If you’re someone who normally eats quite healthily but have found yourself diving into comfort food and bags of sweets during the pandemic, take heart. You are not alone. And rest assured that the Covid-19 pandemic might be partly to blame for your craving-induced snacking.
A global pandemic of Covid-19 proportions is a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime experience. None of us has experienced anything similar that may have prepared us for it. It is a period of complete uncertainty, fear and confusion.
This kind of stress can have a number of effects on our bodies, both physiologically and psychologically.
IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD
The lockdown may have led to many people experiencing strong cravings for foods they generally try to avoid.
One of the main causes of these cravings is the effects of chemicals, or neurotransmitters, in the brain such as dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid and serotonin. An imbalance in dopamine has been linked to obesity and blood sugar irregularities, while an imbalance in gamma-aminobutyric acid can lead to insomnia and carbohydrate cravings.
A serotonin imbalance can lead to weight gain, depression, carbohydrate cravings and salt cravings. The effect of stress, lack of sunlight, lack of physical activity, poor diet and lack of sleep can all contribute to neurotransmitter imbalances.
All of these factors have been very relevant during this lockdown and thus helps to explain why cravings have increased during this time. Some studies have shown that physical or emotional distress can increase the intake of food high in fat, sugar or both.
Once eaten, fat and sugary foods seem to have a feedback effect that dampens stress-related responses and emotions. These foods are “comfort” foods in that they seem to counteract stress — and this may contribute to people's stress-induced craving for those foods.
Overeating isn't the only stress-related behaviour that can result in weight gain. When we are stressed, we don’t sleep as well which means we are more tired and will exercise less. We drink more caffeine and sugar to keep our energy levels up.
And then there’s booze, which we feel we need to relax, which effects hunger, motivation and sleep. And the cycle repeats. There are, of course, other contributing factors to cravings during lockdown, including boredom, easier access to food while being at home and even people’s keen interest in baking that developed during the initial stages of being housebound.
To manage your cravings, try to get enough sleep, get outside into the fresh air and sunlight every day, eat a healthy balanced diet rich in brain-boosting omega 3 fatty acids and fresh fruits and vegetables, get regular exercise and try to find other activities to do at home that don’t involve food.