The COVID-19 pandemic has really put the spotlight on everyone’s health. However, the anxiety, fear and the continuous lockdowns resulting from the pandemic have actually made it a lot harder for people not only to care for their mental health but also to keep themselves physically fit. In fact, the pandemic has led to an increase in the number of adults who admit to overeating or eating unhealthy foods due to stress, anxiety, fear as well as depression. From 38% of adults who admitted to emotional eating before the pandemic, 47% of adults have admitted that the pandemic has led them to cope through emotional eating (1).
What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating happens when a person continues to eat food for any other reason other than being hungry. Some of the more common reasons for emotional eating include feeling sad, anxious, stressed, lonely or depressed.
There are also signs to indicate that you are suffering for emotional eating. These are:
- Experiencing changes in eating habits when you are experiencing more stress
- Eating despite not being hungry
- Eating to avoid stressful situations
- Eating to reward yourself
- Eating to make you feel better (2)
Adverse Effects of Emotional Eating to Your Health
While most of us eat, once in a while, for reasons other than hunger, continuous emotional eating is entirely different and will surely lead to some adverse effects both to your mental as well as to your physical health.
After the stress or the strong emotional feeling has passed, a person who overeats usually feels guilty for doing so. This feeling of guilty or remorse often leads to a person’s low self-esteem, which in itself would become another reason to further continue emotional eating, making it a never-ending cycle (3).
First, something happens that makes you upset or you feel something that you want to avoid. This leads to feeling an urge to eat more as a distraction. Then, you actually start to eat more than you should, leaving you feeling guilty and powerless over how much food you eat. Such a feeling then triggers the cycle to start all over again (4).
The primary cause for people to overeat is to avoid whatever emotions they do not want to deal with. As such, food becomes the distraction. However, once a person eats more and eats fast, stomach pain would surely follow because food is not properly digested. This pain usually lasts for one to two days and would probably be a reoccurring problem until one stops emotional eating (3).
3. Unhealthy Weight Gain
The most expected result of emotional eating is gaining weight. While gaining a pound or two isn’t necessarily a bad idea, continuous emotional eating could lead to an insane weight gain, making you prone to obesity. Moreover, emotional eating could interfere with making healthy food choices, further aggravating, and hastening your weight gain. (3)
Weight-related Health Problems Associated with Emotional Eating
When a person suffers from obesity or too much weight, other health problems are surely bound to follow. This is because people with an unhealthy weight become more prone to serious diseases and health conditions. Some of which include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart problems
- Several types of cancer
- Sleep apnea and breathing problems (5)
Healthy Lifestyle Habits to Avoid Emotional Eating and To Keep Yourself Healthy During the Pandemic
This COVID-19 pandemic, it has become especially important to take care of your physical and mental health and to build up your body’s resistance and immune system. While it may be hard to do this, there are better ways to deal with the anxiety, stress, depression, and loneliness brought by the pandemic that would not entail emotional eating and unhealthy weight gain. Here are some of the healthy lifestyle habits that you can do to help you in handling stress and anxiety better.
1. Eat healthy
Rewarding yourself with your favorite food once in a while is not harmful. Sometimes the difference is just in the type of food that you eat. You don’t have to measure the calories of each food that you take in nor prepare very complicated recipes for your meals. You just have to know which type of food is beneficial to your health and those which you should avoid as much as possible. Here are some few tips on what and what not to eat as well as some other helpful reminders about eating to support you physically and mentally during the pandemic:
- Focus on eating nourishing and nutritious meals which include fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains since these types of food provide you with the nutrients to keep both your body and mind healthy and strong during these stressful times.
- Avoid anxiety-inducing foods such as caffeine, sugar and alcohol.
- Opt for home cooked meals instead of restaurant of fast-food takeout, as these are probably fattier and unhealthier.
- Stock up on healthy but appealing snacks such fruits, carrots, eggs, milk and yogurt instead of chips and other types of junk food.
- Have a daily time and schedule of when and what you are going to eat. This helps ease anxiety and keeps you focused on your health goals.
- Eat at the regular mealtimes listed on your schedule and try to avoid snacking in between as much as possible. Only do so when you are actually feeling hungry.
- If you are staying at home with your family, try to eat each meal together. It helps lessen feelings of isolation and keeps you mindful of how much you eat. (6)
2. Make exercise a daily priority
Staying active and doing physical activities can actually uplift your mood and energy levels, thus preventing you from resorting to emotional eating. It helps reduce stress and keep your body fit and healthy. It can also greatly improve a person’s quality of life. On top of this, regular exercise, apart from proper diet, is the best way to lose unwanted weight. To enjoy these benefits, it is best to allot at least thirty minutes per day for exercise.
Health Benefits of Regular Physical Activity
Regular physical activity brings several immediate and long-term health benefits. If you stay active physically, it is more likely for you to enjoy these benefits:
- Reduced risk of heart attacks
- Healthier weight level
- Lower blood cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower risk of contracting diabetes or cancer
- Better and faster recovery from illness
- Stronger immune system, bones and muscles (7)
Easy Exercises You Can Do During the Pandemic
Because of the pandemic, access to gyms and specialized equipment have mostly been restricted. As such, people have resorted to physical activities that they can do in and around their homes. Here are some easy exercises that you can do which does not require any specialized equipment nor physical interaction with other people.
Running or Walking
Running and walking are the most common types of cardio exercises. If you live in a village or near a park, then running or walking is the perfect exercise for you. Running or walking causes your lungs and heart to work harder, thus burning excess energy stored around the body, such as in fat cells (8).
Running and walking also does not need any specialized training and its intensity can easily be altered to your liking. You can start by walking for five minutes as a warm-up then proceed to a ten-minute run. As you get the hang of it, you can further increase the distance, durations and speed of your runs.
Cycling is another form of effective cardio exercise. It requires the force from your legs to keep the pedals moving. It is a low impact exercise which causes less strain and injuries to the body. Further, cycling outdoors is probably one of the more fun ways to get fit (9).
For this type of exercise, you can opt to use a stationary bike if you have one at home. Or, you can buy a long cost bike to keep you expenses to a minimum. It raises your body’s metabolic rate, thus making it faster to burn excess calories. Further, cycling is not only good for decreasing body fat levels, but it also increases muscle strength and flexibility, especially in your legs (9).
Additionally, cycling is a perfect alternative mode of transportation, making it an easy fit for your daily routine. Cycling for forty minutes going to and from work is already an excellent way to maintain the regular physical activity for a healthier lifestyle. (10)
If you have a pool at home or if you live near a body of water, swimming is another fun way to stay healthy and get in shape. The best thing about swimming is that it is a suitable physical activity for people of all ages. As such, it may be the best way to keep, not just you, but also your kids physically active. Whether it is done leisurely or vigorously, swimming serves as one of the best exercises to burn calories.
According to Harvard Health, a 155 pound person could burn about 233 calories for every half hour of swimming (11). Just keep in mind that how you swim affects the calories you burn. This is because some swimming strokes require more intensity, thus burning more calories. Further, because of the natural water resistance, the impact of swimming on the joints is reduced, thereby lowering the risk of injuries (12).
Jump Rope or Skipping Exercises
Despite being an easy exercise, skipping provides a full body work out, all at the comfort of your own home. Skipping increases your heart rate, resulting in the faster pumping of blood across the body and keeping your heart in a better condition. Additionally, skipping also keeps your lungs functioning properly and healthy. It helps in increasing muscle strength, metabolism and in burning calories in a short span of time (13).
To do skipping exercises, all you need is a jump rope. You can vary your speed and intensity according to your preference and abilities. This exercise can burn approximately 1300 calories per hour (13).
Yoga is one of those exercise that people turned to during the pandemic. And, why not? Yoga can be done in the comfort of your own homes with only a mat. You can easily search online for different yoga poses and how they are properly executed. Surprisingly, yoga is also beneficial for weight loss and yoga poses are integral to weight reduction (14).
Yoga is not physically intense, but it improves mindfulness and the relation of your mind and body. It increases focus and concentration. Physically, doing yoga poses properly yields maximum benefits and helps in building your muscle tone (14).
3. Get the proper amount of sleep
Sleep is something most of us wished we had more time for. However, because the pandemic has forced most of us to stay at home, this wish became easier to turn to reality. Yet some people still don’t get so the required amount of sleep, which is between seven to nine hours per night. If you’re one of these people, here are several reasons why you should start thinking about getting the right amount of sleep.
Getting Enough Sleep Puts You in a Better Mood
By sleeping well, you wake up feeling rested and your energy levels increase. Because your energy levels are up, you would be able to better face life challenges. You won’t be easily annoyed, or you won’t easy feel down just because you have a problem. This, in turn, helps you to focus more on improving yourself and focus less on things that make you anxious, stressed or depressed (15).
Sleep Boosts Your Immune System
When you get the proper amount of sleep, your body’s immune cells and proteins are able to fight off common sickness like coughs or colds. Further, according to specialists from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, getting the proper amount of sleep boosts the effectiveness of vaccines (15), which is very important as vaccines are currently the most effective way to combat COVID-19.
Having the Right Amount of Sleep Prevents Weight Gain
While getting eight hours of sleep won’t necessarily lead to losing some pounds, it helps in the increase and decrease of production of hormones critical to how much your body eats. Particularly, lack of sleep produces ghrelin, a hormone that boosts your appetite and decreases the production of leptin, a hormone that indicates to your body when you are full (15). Taken together, this dangerously stimulates your body to eat more than what you should.
5. Always consult your doctor
Last but definitely not the least, consulting with your doctor should be one of your top priorities. Before starting on your journey towards improving your physical and mental health, checking in with a health professional is the best way to go. With the proper medical guidance, you avoid being at a higher risk of health problems and complications. Here are several things that about your body that your doctor could help you with.
Possible Pre-existing Conditions
Diet and exercise are sudden changes in your body’s habits that could trigger underlying health problems that you may not be aware of. As such, the first step to a healthy lifestyle is by consulting your doctor and making sure that you have no existing or underlying health conditions that need medical treatment. If you are aware of any health issues that you have, your doctor would be the best person approach. He will be able to give you the proper medication for these conditions. These conditions are part of the things you need to consider when planning out what type of exercise you would do, your meal choices and how much sleep you must get, all of which your doctor could help you with (16).
Making Healthy Nutrition Plans
Weight loss is not just about eating less, but more about eating smart. A good doctor can help you formulate a nutrition plan that is specifically tailored for you, taking into account your body type, how active you are, your lifestyle, your budget, possible food allergies, as well as your food preferences.
Having a professional helping you with your nutrition plan is important because it helps you maximize the most out of your diet. An incredibly restrictive diet consisting of only a certain type of food could bring more harm to your body. As such, a good balance of everything is important. Leaving out just one type of food could leave an imbalance and a lack of certain nutrients that could result in a loss of muscle mass and other complications (16).
Admittedly, the pandemic has forced us into a situation which we all feel like we have no control over. Fear, anxiety, stress, and loneliness are all too common during these rough times. However, even in these hard times you can always choose to be healthy and live healthy. While the easier thing to do is to just succumb to emotional eating to forget and avoid all our current problems, such will only lead to more health risks, both physically and mentally. Instead, what you should focus on is how to improve your mental health and how to keep yourself physically fit through proper diet, continuous exercise and getting the right amount of sleep. Lastly and most importantly, never forget to regularly consult with your doctor to make sure that your health is in its perfect condition.