in a country with loads of delicious options.