THE end of the third coronavirus lockdown (fingers crossed) is just four weeks away.
As well as excitement, many people are feeling anxious about returning to normal due to putting on weight in lockdown.
There are clear reasons why people gain pounds or have developed bad habits around junk food, says Tamara Willner, from NHS-backed healthy eating plan Second Nature.
The nutritionist reveals that while some people might resort to drastic measures to shift the weight before June 21, she warns against ‘quick fix’ dieting.
Instead, she says the key is to make small changes over the next four weeks.
Here’s Tamara’s 10 tips to break lockdown junk food habits
1. Explore your cravings
Rather than trying to ignore your cravings, try getting curious and recognising how you feel when you crave or eat a particular food., Tamara says.
Understanding what happens when we eat junk food helps us to step back and become less interested in this habit.
Are you stressed? Hungry? Repeat this process to break the habit of feeling compelled to eat from cravings.
2. Try the ‘if/then’ exercise
Think about what’s triggered you to snack in the past, and write solutions for the future. Then when you’re faced with these situations again, you’ll feel better prepared with a plan to manage them.
Here Tamara gives some examples of scenarios this could relate to.
- If I’m bored at home and get the urge to snack, then I’ll listen to a podcast
- If I’m feeling upset after watching the news and I get a craving for ice cream, then I’ll do a crossword puzzle for 5 minutes
- If I feel overwhelmed with a lack of routine, then I’ll call my friend for a chat
3. Eat junk food mindfully
Tamara say that you can eat junk food occasionally and free from distractions and enjoy it so that you feel satisfied without overeating it.
Eating mindfully can help us tune into our internal hunger signals and prevent them from being overridden.
Try eating your snack at a table or on the sofa, while focusing solely on the process of eating.
On top of this, fully engage your senses of taste and smell, focusing on the flavour and texture of what you’re eating.
This will help you enjoy it fully and leave you feeling more satisfied rather than wanting more.
4. Avoid attaching moral value to foods
It’s important to try to remove the guilt attached to regular snacking. One way to do this is to stop labelling foods as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘junk food’, ‘treat’, or ‘syn’.
This can foster a negative relationship with food and create an ongoing cycle of comfort snacking.
Instead, there should be foods we enjoy every day and foods that we enjoy less often.
Try to avoid putting strict rules around food, like ‘I can’t eat a bag of crisps during the week’ or ‘I’m not allowed to drink fizzy drinks ever again’.
Try to have a more balanced viewpoint, such as ‘I’ll only have chocolate when I truly feel like it.’ Then allow yourself to enjoy the chocolate when you want it and move on afterwards.
Is your weight holding your back from socialising? You’re not the only one
A quarter of people admit to feeling anxious about socialising again because they’ve put on weight over the past year – with 9% having piled on more than a stone.
Chocolate, biscuits, alcohol, takeaways and sweets are all to blame as the nation’s favourite lockdown ‘treats’, a survey by Second Nature revealed.
It found 14 per cent of 2,000 UK-based adults are worried about eating and drinking too much at social events this summer.
When asked how much weight they wanted to lose by 21 June, 20 per cent of people said 2-4kg, 15 per cent answered more than 6kg and 14 per cent said 4-6kg, while 15 per cent said 1-2kg.
Some admitted to exercising excessively (21 per cent), others are skipping meals (15 per cent), while 9 per cent are resorting to diet pills – and 9% are planning on undergoing surgery.
Pre-lockdown, holidays (28 per cent) were named as the biggest challenge when sticking to a summer diet, followed by eating at a restaurant (24 per cent), going to parties, BBQs or social gatherings (22 per cent), when alcohol is involved (22 per cent) and when at home watching TV (20 per cent ) as the biggest challenge to a summer diet.
5. Build balanced meals
Building balanced meals can help us feel satisfied and reduce the risk of junk food cravings in between meals. Here Tamara gives some examples as to the sort of foods to opt for:
- Fresh vegetables, (e.g. spinach and peppers).
- Unprocessed meat and fish (e.g. chicken or salmon).
- Wholegrain carb options (e.g. brown rice or rye bread).
6. Prioritise sleep
Did you know that how much sleep we have can directly affect our weight?
Research has shown that when people had 4.5 hours of sleep compared with 8.5 hours, the part of their brain that controls feeding and appetite was more activated.
This means they felt hungrier, ate more, and were unable to resist ultra-processed foods (such as crisps, biscuits, and cakes).
7. Manage stress levels
Many of us reach for ultra-processed junk foods when we’re stressed, which then becomes a habit over time, Tamara says.
Research suggests if we eat an unhealthy diet when we’re stressed, we’re more likely to put on weight compared with eating the same, unhealthy diet when we aren’t stressed.
This could be because chronic stress increases our insulin levels, which promotes fat storage.
To manage our stress levels, consider gentle daily exercising, like walking or yoga, or meditation.
8. Be mindful of how often you drink alcohol
Alcohol can be enjoyed occasionally as part of a healthy lifestyle. When you do drink, try to drink mindfully and avoid having more than three drinks in one sitting.
Alcohol has a 'tipping point’ – the amount of alcohol it takes for your inhibitions to be lowered such that your energy intake significantly increases over the next 48 hours.
Research has found the average tipping point is 9.3 units of alcohol or 3.7 pints of beer or 3.1 large glasses of wine.
The average additional energy intake after a person has passed their tipping point is an estimated 4,305 additional calories that same evening – more than twice the recommended daily calorie guideline for an adult woman, Tamara adds.
9. Stay hydrated
Often we can mistake feelings of thirst for hunger, so making sure we drink enough water means we are less likely to misinterpret these cues and overeat.
Tamara says you should aim for eight glasses of water each day.
You can set reminders on your mobile or leave sticky notes around your house to remind you and increase the chances of you adopting this habit.
10. If you really want something, have it!
Tamara says that one of the most important but overlooked aspects of making healthy changes is making sure that we still incorporate the foods/drinks we love in our diet, rather than entirely restricting ourselves.
Just aim to have less healthy things occasionally rather than regularly.
This means we’re far more likely to stick to our lifestyle changes in the long term, which is more important than seeing short-term results and reverting to our old ways.
It also means we’re less likely to enter the unhealthy cycle of binging, harbouring guilt and resorting to drastic measures, not being able to keep it up and binging again.
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