Coronavirus Australia: Tips to prevent comfort eating during COVID-19

Easter has come and gone and an obesity expert says “there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have lost a kilo” by the time our coronavirus social isolation ends too.

news.com.auApril 14, 20202:45pm

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Dr Nick Fuller has shared his tips on preventing comfort eating given many Australians are working from home. Picture: Brendon Thorne/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Most Aussies gain weight between Christmas and Easter and spend the rest of the year trying to work it off, an obesity expert says.

Add the coronavirus pandemic to that, when we're stressed, at home more and even closer to our fridge and pantry, and the weight gain rises.

"We've been hit with another one of these holiday breaks and it's very likely that we come out of this and we will have put weight on," Dr Nick Fuller from the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre told news.com.au on Monday.

"We end up putting on even more in this year of 2020 as opposed to the 0.5kg to 1kg each year."

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Dr Nick Fuller from the University of Sydney.

Dr Nick Fuller from the University of Sydney.Source:Supplied

Dr Fuller, who runs intervalweightloss.com.au, shared his top tips for preventing comfort eating during the COVID-19 crisis as most of us get used to working from home or being inside a lot more in the months ahead.

ARE YOU HUNGRY OR JUST BORED?

Kitchen benches and dining tables have transformed into new home offices across Australia since we entered a state of shut down.

Dr Fuller says making yourself a drink is one way to ascertain whether you're hungry or simply looking for something else to do at home.

"If you're working in the kitchen at the moment, working on the kitchen bench or in a small home environment, turn on the kettle," he said.

"Make yourself a warm drink or have a water with some lime. Assess whether you're hungry."

A warm drink might be the cure to your boredom rather than another meal. Picture: iStock

A warm drink might be the cure to your boredom rather than another meal. Picture: iStockSource:istock

PREVENT THE HUNGER PAINS

Eating regularly is the sure-fire way to put a stop to hunger pains.

"If you eat regularly, you prevent hunger creeping in," Dr Fuller said.

"If hunger creeps in, you're more likely to go 'what the hell' or 'I need to get my hands on anything else I can' and that's when you'll reach for the cheese and the wine.”

He said it is just as easy to reach for fruit, nuts and seeds or avocado on toast than for a processed, sugary hit.

"There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be putting those foods into the shopping trolley," he told news.com.au.

"It is a misconception that it's easier to go and buy that chocolate bar."

REACH FOR NATURE FIRST

Speaking of options, Dr Fuller said eating foods that are naturally occurring in sugar and fat will release the same feel-good response in the brain.

"When you feel a bit down, food's going to give us that high," Dr Fuller said.

"Not only do you get that high when you eat the nature-first food but afterwards you feel great because you feel full, you’re getting the nutrition you need and you don’t feel guilty."

He said it means you are still comfort eating, just with the right foods.

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Fruit is packed full of nutrition and naturally-occurring sugar. Picture: iStock

Fruit is packed full of nutrition and naturally-occurring sugar. Picture: iStockSource:istock

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People also have no reason to feel guilty about stocking up on the staples such as pasta and rice – unless of course you wiped your local supermarket shelves clean of the stock.

"We know that these foods are nutritious, they should be part of our day-to-day eating plan, they’re very cost effective and able to be made in large batches," Dr Fuller said.

"It’s a misconception that carbohydrates are bad for us and will cause weight gain."

Supermarket shelves were stripped bare of pasta when social distancing measures were announced.

Supermarket shelves were stripped bare of pasta when social distancing measures were announced.Source:News Corp Australia

DON'T DEPRIVE YOURSELF

Dr Fuller urged people not to reach for the processed and packaged foods at home such as big packets of chips and chocolate biscuits because "we never put the packet down".

"It’s about learning to say no, being able to say no most of the time," he said.

Powering through the packet will also result in returning to the supermarket to buy even more processed and packaged foods.

But he said you can have your favourite treat once per week and suggested buying chocolate, chips or ice cream in single-serve packets.

"Deprivation only works in the short-term, that’s a big reason why diets work," Dr Fuller said.

"We see the weight go down (then) the weight goes back up because our body fights the weight loss and we reintroduce those bad habits.

"We can’t stick to those food avoidances lifelong."

He said the "all or nothing" approach doesn't work and cutting foods out will typically last eight to 12 weeks before "those cravings will come back with a vengeance".

JUMP ON THE SCALES

Roughly 70 per cent of Australians are currently overweight, or two in three people, and that figure is increasing every year, Dr Fuller said.

"It's not slowing down, it's not reversing and it's these holiday times that we particularly see the increase in weight that people struggle to reverse," he said.

Close to one in three suffer from obesity.

Dr Fuller said a daily weigh-in is unnecessary and recommended once a week. Picture: iStock

Dr Fuller said a daily weigh-in is unnecessary and recommended once a week. Picture: iStockSource:istock

Dr Fuller said people should monitor their weight over time by jumping on the scales once a week.

"It's not the daily weigh-in because that means nothing," he said.

"Daily fluctuations in weight only create a fixation on weight, that's not what we're trying to do.

"We're just trying to take responsibility for ourselves. You can monitor the trend over time and ensure it's not going up."

TREAT ISOLATION AS AN OPPORTUNITY

Aside from the weekly weigh-in, Dr Fuller said being at home is a time when people should be exercising, preparing and cooking more food.

"It should be an opportunistic time," he said.

Whether that be trialling different recipes or exercising when you would otherwise be commuting, "it's a time when there's no excuses".

"Rather than getting to the end of COVID-19 and everyone’s put on a kilo, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have lost a kilo," Dr Fuller said.

"We’re fearing this crisis and we’re using identity excuses and we’re saying that it’s very hard to stop comfort eating, it’s very hard to get my exercise up.

"Really, surround yourself with nature’s treats and get in more activity because you have more time on your hands. It’s time to regain control of your health and your weight."

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Exercise is one reasonable excuse to leave the home. Picture: William West/AFP

Exercise is one reasonable excuse to leave the home. Picture: William West/AFPSource:AFP

If you need some guidance, accredited practising dietitians are available for in-person and telehealth appointments.

“Community based allied health professionals, such as dietitians, are a valuable resource to help Australians maintain their health in the community,” Dietitians Association of Australia chief executive Robert Hunt said in a statement.

“Dietitians are now able to support their clients via online platforms and phone consultations as well as through in person appointments, to provide continued clinical nutrition care and guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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