Reflections On Eating & Weight During A Pandemic

We are now several weeks into lockdown here in the UK. After the shock and speed of our social restriction and isolation, how has this affected our eating behaviour?

It all started with panic buying, remember that shortage of toilet paper? Well, there is still food on the shelves in our supermarkets, but not in the same way. Queueing for hours before you can enter a supermarket, of course a safe 2 metres apart, only then to find that many items – fresh fruit and vegetables, flour, eggs to name a few – are not available, and we are faced with empty shelves and the odd rugby tackle to claim that last bag of potatoes. 

The reality of empty shelves in supermarkets is mixed with, what some might see, an evolutionary fear that there is not enough food. This taps into a real, felt, experience in the genetic code and ancestors of all human beings, so should we be surprised by our animalistic fight for food?

In psychological terms, our fear that there is not enough food is an example of an expectation bias, where we have a negative prediction about a future event. Granted, this was fuelled by a herd mentality of fear, and the correct assumption that we would follow other countries into lockdown and social isolation. It is important that we reality check our assumptions, so we have a balanced view of the future. Left unchecked, our negative thoughts and biased assumptions feed our anxiety, adding fracture to what might already be a fragile mind.

Some people may start overeating because they feel anxious and uncertain about what will happen next. The sad irony here is the certainty that results – if you overeat, you will put on weight (well most of us will), and probably feel lousy about yourself.

A certain Shirley Bassey once sang ‘that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating’ and this sums up beautifully our food script – our patterns of wiring in our brain, emotions and memories associated with comfort eating, behaviours and habits so entrenched in using food as a way of soothing our emotions.

There are jokes and memes abound on social media about the quarantine-20, the expected weight gain for many during our social earthquake. Humour is important at any time, even more so in times of such global crisis, but what of the reality that so many people are facing that have struggled with their weight all their life.

Fear of what life will be like after we exit lockdown, the uncertainty of how this will be managed, how long it will take, perhaps worry and concern over loved ones, or the deafening pain of the death of a parent, child, sibling or friend, victims of this deadly virus who will not receive the dignity of a family burial or cremation. These are the sad realities for hundreds of thousands of people around the world. 

When we struggle with eating in a twisted self-sabotaging way, it is often enmeshed with how we manage our social and emotional world. It shapes and reinforces our self-worth and self-identity, so this COVID-19 crisis will fall heavy on people that struggle with their eating. 

Every guilty bite of chocolate, every stuffed mouthful of binge food, every shameful glance of your body in the mirror just reinforces the lifelong message of failure and the hopelessness that nothing can be done to change this reality, a prison where you feel trapped, where the comfort of the food you are eating just perpetuates this cycle, making freedom feel impossible.

If this somehow resonates with you, please listen to me very carefully. This does not have to be your reality, even in the face of the global pandemic and the uncertain times we are living in. You can do something now to change your food script, and to build a pathway to a healthier and happier relationship with food, eating and your body.

We are all guilty of discounting the future outcome of our here and now behaviours. If nothing changes, and you continue to overeat, you will leave lockdown larger in size, which will likely have a negative impact on your self-worth. If you ignore that you have the power to change your reality, you are discounting the strength, wisdom and resources within you that are driving you to find greater self-development and wisdom. 

There are opportunities and silver linings in the COVID-19 lockdown we are living in right now. We have time to reflect on what is important to us, time to reach out for online courses and support to help us become better, happier, healthier. It is time to take control now. Social isolation is our new normal for the next couple of months, so if we take accountability for our decisions around food and eating now, we control our destiny of what happens next.

How do you want to feel about your body, how do you want to fit into your clothes, and how do you want to appear from our current virtual world when COVID-19 finally abates?

  • You can eat more protein to increase satiety.
  • You can plan how you will eat the next day, the night before.
  • You can bookend your work day with a morning and evening wellbeing programme – walk, workout, meditate, play, enjoy sex.
  • You can pack your lunch and snacks as if you were going to work, to reduce the temptation of grazing.
  • You can use your commuting time to discover a new recipe, cook it and socially have a meal with your friends online.
  • You can go for a longer walk in the evening, decompress your day and have a fasting evening.
  • You can put the chocolate down, and decide how I feel about the size of my XXXX in 8 weeks is more important than the indulgent minutes you will spend swallowing it down in this moment.
  • You can decide now is the time I make a plan of how tomorrow / this weekend / next week will be different, and decide I will find a better balance of how I take care of my health, my wellbeing, my body.

Small steps, small changes or mini habits is the way to go. Decide on one small positive change you will make tomorrow. Go on, do it right now. 

If it feels good, decide to do it for 3 days, then a week, until it becomes a new healthy habit.

A positive step of change accomplished, builds self-regulation, self-efficacy and hope. Repeat, one day at a time, and your road to a healthier relationship with eating, your body and your mind will get easier, every step you take.

Our team of amazing therapists and nutritionists are dedicated to taking this journey with you. Please get in touch, and let us walk alongside you until you are strong enough to walk the rest of your journey alone.

Eat well, feel good, stay safe.