This article is written purely from findings I have [personally witnessed and worked through relating to my nutrition patients. I will also add here that most of the emotional stressors relating to the below was surprisingly based on unstable nutrition and eating patterns during six months of lockdown – especially the first three months of extreme lockdown.
The word “lockdown” is scary enough never mind the commanding and unsettling sate we had to endure regarding Covid-19. We, as a society are used to freedom, excess and as much toilet paper as we wish to purchase. Surprisingly the latter seemed to, in the worldwide lockdown, evoke the beast in most who came to blows to purchase the last standing bale of loo roll out there. I was amused that as rumours of food scarcity and other essential items were about it was the humble two ply that reigned as king to the human race when we faced some of our worst fears.
Obviously time told the truth –as it always does, that food was not scared nor our esteemed bog rolls but what time also did was begin to show cracks in our carefully thought out system to combat the spread of corona. Flattening the curve by keeping us cooped up seemed to split the population. Some stating that we were dept in doors for months yet the virus spread. Others believing the spread was not exasperated thanks to being in lockdown. Even some stating that corona is a political war weapon used to control the populations. Going further to state that Malaria, Diabetes, Cancer and Malnutrition deaths far exceed the global death toll to date hence this must be the greatest scam of the century. The truth is that nobody knows. I doubt we ever will.
This aside I will share my finding throughout this strange and unsettling period that was specifically relevant to me as a practising Clinical Nutritionist.
1. It seemed the thought of food scarcity made a bigger impact on us than our unnecessary bulk buying:
Many of my patients, friends and family reported to me that they were rediscovering their love for food diversity after their fear of the possibility of food scarcity abated. Many said how they were going to miss the opportunity to eat carbs again, purchase flour to bake goodies again and especially found the loss of maybe never being able to drink a “decent” coffee again. But when these silly notions were put to rest and they found that there were indeed no food shortages only occasional empty shelves because many feared the above and bulk bought for no reason a great love of these and many more foods were indulged in – excessively and every day! Very soon after lock down the calls and emails and whatsapp’s started rolling in and I found myself swamped with the same subject. Weight gain. From the patent to the children all general consensus was that as people progressed into deeper stages of lockdown increased weight was also increasing. This was a huge influence on all of their emotional state where the various aspects affected adults and children in different ways namely poor self image and becoming shy and stating that luckily they cannot go on play dates or social visits because they don’t look good anymore. For the adults there was more of an urgent and frustrating degree of upset emotional state that would spill out when we would ascertain how they were feeling mentally and physically. Financial pressure, fear of them or a loved elder family member contracting the feared virus, difficulty sleeping and overall heightened general anxiety all stemmed from their unbalanced emotional state that would lead to overeating all day “because that is all we get to do freely” as one patient put it to me. This was because the “normal” way of eating was changed drastically overnight – at the stroke of midnight to be exact – and the new eating times, new foods, comfort eating and changed nutritional patterns lead may to feel lethargic, weak and with increasing digestive conditions such as constipation. Added new means of adapting to on-line homeschooling, working from home and all round restructured living and working conditions negatively impacted many.
2. I miss my family and friends.
In short this impacted all of us and lead many to feel emotionally and physically distant from their loved ones and their support structures. Many told me that video calls were an anaemic form of communication and that all they needed was a hug from their parents, adult children living overseas or their siblings or best friend. I completely agreed and understood as we as humans are social beings needing contact for our well being. Why is bonding so important straight after birth? Why is a hug sometimes all we need? Why is holding a dying persons hand so comforting for them and us holding their hand in their last hours of life on this planet? The answer is simply because without touch we – all of us – become very little, banal, obsolete, non-human. To me at least. And how did this impact their eating patterns? Greatly. I found this to be because what we could control was what we ate, how often and with so much time on our hands eating became, in a way – our lost family or friend. Always there, always comforting us, never unavailable. It might seem silly to try and relate emotional state with nutrition in the aftermath of Cornoa but it is more amalgamated and connected than one might think and I hope this article will help one understand how fundamentally our nutritional and emotional wellbeing truly is.
3. I can’t cook.
This is the most obvious issue that many faced due to lockdown and the inaccessibility to source an eatery that could cater to their nutritional needs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Added many domestic angels or grandparents or aunties who left due to Covid and who saw to a families meal prep and cooking was no longer an option so the only choice was to eat foods that were from shelves, frozen or readymade. Most of these foods are high in sugar, salt, saturated fats and preservatives and if eaten daily, three to four times per week including snaking – not only will weight gain be a definite but many other conditions began to increase including cholesterol, insulin and blood pressure levels. I found that most of my patients who were already experiencing weight issues before lockdown that I was working with seemed to automatically show some of the above medical increases shortly after lockdown was imposed.
4. I am hungry all the time.
This is purely based on high anxiety, depressed emotional state. When external factors (environmental, political, financial and so on) start to negatively impact the internal self, the body and mind start to look for ways to cope with this and mood affects appetite. This happens by either causing one to overeat or eat too little both causing major issues with one’s health. The most common affects of this is overeating due to eating certain foods such as high sugar high fat foods that cause chemical changes in the brain and giving the brain and body the temporary feeling happiness, calm and being sated. However the more we need to feel this way, the more we need to feed off these damaging foods the worse we become mentally and physically. Side effects of this show in weight gain, health conditions such as diabetes and or obesity, insomnia and so on. At least half of my patients, family and friends reported going through these feeling of being hungry and sad at the same time during lockdown but, surprisingly too, post lockdown (we are currently on level 1). When researching deeper into to why they would still feel this way now that most of “normal” life has returned the general response from them to me was that nothing is normal anymore or that they lost so much and felt so much this year that they somehow feel like they are at a loss of something, that they are mourning a loss they cannot explain and lastly that they feel still so out of control of many losses – financial, personal, some the death of a close family member or friend – that all these losses has them so down that they do not really feel any more free than in Lockdown level 5. Persons that might have experienced social anxiety or agoraphobia before lockdown and felt a sense of normality during lockdown will also struggle even more so to adapt to the “normal” normal. Although I see this as a result of many things including PTSS – post traumatic stress, I understand that we need to understand that emotional sadness for whatever reasons determined by the sufferer does not magic away just because we are on lockdown level 1 and not 5. That for them a loss of a loved one, a business, bankruptcy, freedom – is still a loss to them and will continue to be so regardless of if we are still wearing masks or not.
The way forward is never simple but there is great solace in the fact that there IS a way forward. Be it in finding professional help for mental or physical assistance, reaching out to a friend or family member, vocalising your concerns’, finding support groups or institutions that you can visit and attend with persons experiencing your conditions – whatever it may be remember there is always a way forward long before and long after Covid-19.