To the people who know me best for my low carb eating approach, my commitment for intermittent fasting and my inspiring post on Instagram about morning routines: I’m currently spooning 200-gram can of dulce de leche. At times, on a daily basis. Sorry, not sorry. #quarantinelife
In this article, I will address why our bodies turn to comfort food in times of crisis, why it’s necessary to be nice to ourselves nicely while the world seems to be up in flames and how you can find a balance of treats and nutrition.
Comfort Eating In Times Of The Covid Pandemic
What is it your Lockdown Lifeline during this global pandemic? Unless you’re not reading this from your yacht or domicile in the Hamptons I assume you, too been affected by major changes to your daily routines and trying to cope with this strange, new situation.
The global health and economic crisis brings us uncertainty and stress. And the routines, that gave us a form of stability and predictability have vanished. It’s understandable if you feeling anxious right now.
As the world went into lockdown, I find myself in Lima, Peru. At first, I embraced a new adventure in a new country and was eager to explore local food customs and tastes. The new quickly turned into being locked in the same room for weeks, I also seek into indulging into something familiar.
I suddenly found a can of dulce de leche in the supermarket. Despite my better knowledge, I choose some childhood memories instead of worrying about all that sugar.
Long before dulce de leche became popular in Germany, it was used in Poland and my mum and aunt would add it into their baking. The cans of sweet condensed milk would need roughly two hours to cook on the stove and required real patience. After ages, when the can was finally cooled and could be opened, I was only allowed to spoon out the leftovers.
But the good thing about being an adult is, getting to eat all the good stuff like cookie dough or a full can of sugar by yourself.
In a mix of sugar rush and childhood memories I could drown my responsibilities as an adult for a while enjoying its pleasures. (And maybe I was so greedy that I cut myself on the rim of the can when I wanted to sniff out the rest.)
Crisis Mode And Comfort Food
According to theOxford English Dictionary, “comfort food” is “food that comforts or affords solace; hence, any food (freq. with a high sugar or carbohydrate content) that is associated with childhood or with home cooking. orig. N. Amer.” Merriam-Webster’s 10th editionCollegiate Dictionarydefines comfort food as fare “prepared in a traditional style having a usually nostalgic or sentimental appeal,” while in theEncyclopedia of Food and Culture(2002), Julie Locher notes that it is “any food consumed by individuals, often during periods of stress, that evokes positive emotions and is associated with significant social relationships.”
Jones, M., & Long, L. (2017). Introduction. In Jones M. & Long L. (Eds.), Comfort Food: Meanings and Memories (pp. 3-16). Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. doi:10.2307/j.ctv5jxmmz.3
And with our society being obsessed with food, this is the ressource best available when we deal with emotions.
The Role Of Sugar And Carbohydrates When You’re Stressed
In a crisis our body produce the stress hormone cortisol. Under stress the body requires as much fuel as possible to fight or flee, and sugar is the ultimate fuel. It gives you immediate energy. Cortisol raises blood sugar and increases the desire for sugar and salt. But fast releasing carbohydrates like sugar, glucose, wheat, cereals and crisps cause your body to spike your insulin levels, but what follows is a fast crash of insulin and your are soon hungry again.
We almost cannot avoid cravings.
To prevent the insulin crush it would be better we would consume slow releasing carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables. But under stress we rather make short-term decisions, based on the resources that we have now. Processed food is easy and everywhere available. You don’t have to wash, peel or cut anything – just tear open a packaging and stuff it in your mouth (nobody’s watching anyways).
Beware Of Malnutrition
When we’re in survival mode, we tend to turn to cheaper, less nutritious food.
It’s a trap. The insulin rush from the sweet or salty „treats“ makes you crave more sugar and more crappy food. The food industry designed food that makes us addictive. You are supposed to eat when you’re not hungry and buy more of whatever gives you quick pleasure. Or did you ever actually not finished a package of crisps once it’s open? How long did this joy actually last?
This is why poor communities with lack of nutritious food are the most often overweight. Poor people make poor decision because their brains are in constant survival mode.
We must not fall into the trap of seeking short term gratification because we pay for it long term with our health. (I can already see my skin paying the price for my newly addiction to dulce de leche.)
Although the couple of pounds more you’re gaining in this lockdown aren’t the problem, the new trained habits are. It will be hard to get back into a healthy food routine again. It’s easier to maintain a lifestyle than create a new habit.
Treat Yourself But Find A Balance
“Satisfaction is not a sign that you’ve lost control”. Christiana Johnson
A treat is something occasionally. When it becomes the norm, it’s not special anymore. Apply the 80/20 rule. Give yourself in in whatever you please 20% of the time without guilt, but do something for your body the rest 80% of the time. This way you are better able to maintain a healthy lifestyle and some snacks every now and then won’t destroy that.
The common sense of natural, unprocessed food. Protein and fat will keep you full for longer than carbohydrates. Put the sweet treats after a nourishing meal. Your insulin levels will increase slower and therefor fall slower. You will feel less tired and have better energy. Keep the pizza and crisps for the night.
Nourish your brain and body. Get out in the fresh air, cook fresh if you can. And I know you don’t like to hear it, but give some workout a try. It will reduce your stress and anxiety, give you lucky hormones and help you to sleep better. Don’t do it because you must but because you may. Don’t see workout as a punishment for your body you only link with an excessive routine to lose weight or trim yourself.
Begin with a little stretching routine. Just a couple of minutes. Make yourself comfortable. Be nice to yourself. You deserve it.
There is no shame in indulging or fighting stress the easiest way.
But we have to parent ourselves now. So remember what our parents teach us: Eat your vegetables first, then comes dessert.