The restrictions put in place during the coronavirus State of Emergency are making a lot of people anxious and Psychologist Blanca Aguayo Siquier, from the Servei Universitari d'Atenció Psicològica, or SUAP-UIB says a lot of people are heading for the fridge a lot more often than they should be.
“In these strange days many people are turning to food to alleviate the discomfort caused by the confinement situation; some out of sheer boredom and many others out of increased anxiety levels,” she explains. “We live in a situation that generates uncertainty and we may feel a lack of control because our routine has changed and questions come to mind that we don’t have the answers for.”
She adds, “during confinement some people experience higher levels of anxiety and by spending more time at home we have more availability to go to the fridge or pantry and snack between meals or eat for a longer time and we will probably choose hypercaloric foods that are more associated with pleasure."
Dr Aguayo Siquier also warns that “binge eating may seem to alleviate anxiety in the short term by activating pleasure centres in the brain, but it is not a good way to regulate emotions, because regret, guilt and anxiety can start all over again and if that habit is maintained over time it’s likely to cause weight gain and health problems."
Guidelines for reducing food anxiety
It’s possible to reduce food anxiety by following some simple guidelines, starting with your shopping list says Dr Aguayo Siquier.
"We must be clear about what we are going to buy and try to limit hypercaloric foods, especially ultra-processed and excessively sugary products and try to choose natural and varied foods,” she says. “It’s ok to indulge in the foods that we like that are more hypercaloric, in moderation, because if we restrict them all, there may be a rebound effect during the next shopping expedition.”
When it comes to food, out of sight is out of mind, so put all the high calorie products at the back of the cupboard when you get home from the supermarket.
“It’s better to keep fruit and vegetables visible and hide the most hypercaloric products someplace they’re not easily seen,” she advises, “and restrict the quantities by only taking what you’re going to eat to the table, for example, if you want cookies, just take a couple with you, not the whole package.”
According to Dr Aguayo Siquier “it’s also better to limit the amount of food that we see on social networks because there are so many recipes online these days. Look for healthy recipes, follow chefs that offer lighter options, exchange healthy recipes with friends or get creative in the kitchen. Crisis foster creativity.”
She points out that we are less likely to reach for chips and ice cream if our stress levels are low.
“It is important to limit the excess of catastrophic information, and entertain ourselves with hobbies and other things instead, because when we are entertained out anxiety levels decrease,” she says. “In fact, when the ‘urge' to snack between meals appears, it is especially important to distract yourself with something that's entertaining enough to make you forget about food, or at least postpone eating more, so that the 'false need’ to eat something decreases or disappears or altogether."
Physical exercise is also a really good way to reduce anxiety.
“Walk quickly around the house, go up and down steps, take one of the many classes offered online, or practice relaxation techniques to release anxiety and keep you away from the kitchen,” she advises. “Or write down everything you think and feel on a piece of paper to vent your emotions; you have the power to reduce stress fuelled eating and try to focus on the present rather than the future because it’s better for you not to spend too much time away from the present.”
Dr Aguayo Siquier explains that “the practice of mindfulness also helps to keep our attention in the present, reduces anxiety and teaches us to be more patient.”
An exercise in mindfulness that’s easy to do at home is to switch off the TV when you’re eating and try to put all your attention on the five senses.
“Look at the food you are going to eat, the colours, the smell and the noise it makes when you’re chewing, how it feels in your hand or mouth, its temperature and flavour,” she says. “Sometimes we eat as if we were filling a sack without really paying attention to what it actually is. There are lots of guided mindfulness practices available online.”
Lastly, she says, be kind to yourself.
“In difficult situations we need to be kind to ourselves the most, we are kind to others when they suffer, so why not be kind and loving to yourself.”