How not to balloon inside your bubble

Let’s face it, we’re most of us eating and drinking more than usual due to being in close proximity to our kitchens 24-7. Jim Kayes ponders the post-lockdown implications of over-indulgence. 

The email landed when I was in the middle of a conversation with my youngest daughter about whether she could make a batch of vanilla cupcakes. I’d said she couldn’t, but knew it was a losing argument because she was bored and wanted something to do. So I suggested she make something healthier instead.

Her lockdown baking had already included several batches of chocolate slice (which is extremely good), a sticky apricot slice and lots of scones (cheese scones are clearly superior).

She’s not alone. Social media is awash with photos of baking, and Easter was the peach frosting on top, with a flood of hot cross bun posts.

As for the vanilla cupcakes, we compromised with banana muffins that came out of the oven with chocolate chips in them too! Go figure.

So, when the email landed from the editor asking for a piece on why we are eating and drinking so much more, it was a case of work imitating life.

Baking and booze have taken over my lockdown.

“Food is a lot more than just sustenance,” nutrition writer Niki Bezzant says. “Very few people see food as just fuel. For most of us it’s a pleasure to enjoy and sharing food is a nice thing to do.

“Studies have also shown that kids who have a family meal have better mental health and eat more veges.”

Baking is a great distraction, but it's important not to get carried away. Photo: Supplied

So there is a sense of comfort found in our lockdown eating and drinking, and baking can give us (or, more importantly, our children) something to do and a sense of accomplishment. But it does come with a rider, a health warning of sorts.

“Cooking is a great thing to do with kids but I’d encourage you to cook meals together, rather than baking,” Bezzant says.

Claire Turnbull from dietician and nutritionists Mission Nutrition agrees. “It’s a really good opportunity to get kids in the kitchen and to learn about food. But rather than just baking, get them to learn other skills like making an omelette or soup,” she says.

“This is an opportunity for children to learn skills they will use for the rest of their lives.”

Turnbull and Bezzant both say the key to surviving the lockdown without having to upsize our clothes is establishing – and sticking to – a routine.

“The world is falling apart and you don’t know what day it is, so it’s easy to have a drink and more to eat."

That means trying to replicate your old work day patterns, eating when you’re hungry rather than grazing all day, and trying to eat just breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Turnbull says having 10-12 hours between dinner and breakfast is important too. “We need to go without food, but that late night snack is easier than ever in the lockdown.”

So too is a beer or wine any night of the week because many of us don’t have to go to work the next day and won’t be getting up for that 6am gym work out.

Turnbull suggests changing our access to food. Put healthy options at the front of the fridge, move the biscuits to a top shelf and put the beer and wine in a cupboard.

And try to keep the boozing to the weekends.

When I admit I’m failing at almost all of this, Turnbull suggests I won’t be alone – which is reassuring, because who wants to get fat in lockdown by themselves?

She also notes that most of us know how we should be looking after ourselves. However, “what we know and what we do are two different things,” she says. “We make over 200 decisions to do with food every day and most of them are subconscious.”

This includes little things like having a biscuit as you wait for the jug to boil or reaching for the third beer without even realising you are.

“The world is falling apart and you don’t know what day it is, so it’s easy to have a drink and more to eat,” Turnbull says.

They’re coping strategies to ease that feeling of stress and boredom. “Because we are in a crisis, a lot of the behaviour that isn’t helpful becomes much more justifiable.”

It's easy to drink more than you normally would, given you don't have to get up for that 6am gym workout, but drinking three glasses of wine equates to eating seven slices of white bread. Photo: Supplied

There is some good news though. We aren’t eating takeaways, for starters, and Bezzant hopes an academic study is already under way looking at the potential benefits of Kiwis eating mostly home-cooked meals.

“A lot of people would never have been in the situation of having to prepare three meals a day, because some might skip breakfast, get lunch at work and have takeaways for dinner.” 

So the silver icing on the cupcake is that new, good, habits can be formed during lockdown too. 

Turnbull recommends writing down five things to do instead of having another muffin during the day or that extra wine at night. They could be as simple as listening to music, going for a walk, calling a friend or reading a book.

“Whatever it is, you need a new pathway that you can repeat until it becomes automatic.”

Both Turnbull and Bezzant have rather depressing facts to support their advice. A standard beer or wine, for example, takes an hour to be processed by our bodies and have a huge effect on whether we get deep restorative sleep. Three beers or wines in the evening delay that much-needed deep sleep by three hours.

And then there’s the (literally) pressing issue of whether our pants will still fit post-lockdown.

Bezzant says drinking three glasses of wine equates to eating seven slices of white bread, with the energy input going straight to our backsides and bellies.

“Food and drink are coping mechanisms and that’s perfectly understandable, but not ideal,” she says of the baking and booze binging. “It’s something to keep an eye on because it’s a huge contributor to weight gain. So if you don’t want to come out of lockdown with a few extra kilos, then it is something to reduce.”

It’s food for thought, at least.

*Made with the support of NZ On Air*

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