“While many of us started off lockdown with good intentions, by now there’s a feeling of irritability, boredom and a glumness about being cooped up – and, inevitably, this is causing many of us to turn to comfort eating,” says registered dietitian Helen Bond.

“Mindless eating and drinking is the biggest lockdown pitfall, especially as the weeks go on,” she adds.

It’s all too easily done. You’re now only ever a few steps away from the kitchen, after all, and if things aren’t going right at work, a 3pm chocolate feels all but necessary. Follow that up with a deep-fried snack in the evening, and it’s easy to see how five kilos – or even the dreaded ‘quarantine 15’ (the likely number of extra pounds gained during lockdown) – might creep up on you.

I have one friend who has been so stressed juggling her busy job in IT with home schooling, she’s started eating one of her three children’s Easter eggs for lunch each day. “I feel awful, but it’s become a habit,” she says.

Another bad habit is grazing from 3pm onwards. “When I was in the office, I was busy, and never had snacks between meals,” said another. “But I’m furloughed and picking at food because I’m bored.”

But there are very real risks of being overweight in the time of Covid-19. Scientists at Edinburgh, Liverpool and Imperial College London universities found a link between excess weight and developing more severe symptoms of coronavirus and being hospitalised.

In lockdown, our calorie needs have changed. “Pre-lockdown, the average woman needed around 2,000 calories per day and the average man around 2,500,” says Bond. “But if you’re quite sedentary, you can probably knock a couple of hundred off that figure.”

Yet being cooped up with only the balcony for fresh air, “has given this strange time a holiday feel”, says Bond. “But there’s a stress that hangs over it, which is causing many of us to eat and drink even more than usual. However, alcohol is second only to fat in terms of calorie value, and leads to what I call the ‘lockdown nibbles’.”

Alcohol weakens our resolve around food and disrupts sleep, which can lead to cravings. Getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night causes levels of the hormone ghrelin, which signals hunger, to go up, and levels of leptin, the sense of fullness hormone, to drop.

Bond suggests returning to our eating habits pre Covid-19.

Despite the name, “comfort food” – high in sugar and heavily processed – only makes us feel temporarily better after the initial high from the rise in blood glucose. When that plummets, we feel lower and more tired than before.

But there is some good news. Bond says this is no time to diet: “Purely because when people do, their nutrient intake often falls, and vitamins and minerals are vital to support our immune system. But it’s certainly important to eat well. Protein is the most satiating nutrient, so have a good portion with every meal because it will keep you fuller for longer. And ensure no more than a third of your meal is carbohydrate.”

Bond also recommends following the recent UK government 400:600:600 campaign, which advises us to distribute calories across the day: “Have a 400-calorie breakfast, a 600-calorie lunch and a 600-calorie dinner, eating across all the food groups, with a couple of healthy snacks thrown in,” she says. “Do that and if you’re a healthy weight, it’ll remain steady. And if you’re carrying excess weight, you’ll lose it.” (However, please consult your doctor before starting any diet or making any changes to your prescribed diet plans.)

In terms of meals, Bond advises simplicity. Roast cherry tomatoes or scrambled eggs on toast, or salads containing leafy green and colourful vegetables, a little fat (avocado and olive oil), a portion of protein (salmon, chickpeas, goats’ cheese) and a portion of carbohydrate (brown rice). “Or turn tinned pulses and beans into stews or curries,” she says.

Incidental exercise, says personal trainer Lee Mullins, is also key. “One of the biggest contributors to our daily energy output is’non-exercise activity thermogenesis’ (NEAT),” he says. “In other words, the incidental exercise we do while commuting, walking to the nearby restaurant and back at lunchtime or going from desk to desk.”

Since lockdown, our NEAT has plummeted. “Some of my clients who wear fitness trackers have seen their daily steps drop from 10,000 to 1,000,” he says. “So don’t stay rooted to your kitchen table and laptop. Keep moving. If you have stairs, go up and down them often.”

Like Bond, Mullins says the lockdown can send you one of two ways: “You can either see it as a time to become more sedentary. Or as a good time to develop a few new habits and emerge from it fitter and healthier than before.”

The Daily Telegraph

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