Given how limited our lives are during lockdown, food is even more of an issue than it was before. And that’s saying something. With #lockdownweightgain trending on twitter, it seems we are eating more out of boredom or stress, or because someone in our household has taken to cooking more. Or possibly all of the above.
Each of us has our own unique lockdown story. We are each doing the best we can, trying to find ways of riding out the storm as best we can.
Newspaper articles are starting to appear about how much weight we’ve gained since lockdown began in March. I haven’t yet seen an article that looks as though it will help anyone – what I’ve seen is column inches taken up with alarmist predictions, and fat-shaming images, of where the world will be weight-wise once the lockdown is over. Of course, we’re all different and I have clients who are finding it easier rather than harder to eat healthily at the moment, but most aren’t.
So this article is my attempt to say something useful to you, if you aren’t happy with how you are eating during lockdown.
What has lockdown done to your usual routine?
Whatever your unique lockdown story, the chances are that your usual routine has taken a hammering. You may have fuller, more stressed days than before. Or you may be drifting, rudderless, from waking up to bedtime. People in both camps have told me that they are turning to food to try and navigate their days.
You can experiment with the following steps to get your eating patterns back on track, and they are designed to be general enough for you to adapt them to whatever your circumstances currently are.
Step 1: Create an eating routine that will work for you during lockdown
The pattern of eating you had pre-lockdown may not be working so well under these changed conditions. Plan a structure for the day that works with your new routine – this may be quite different from your usual routine. There is no one-size-fits-all for how many meals a day you should have, or whether you need to eat breakfast. Having said that, skipping breakfast to save calories is something that often backfires later in the day, and I’d suggest that you move away from thinking about skipping meals in this way. Give yourself meals and snacks to look forward to. A snack may simply be a cup of coffee in your favourite mug, enjoyed with a read of a magazine.
Step 2: Tune in to your body’s hunger and fullness signals to help you eat what your body needs
I made this short video about hunger and fullness signals before lockdown…..
Even though the video was made well before lockdown, it is now as true as ever that learning to tune in to your natural hunger and fullness signals opens the way to enjoying food more than ever. Not only that, but if you currently ignore those signals and eat more than your body needs, eating in tune with them will lead you to lose weight without having to count calories.
Step 3: Maximise the pleasure you get from what you eat
For every meal and every snack, choose to eat what you love. You may want to eat things you classify as ‘unhealthy’ like cake or crisps. I’d suggest that if you do fancy these foods, you plan to have them for a planned snack, and balance that with meals that are more healthy. For a snack you’ll need to think about the amount. Shop-bought cake portions are often enough for two. Importantly, if you do decide to have cake, really let yourself enjoy it. That way you’ll get the pleasure from it that you’re seeking rather than hurrying it down and feeling guilty.
This applies to maximising pleasure from all your meals and snacks – focusing on really enjoying every mouthful when you do eat any food will give you more pleasure AND help you feel satisfied. It’s what is meant by mindful eating, and it really pays off.
Step 4: Listen to your body
Between meal and snack times you may well find your mind wandering to thoughts of food, especially when you’re only yards away from your kitchen. Whenever you do think about food, you can tune in to your gut and use the Appetite Pendulum to gauge how hungry or full you’re feeling. Try this simple exercise right now – look at the scale on the right-hand side and see which words go best with how you are feeling right now.
With your new lockdown eating routine, aim to stop eating each meal when you feel “just full” (+3) and allow yourself to get “definitely hungry” (-3) by the start of the next meal. A snack can tide you over if you are getting towards -3 way ahead of your next meal time. As you get used to tuning in, you can discover what size and type of meal allows you to be -3 by your next meal. If the time between lunch and dinner is several hours, eating food with more protein and fibre at lunch will keep you going whereas if it’s only a few hours then something that’s digested more quickly will work better.
What do you do if you are thinking of food and you’re not “minus 3”? Find an effective distraction to have ready to use. It could be to text a friend, tidy a drawer, or play Tetris on your phone. Whatever works for you to shift your attention away from food. Once you’ve been distracted from food for a few minutes it will be easier to get on with your day.
A hot drink is another useful way of reacting to an urge to eat if you’re not hungry. I’m drinking more tea than usual at the moment and I’m making a bit of a thing of the process, with my favourite cup and saucer and brewing the tea in the teapot. When I’m restless between meals and not sure what to do, it’s not exactly a Japanese tea ceremony, but it seems to do the trick.
However you deal with food and eating during lockdown, go easy on yourself. Kindness and compassion will help us get through this, both to each other and to ourselves.
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