Remaining lean on lockdown: eating lessons learned from a global pandemic. Written by Kala Rowland

As we enter what feels like the twenty-teenth of Mapril, it’s hard to believe that Easter is coming around the corner at a rapid pace. We’ve probably been subliminally blinded by the abundance of chocolate eggs strategically placed around shopping aisles as we scrabble to get our toilet roll and milk – yet one day we will get to the point where we think “oooh, better take up this offer quick before they all disappear!” of course, especially in this current climate. Which can then lead to the inevitable chocolate binge.

It’s easy to slip into bad habits when it comes to boredom. As someone with a fully-packed schedule each and every day, I don’t know what boredom feels like because I don’t have time for and, and I know you’re probably in a similar boat. Because of this, the novelty of extra time in life wore off quite quickly for me – and trying to avoid extra snacks around the house has, on some days, been difficult. If I open those floodgates – I find it hard to close them. And having looked into a bit of research, I don’t think many of us are on our own here.

According to Mehrabian’s psychological study (1980) participants reported that they would eat the most in response to low arousal negative emotions (e.g., boredom or concern) and would eat the least in response to high arousal negative emotions (e.g., feeling anxious, hostile, and angry). Similarly, Caldwell, Smith, and Weissinger (1993) found that boredom proneness, along with poor impulse control, increases one’s likelihood of overeating.

This is going to sound super technical, but hear me out. There may be several other reasons why negative emotions contribute to inappropriate eating. Adam and Epel (2007) suggest that interactions between the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and the reward circuitry of the brain may mediate the relationship between stress and eating by simultaneously lessening the stress response and motivating the intake of high caloric foods. If this has completely lost you, like it did with me – I think what our scientific friends here are trying to say is that our brain ‘craves’ high calorie foods to mediate the boredom, in some people.

Similarly, Heatherton and Baumeister (1991) proposed an “escape model” in which the need to avoid negative self-awareness results in behavioural disinhibition and overeating.

We’re going through times now that seem very strange. With this, we lose our life structure, our routine that we usually work so hard to maintain. Although I’ve spoken to so many people in the past few weeks that are going walking and running more than they may ever have before (making the most of the one hour allotted exercise time by BoJo) and I know many people are keeping up with their home workouts (don’t forget to tune into mine – schedule available on my social pages!) I thought I’d provide some tips on how to avoid the ‘boredom’ bingeing, which have helped me massively. As they always say, you can’t out train a bad diet – so I’m imparting a bit of wisdom to help keep you going, as I know you’ll be ticking the boxes on the exercise front – it’s just the different food regime right now might be a little harder to stick to…

  • Stock up on healthy snacks! Did you know that 10-15 almonds provide enough magnesium to alleviate a headache by relaxing blood vessels? Plus, they really help with the hunger pangs and they’re packed with protein. I honestly really rate nuts (in moderation) for healthy snacking – plus you can bust that banging headache with something a little more natural and probably in more supply than paracetamol right now. Here’s a bit of light reading for you on these good old guys:

  • Stay hydrated. It sounds obvious, but sometimes when we’re not really monitoring our water intake… we may actually be thirsty rather than hungry. The same part of your brain is responsible for interesting both hunger and thirst, yet this can often result in mixed messages. Sip water regularly and feel the difference – it really does help and if you’ve got a bottle that tracks your water measurement, this is great too to help keep you on track.

  • Banish the boredom. If you know you’ve had a hearty meal yet you’re reaching for a snack just for something to do – fight the urge and transfer your focus onto another task. Otherwise you might feel like you regret a snack you could have saved! Which leads me to…

  • Save your treats. Everyone loves a cheat day. Have you ever seen what the Rock gets up to on his cheat days? Absolute food goals. Anyway, I digress… I really think a set day for some treats helps me stay focused – and it feels even better when you’ve worked hard for it. Life is supposed to be about balance, after all, so save the treats for savouring.

  • Be kind to yourself. Come on – we’re living in turbulent times at the moment. You might not be able to fulfil all of your fitness and nutrition goals right now, but with a bit of motivation and support, you’ll well and truly get there in these unpredictable moments.

I really hoped this has helped a little bit. For me, it’s shone a little light onto why I feel the need to eat more when I’m bored – but also know you’re really not alone. Without wanting to quote High School Musical – we are all in this together and we will be fighting fit through this. I can’t wait to get back to normality but for now, if you do need me I’m not too far away (of course, at a safe social distance!)

Let’s try and stay focused, positive and make each and every Day count – no matter how different things may seem at the moment.


Eating When Bored:

Revision of the Emotional Eating Scale With a Focus on Boredom (2011)

Afton M. Koball, Molly R. Meers, Amy Storfer-Isser, Sarah E. Domoff, and Dara R. Musher-Eizenman

Boredom proneness and emotion regulation predict emotional eating Amanda C Crockett, Samantha K Myhre and Paul D Rokke (2015)

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