Covid Stress= Stress Eating
Covid-19 Fatigue=Covid Stress=Stress Eating
I think I am speaking for many of us when I say that not long ago we had a lot of healthy habits. We went to exercise classes or the gym 3 or 4 times a week, cooked nutritious dinners for our family and snacked on healthy foods like hummus and bell peppers.
But that all changed when the pandemic struck. During the lockdowns, being stuck at home, our anxiety levels went up. We stopped exercising and started stress eating. Gone were the hummus and vegetables; instead we snacked on cookies, sweets and Lay’s potato chips. Fried foods became comfort foods and nothing felt better than take-out from restaurants.
We were feeding our souls rather than feeding our stomachs. We only wanted to eat things that we thought could make us feel better and these were not just nutritional items.
Now, a global survey conducted a few months ago confirms what we have been experiencing first hand: the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns led to dramatic changes in health behaviours, prompting people around the world to cut back on physical activity and eat more junk foods. It drove anxiety levels higher and disrupted sleep.
And those who are obese, who already face increased health risks, may have fared the worst, the researchers found. While they tended to experience improvements in some aspects of their diets such as cooking at home more and eating out less, they were also the most likely to report struggling with their weight and mental health.
The findings published in the journal Obesity, offer a cautionary lesson for many of us as the coronavirus cases continue to surge and renewed calls for lockdowns and other restrictions take hold. With months to go before most of us are vaccinated and can return back to what was once our normal lives, now might be a good time to assess the healthy habits we have let slip and to find new ways to be proactive about our physical and mental health.
The study, carried out by researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Centre in Louisiana, surveyed almost 80,000 adults across the globe, including people from 50 different countries. They found that the decline in healthy behaviours during the pandemic and widespread lockdowns was fairly common regardless of geography.
They found that obese individuals were impacted the most. They not only started off with higher anxiety levels before the pandemic but they also had the largest increase in anxiety levels throughout the epidemic.
The findings of this study shed light on exactly how people altered their routines in response to the lockdowns that were implemented in countries around the world this year to slow the spread of the virus. The pandemic disrupted everyday life, isolated people from friends and family and created an economic crisis with tens of millions of people losing jobs or finding their incomes sharply reduced.
The researchers assumed many people were having enormous levels of stress, but they were not sure how the pandemic and stay-at-home orders were impacting how people slept, how much they exercised and what they ate. So they designed an extensive survey and recruited people on social media to answer questions about how their mental and physical health had been affected.
From April through early May, about 7’750 people, most of them from United States but also from countries such as Canada, Australia and Britain, completed the survey. The average age of the people in the study was 51 and a majority were women. Based on their body mass indexes, about a third of the people were overweight, a third were obese and a third were considered normal weight.
The researchers found that most people became more sedentary, which they said was probably related to less daily commuting and more time spent indoors, But even when people did engage in structured exercise, it tended to be at lower intensity levels compared to before the pandemic. Many people had given in to their food cravings: consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and other snack foods, for example went up.
And this of course explains why 27 per cent of people said they gained weight after the initial lockdowns went into effect. The figure was even higher among those classified as obese: about 33 per cent compared to 24.7 per cent of people considered normal weight. People who gained weight also had the largest decline in physical activity.
There were some bright spots in the study. About 17 per cent of the study population actually lost weight during the pandemic. These people actually increased their physical activities and improved their diets with healthier home cooking.
And despite snacking on more junk foods, many people showed an increase in their “healthy eating scores”, a measure of overall diet quality, which includes things like eating more fruits and fewer fried foods.
The researchers said that the overall improvements in diet appeared to be driven by the fact that the lockdowns prompted people to cook, bake and prepare more food at home. People starting discovering and sharing new recipes in social media.
But social isolation can take a toll on mental illness and that was very evident in the findings. On average people reported significantly higher anxiety levels. About 20 per cent said their symptoms, such as experiencing dread and not being able to control or stop their worrying were severe enough to interfere with their daily activities.
About 44 per cent of people said their sleep had also worsened during the pandemic. They reported going to bed one hour later and waking up one hour earlier. Only 10 per cent of people said their sleep improved since the pandemic. And once again the greatest spikes were in the obese.
This survey was taken place at time when studies were first beginning to show that excess weight puts people at much higher risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19. Of course a heightened fear of the virus would lead to higher anxiety levels.
What were missing from this study were questions about alcohol. Since March of this year our LCBO has had record sales. Drinking more alcohol may feel good at the time but alcohol is a depressant and in end affects your sleep and the excess alcohol in your diet surely leads to weight gain.
We know that stress can lead to poor sleep, which can cause people to exercise less, consume more junk food and alcohol and then gain weight. That means we must be more proactive about our health because it is so important to maintain our health throughout this pandemic.
We must seek out mental health specialist if they are needed. We must find ways to exercise at home, cook more healthy meals, cut down on our use of alcohol and get a good night’s sleep.
The secret is awareness. Without it the stress, weight gain and depression creep up on you. But if you recognize it and be proactive with your health you will be even stronger than you were at the beginning of this pandemic.
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but we must do our part to get through this and be the strong ones at the end.