Brighton-based nutritional therapist and author Kirsten Chick talks about some pitfalls of the average lockdown diet

How healthy is your lockdown diet?

Brighton-based nutritional therapist and author Kirsten Chick asks: What was your lockdown diet like? Did you get baking, reach for the chocolate and wine – or get super healthy?

Most of us have an emotional response to food, so I was interested to find out the impact of the sudden shock and lifestyle changes of lockdown on people’s eating habits. There seem to be a few general trends.

Brighton-based nutritional therapist and author Kirsten Chick talks about some pitfalls of the average lockdown dietLockdown diet and snacking

For those who suddenly found themselves at home more and with more time on their hands, many seemed to turn to sugar early on. Using a blender, for example, to experiment with juicing fruits, confectionary and other milk based products was a common factor, with people turning to their (never seen) hand blander manual. Some, like Joanne Wilkinson, found a number of aspects of lockdown drew them to sugary snacks: “I am an emotional eater. Also, I did more baking with my little boy during lockdown, so ended up snacking on his cakes.” There was definitely a national trend of baking more in lockdown, not least because it’s such a calming, home-based hobby.

Translator Marta Scott is used to working from home, but still “did plenty of comfort eating and wine-drinking. Lots of pasta-based meals. Crisps featured at least three evenings a week […] I think it all helped me through the mega workload and intensity of the situation.”

Why do we comfort eat?

There are many reasons why you might comfort eat in times of stress. The instant pleasure hit from sugar and carbs, and the reassurance to the nervous system that you have enough energy to fight or run from a threat – both are short-lived and followed by a slump and craving for more. Then there’s the fact that stress downgrades your digestive processes, so you crave foods that require little or no breaking down. Sugar, refined and heavily processed foods tick this box too. Insomnia caused by lockdown anxiety will also mess with hunger signals and cause sugar and stimulant cravings.

Getting healthy in lockdown

While some turned to baking in lockdown, others, like Tara North, found that working from home “cut out the daily journey past bakery shops that sold irresistible snack treats.” Instead she snacked on homegrown salad and veg from her garden, another activity that gained favour during lockdown. At one point it was almost impossible to get hold of compost and seeds for spring planting. For Jimi Hendrickx over in Australia, “Not bring in the office has totally changed my snack habits. Work has sweets and biscuits which are just too tempting. 10kg gone since March.”

Tara and Jimi are not alone in finding lockdown helped them eat more healthily. Belgium-based Jeta Bejtullahu tells me, “I’ve definitely shifted my diet to a healthy one. And for the first time in my entire life, I had to cook all the time. So I learned how to.” Local artist Jenna Nilsen-Lediert says, “I think I ate healthier, me and my housemates had more group meals, so we shared the cost, and we had more time to make food.”

While busy mum Amanda Walderman thinks “people with young kids would say the opposite! I didn’t have any time to cook or plan meals so we ate what we could when we could.” She adds that she was so tired she was drinking more at night too.

Brighton-based nutritional therapist and author Kirsten Chick talks about some pitfalls of the average lockdown dietAlcohol and other coping mechanisms

This seems to be a worryingly common feature of lockdown. Recent statistics show that drinking high risk levels of alcohol has almost doubled since February, from 4.8 million to more than 8.4 million.

Even those drinking less than high risk levels have noticed an impact. Katy McGrory’s alcohol intake increased to a glass of wine or beer most evenings instead of nothing for months. “And that has made me crave sweet things more.” We often forget how much sugar is in alcohol, and so drinking regularly can help keep us hooked into sweet snacks and refined carbohydrates, like crisps and white bread.

People drinking more during lockdown have reported doing so mostly from boredom, but stress is bound to play a role for some.

Keyworkers and those not able to be furloughed often found themselves busier than ever before, on top of the general stress of life during a global pandemic. Lead clinical nurse specialist Sally Sawyer reports both eating more unhealthily and drinking more during Covid. “I think as a coping mechanism/stress response to how hideous work has been and the long working hours. Life seems to largely consist of a constant cycle of work, eat, sleep, repeat.”

How to snack more healthily

Em Burnett’s lockdown diet included a formal structure to help keep her away from the fridge. “I committed myself to specific breaks from my desk (remote working) to have a snack. I’m snacking less than when in the office!”

Jordan Savage has chosen to prioritise a healthy relationship with food, where the cupboards are full and there are no rules or judgements about what to eat:. “We consciously decided to fill up the cupboards with our favourite snacks; we practice intuitive eating, so making sure that you’re likely to have what you actually want really helps us feel good about our bodies and lives.”

Brighton-based nutritional therapist and author Kirsten Chick talks about some pitfalls of the average lockdown dietHere are my snack tips for a healthy lockdown diet:

5 healthy snack tips:

  1. Keep well stocked with ingredients to make healthy snacks
  2. This can be simple, like oat cakes or batons of carrot/cucumber/courgette/celery and houmous. Or make your own energy balls and keep them in your fridge or freezer
  3. Savour every mouthful – eating slowly, mindfully and with enjoyment helps you get the nutrients you need and feel satisfied earlier
  4. Avoid telling yourself “I can’t/shouldn’t” and giving yourself a hard time about food – that just adds to the stress and will make you want to eat more!

Kirsten Chick is a Brighton-based Nutritional Therapist and Author. Her new book, Nutrition Brought to Life, talks about sugar and general health and nutrition in much more detail, and has 50 healthy and delicious recipes at the back.

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