According to a report by Raisin.co.uk, on average we are enjoying an additional 333 calories a day while confined to our houses. And comfort eating and drinking is to blame.
The survey reveals the average Brit is consuming three alcoholic drinks a day while reaching for "comfort treats". The most popular lockdown snack is cheese on toast, for 22 per cent of the nation, followed by crisps (21 per cent), bacon sandwiches (19 per cent), chocolate cake (19 per cent) and cheese and crackers (18 per cent)
Registered dietitian and founder of Nutrition Rocks, Hala El-Shafie, says she's had a sharp rise in clients reaching out via social media, concerned about their unhealthy eating habits since lockdown began. "Everyone's usual coping mechanisms have been taken away from them and many are turning to food instead.
"They can't see friends and family or socialise in the same way they used to be able to, and they are substituting with alcohol and sugary snacks," she explains. Indeed, almost half of the nation (48 per cent) say the thing they miss most about life before lockdown is being able to see friends and family.
But El-Shafie argues that comfort eating is counter intuitive. "Wine, sugary and fried foods are emotionally soothing in the short term, but ultimately they make anxiety and depression worse," she explains. "Overeating as a coping strategy can lead to a cycle of emotional eating. However, the worst thing you can do is jump on a diet," she says.
"Fad diets lead to long term yo-yo dieting and an unhealthy body image, often resulting in even more weight gain. The best way to lose lockdown weight is to make small sustainable switches. It's consistency that makes the biggest difference," she adds.
"These mini changes will add up over time to a good weight loss result that you will be able to stick with long term - without depriving yourself. If you follow these guidelines, you'll not only lose weight but your mood and skin improve too," promises El-Shafie.
12 easy diet switches to drop lockdown weight - healthily and sustainably
Write it down:
Begin by writing down what you eat and when, which will give you an idea of what's driving your food choices. This is the most important thing you can do, says El-Shafie, as a food diary puts you back in the driving seat. "Is it boredom, anxiety, tiredness - or are you really hungry? Are you drinking too much, grazing all day, is your head in the biscuit tin when you've had an argument with someone in your household? Sometimes it's a simple behaviour shift that needs to change, such as setting a reminder on your phone to take a break and eat a healthy meal, away from your computer screen. Once you know what's driving your unhealthy food choices you can regain control, whether that's implementing a routine or finding alternative coping mechanisms for stress, instead of comfort eating."
When lockdown began consumers were snapping up all the dried goods such as pasta and rice. Now we know there's no shortage of food, you can go back to the outer aisles and stock up on more fresh produce. And write a list, says El-Shafie. "Plan out your meals and write down the ingredients you need, so that you don't fill up your trolley with whatever is tempting you in that moment. This simple shift alone will help you to lose weight."
Organise your food cupboards:
It's not just what you're bringing into the house, but what you've already got that can derail your healthy eating. El-Shafie's mantra is "out of sight, out of mind". Put unhealthy snacks to the back (better still, put them away in a storage cupboard for another time post lockdown) and bring the healthiest foods to the front, including spices and herbs to add healthy flavouring to your meals, instead of sugary sauces.
Eat everything: "It's a myth that certain foods boost immunity. The only way to support a healthy immune system is to eat a variety and balance of different foods and to increase your fruit and veg uptake, making sure you get plenty of fibre which most Brits are lacking in," explains El-Shafie.
The healthy food plate:
"People get hung up on fads, but the easiest way to manage your weight and health is to watch your portion size and eat the correct balance of foods. We have got used to eating a large amount of carbohydrates and a little amount of protein (spaghetti bolognese is a good example) when starches should only be a small component of each meal," says El-Shafie. She suggests constructing your plate accordingly: half your plate should include vegetables or salad in a variety of colours, one quarter should be protein (vegan, meat or fish source), and one quarter complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, sweet potatoes or quinoa.' She adds, "preserving your muscle mass is important when you're losing weight as muscle loss will negatively impact your metabolism, so a sufficient portion of protein at each meal is necessary".
One of the bonuses of not being able to eat out has been a return to preparing food from scratch in our own kitchens. Get experimental with new ingredients to inspire you, says El-Shafie. "It's a great time to look at recipe books and try new things rather than relying on takeaways and ready meals which have hidden calories."
Alcohol has to go (but here's why):
Alcohol calories creep up on you. Fat has 9 calories per gram, Alcohol has 7 calories per gram, so short of pouring olive oil down your neck, there's nothing more calorific. "Let's be honest, we don't pour pub measures at home, it's so easy to keep topping up your glass without realising it. Drinking exacerbates anxiety, stimulates appetite and affects your sleep, all of which lead to weight gain - and that's on top of the calories you're consuming in the wine alone," warns El-Shafie. She adds, "It's not about not cutting out all of the things you enjoy, but be smart. There's no point eating healthily then ruining all of your effort by drinking too much. Stick to the 80/20 rule at the very least."
Retrain your palette:
Sugar has no nutritional value and is one of the worst things you can do for your skin. Sorry. "Find alternatives for your favourite sweet foods such as fruit (juice doesn't count) and your palette will adapt fairly quickly. The more salt and sugar you eat, the more you want, and the opposite is also true," explains El-Shafie.
Measure your fats:
Healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts may be good for you, but in moderation. A tablespoon of olive oil is about 120 calories, so if you're too liberal with your portions you can consume a meal's worth of calories in your salad dressing alone. Try using a measuring spoon to consume less. Chances are, one tablespoon will give you the same flavour pay off as three and will save you 240 calories in doing so.
Perhaps you're powering through the day on black coffee thinking it's zero calories. But caffeine after 12pm will affect your sleep, and lack of sleep causes weight gain as your body produces more cortisol when it's sleep deprived. Furthermore, tiredness increases your appetite and drives poor food choices. Enjoy your morning coffee but make a slow ritual of it and try to limit it to just one or two per day.
Drink more water:
Studies show that staying hydrated actually boosts metabolism. Your body can't always differentiate whether it's hungry or thirsty, so by topping up a water bottle regularly throughout the day is not only a smart thing for weight loss, it will improve your skin too.
Find stress strategies: "The best thing people can do to alleviate anxiety and stress is to swap unhealthy treats for more social connection. Zoom with friends, try a meditation app or get out in the fresh air," suggests El-Shafie. Or, if you're glued to Zoom meetings all day, try the opposite and take yourself into your bathroom for an hour of self-care. Have a bath, put on a hair mask, light a candle and chill with a good book. Chances are when you emerge, your sweet craving will have subsided.