Should you be aiming to lose weight during lockdown? No pressure – after all, you’re probably already trying to juggle homeschooling, work life, and family care – but with some experts suggesting that body fat should be considered alongside age when it comes to calculating who’s most at risk from Covid-19, it’s worth at least considering.
Research from Brown University, Rhode Island, suggests that patients with a BMI over 35 are more likely to go into intensive care, and those with a BMI over 30 when combined with a history of heart disease are more likely to need ventilation. Once that occurs, excess weight can also cause other problems – one study reports that it’s slightly more difficult to intubate obese patients, while there’s evidence that excess fatty tissue can complicate ventilator management.
Finally, of course, being excessively overweight can cause other health issues.
First things first, though: this isn’t the time for drastic measures. The effects of dieting on the immune system aren’t fully understood – at least one study has suggested that eating less might actually enhance it in some cases – but research on Olympic athletes found that severe caloric restriction can impact both immunity to and recovery from illness. That means you shouldn’t aim to cut calories too drastically, but also that you should pay attention to nutrient density, by eating foods that are high in the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients your body needs, rather than ones that just fill you up.
Exercise shouldn’t be your first priority when it comes to fat loss. Though doing your morning PE – or an 11am walk, or a handful of squats while you watch Netflix – has a host of benefits, the caloric burn associated with even a hard half-hour of lunges and burpees barely equates to half a dozen biscuits. And, frankly, jumping into an intense exercise regime with no training history to lean on might do more harm than good.
So, what should you be doing? The simple answer is to build good habits around food, and break – or at least control – bad ones.
"One solution is to work on your intuitive eating," says Mays Al-Ali, a nutritionist (healthymays.com). "When you’re thinking about snacking, stop to ask yourself, ‘am I hungry, or am I bored? Has something upset me?’ If you’re hungry, have something – otherwise, address the problem, maybe by going for a walk or doing something creative." Drinking water will also help: it’s easy to mistake thirst for hunger.
And while you have more time at home, take advantage: "Learning to cook and meal prep can be incredibly mindful," says Lee Chambers, a performance nutritionist (essentialise.co.uk). "It bolsters our mental health as we gain the satisfaction of creating something from scratch, and is something that can put a smile on others’ faces."
Batch cooking can be an easy way to avoid the lure of a Deliveroo or a ready-made dinner: "Include pulses and beans to aid satiety and digestion," says Al-Ali. "You should also be eating 0.8g of protein per kilo of body weight a day, so consider adding extra to meals that don’t include enough – I’ll throw a scoop in my morning porridge, for example."
If snacking is an issue, switch the worst of your weekly shop for healthier options – Al-Ali suggests switching milk chocolate for dark chocolate, for instance, which you’re less likely to binge on – and keep biscuits and sugary cereal out of sight, so you’re less likely to grab some on a tea run.
Everyone’s facing their own challenges in lockdown, and adding to them with a restrictive diet shouldn’t be anyone’s priority. But at the same time, this could be the ideal moment to assess how you eat, learn new kitchen skills, and master a handful of recipes to replace your fast food habits. It could change – and even save – your life.
The Daily Telegraph