“You eat out of boredom and stress,” says Chloe Taylor-Whitham, 19, from Sheffield, “there’s nothing else to do.”
As the weeks of living in lockdown take their toll, many of us are raiding the fridge for comfort food.
Instead of buying something fresh on the way home from work, Taylor-Whitham has been trying to recreate the things she craves, including McDonald’s cheese bites, in recipes she finds on TikTok.
“I’m definitely comfort-eating more chocolate and biscuits – even though I’m a diabetic – just as a bit of a release, to lift the mood,” says Andy Lloyd, 43, from Oldham. His OCD medication makes him put on weight, but that’s not his main concern right now.
“Half of me doesn’t really care how I look at the moment, it’s all about surviving through this terrible period. Then when it’s all over we can get back to working out,” he says.
When the schools closed, supply teacher Amy Hodgson, 24, from Liverpool, found herself with nothing to do. “I was always going to the fridge or the cupboards and seeing what I could eat, because I was bored. I gained 4lb in a week, and I thought, ‘How have I done that?'”
Having lost 5st 3lb (33kg) in the past year, she did not want to put it all back on. She realised she snacked most mid-morning, so that’s when she now exercises.
And she now cooks for the whole family. “It gives you something to look forward to,” she says. “It gets to about 4:30pm and I think, ‘Right, I’ve got to do their tea now.'”
So are we actually eating more?
That is one of the questions researchers at the University of East Anglia are asking. They have just started to track our lifestyle behaviours under lockdown.
“The best I could equate it to is what happens to us during holiday periods, when we kind of throw caution to the wind and think: ‘It’s holiday time,'” says Prof Anne-Marie Minihane, from Norwich Medical School, and the study’s lead on nutrition and eating behaviour.
“Now we think: ‘Oh my God, there’s so much going on in the world, I’m just going to not worry about my behaviour. People use all kinds of excuses for bad behaviour, and certainly Covid-19 is a very good excuse.”
It’s too soon to analyse the study’s findings, but Prof Minihane has anecdotal evidence that suggests people have adopted unhealthy behaviour patterns – overeating the wrong kinds of foods, and drinking more.
She adds that under-eating is as bad for you as over-eating, and that especially among older adults, undernourishment is a huge problem.
There are physiological reasons for some of these behaviours, she says. When the body is stressed it produces too much cortisol, which makes us more likely to over-eat – and not just any kind of foods, but those which are high in fat and sugar.