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Habit your own way

In a year of disruptions that most of us would prefer to forget, lockdowns have been a major challenge for those wanting to maintain a healthy weight.

Having lost the predictability of established routines, people found themselves in the strange position of being at home, in unfamiliar surroundings.

As dining tables became desks, kids became colleagues, and kitchens became canteens, people found working from home played havoc with healthy living and eating, and today many are keen to get back on track and break the unhealthy habits that have crept upon them.

A recent analysis of 23 studies on the impact of lockdown on dietary habits during the Covid-19 outbreak1 reveals a range of issues related to weight management.

A total of 10 studies reported an increase in snack consumption, while six found participants increased the number and frequency of meals while under stay-at-home orders.

Nine studies found a reduction in fresh produce consumed, with a further six reporting an increase in the consumption of comfort food, including fried, snack and processed food, and lollies.

Other issues included increased alcohol consumption, a reduction in physical exercise, and widespread reports of participants gaining unwanted weight.

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Among those 23 studies, 11 reported positive changes in the participant’s dietary habits.

These included increased consumption of fresh produce, more home cooking, and reduced consumption of takeaway food, comfort food and alcohol.

The ups and downs of lockdown

So how have some participants managed to rise up when locked down?

Retail Pharmacy Assistants spoke to Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokeswoman for Dietitians Australia, Lisa Renn, to understand more about the challenges of lockdown, and how to overcome them.

“There are six principles to consider when aiming to manage our weight, particularly when we find ourselves facing challenging circumstances: have a routine, plan meals, avoid ‘all or nothing’, be aware of alcohol, allow nice things, and set your intentions,” she says.

“If we focus on these, it’s only a matter of time before we’re at the point we want to reach.”

  • Routine and meal planning 

Ms Renn says that for those working from home, and certainly for those who aren’t working, a lack of routine is the biggest issue in avoiding weight gain.

“So, having a routine for when you wake, when you eat and when you exercise, along with knowing what you plan to eat are really important foundational things that people can be looking at in order to get back on track,” she says.

  • Snacking

When looking at meal planning, having suitable snacks available is really important.

“We don’t necessarily want meals to be a size that’s so massive that you get from one meal to the next one without being hungry,” says Ms Renn.

“So, if you’re aiming to be hungry between meals, ensure your portion size isn’t too large, and have snacks available, such as nuts, fruit, yoghurt or milk.

“Occasionally, a protein bar or nut bar is OK, too.

“While those types of bars aren’t really an everyday thing, if people can vary the snacks they consume, it’s going to be healthier and provide a greater breadth of nutrition.”

  • Avoid ‘all or nothing’

Often when people decide to lose weight, it’s a spur-of-the-moment decision driven by emotion.

At these times, it’s common for people to over-commit, which only sets them up for failure.

“The weight management principle to use here is to avoid ‘all or nothing’ decisions, both in plans and statements, because there’s there’s no need to be perfect,” says Ms Renn.

“Saying ‘I’m not going to eat any more takeaway’ or ‘I’ll never drink alcohol again’ isn’t going to be very helpful. Avoid those big statements, because it’s about succeeding, which needs us to be realistic.”

  • Be aware of alcohol

With around seven calories per gram, alcohol contains almost as many calories as pure fat, while alcoholic drinks high in sugar also mean people are consuming lots of empty calories, which typically leads to weight gain.

“Alcohol is certainly a big contributor to weight gain, so if a patient says they’re currently drinking every day, it’s wise to set the plan based on reduction, not ceasing altogether,” says Ms Renn.

  • Allow ‘nice things’

It’s important to consider the importance of mental health when planning how to go about losing weight.

If a person is too brutal in the choices they make, they’ll not only struggle to stick to the plan, but also be likely to find the regime depressing, and therefore lack motivation.

“I recommend those managing their weight take into account the things they love and avoid cutting them out altogether,” says Ms Renn.

“People don’t usually last very long before breaking out to eat some chocolate or drink some alcohol if those are what they enjoy.

“It’s all about how much and how often. If you try to make it never, it’s really not sustainable in the long term.”

  • Set realistic intentions

If people find they’re gaining weight during a lockdown and struggling to stick to diets or other strategies they may have tried, it may be best simply to set a goal of maintaining their current weight until circumstances return to normal.

By setting a realistic goal expectation over a short time period, such as a week, many people find they’re more successful.

“Take a realistic approach instead of feeling that you have to be perfect and setting unrealistic expectations for yourself,” says Ms Renn.

“Often, all that’s needed is to just make a couple of adjustments to the way you would normally do things.”

To read the feature in full as it appears in the September issue of Retail Pharmacy Assistants e-magazine, visit: rpassistants.com.au/magazines/retail-pharmacy-assistants-september-2021/ 

Reference 

  1. Bennett G, Young E, Butler I, Coe S. ‘The impact of lockdown during the Covid-19 outbreak on dietary habits in various population groups: A scoping review’. Frontiers in Nutrition, 2021; 8: 626432.
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