7 months ago

Has the lockdown influenced us to eat more home cooked meals or junk food ?

In the 21st century, work has become a main priority and a lack of time, a modern fact, leaves us with an urge to satisfy our needs quickly and efficiently. Preparing meals with fresh produce has become a burden, leading us to choose easier ways of satisfying our hunger, such as going to restaurants, ordering take-outs and buying MRE’s (ready to eat meals) which are cheap and convenient.

Our eating habits have changed following the government’s announcement on March 16th 2020, which stipulated the start of national lockdown and the end of on-site work in non-essential companies and industries. Telecommuting meant that consuming junk food and industrial products were no longer excused by lack of time, and homemade meals seemed more feasible. However, it seems that a lack of time is not the only reason for these eating habits. Indeed, other factors were tested and revealed in each person’s life, which led them to make different decisions and food choices during confinement. 

   The Lockdown

The Coronavirus or Covid19 pandemic has changed the daily lives of people around the world: wearing masks, using hand sanitizer before going grocery shopping, and working from home became general and mandatory. As telecommuting became an essential practice, alongside the uncertainty of the outcome of the lockdown and pandemic, the resulting effects lead to rising frustrations and emotions in this population. As soon as the lockdown began, there was a huge wave of purchasing of canned foods, since no one knew how long the lockdown would last, how strict the rules would be depending on the number of new cases, and whether stores would close as well as restaurants and retail stores. Simply going out less frequently also had an impact on the rate of shopping. 

In these times, we are forced to live with the same group of people on a daily basis, whether it be family, partners, friends or roommates. We share the same space, the same environment every day, during lunch as well as during remote work times. Some are far from their families and can not travel, others would like to be able to spend a day with friends, some would even like to have a moment alone. The only social links outside of the home are through the internet, messages, social networks and calls organized within telework operations. Confinement is a sign that social life has come to a halt and that meetings have stopped. It also represents a big change in our lives, and has the ability to shape the way our habits change in the future. Telecommuting, although not always very practical, will help us adapt to environmental changes and at least keep an active professional life. This change will encourage the creation of new habits, both good and bad. 

        What happens when we have more spare time 

Telecommuting has allowed us to have more time on our hands: no time wasted commuting to work, no need to get ready, no nights out, no parties to attend. This time saving is totally out of our daily routine, which can feel positive for some people and depressing for others. This health crisis has caused a radical change in our lives, which has impacted our emotions. The confinement forced us to face ourselves and our daily lives in a totally different way. It took some time for many people to accept this national and global situation. The process of acceptance includes 7 stages: the shock of this radical change, the denial of the seriousness of the situation, the anger of being deprived of certain freedoms, bargaining, which includes the desire to be able to overcome and escape this lack of freedom, the depression and the pain of facing ourselves and potentially the people with whom we live, the reconstruction of our life and our habits to finally give way to the acceptance of the situation. 

A study done via an internet questionnaire at a university in Spain, tried to identify the impact of confinement and teleworking on stress, depression and anxiety in students. The university covers several fields including arts and humanitarian, architecture, medicine and many others. According to the study, Bachelor’s students appear to have the most cases of depression, anxiety and stress compared to Master’s students. Sixth year medical students appear to have fewer signs of depression and stress than bachelors.  In total, 50.43% of the 3707 students have shown moderate to severe negative impacts on their emotions. These emotions will directly impact the habits that are created during confinement, including eating habits.

        Our eating habits 

   During the lockdown, very few restaurants were open but deliveries were still al which allowed people to eat fast food. Home delivery companies such as Ubereats and Deliveroo saw an increase in orders during the confinement. With markets and small shops, such as butchers and bakeries, no longer available, the only place one could still buy their products was at the supermarket. Shopping at the supermarket encourages the purchase of industrial products, and increases depression and the lack of motivation to cook. Similarly, working at home can bring a lack of motivation, which impacts our willingness to be productive with our time. This opens the door to boredom and, naturally, snacking (on industrial products most of the time). For people whom telecommuting has proven to be an advantage in their current life, taking the time to cook may have been another positive point. A study in Poland showed that 43.5% of participants recalled eating more during confinement than before, 51.8% recalled having developed a habit of snacking between meals, and 62.3% recalled taking the time to cook during confinement. Another French study by Santé Publiques France looked at the impact of confinement on changes in eating habits. Amongst all the people questioned: 27% declared to have gained weight, 11% to have lost weight, 62% to have a stable weight; 22% declared to snack between meals more than usual, 17% less than usual, 61% did not change anything; 37% declared to cook home-made dishes more than usual, 4% less than usual and 59% of them did not change anything. Overall, these studies show that telecommuting has allowed for more time to create home-cooked meals, but it has also encouraged a habit of snacking and thus led to weight gain.

         Eating based on our surroundings

   Having more time doesn’t necessarily mean that we do more things. Not moving around as much as before has an impact on our physical activity, and if we don’t exercise during confinement, our lifestyle is much more sedentary. A study by NutriNet Health showed a decrease in physical activity during confinement in 52.8% of participants. A decrease in physical activity would logically seem to be linked to a decrease in our energy needs, thus eating less. However, many studies have shown that participants generally claimed to have gained weight during confinement. Other factors than a lack of physical activity could be related to weight gain during confinement. While telecommuting has encouraged home-cooked meals instead of restaurants or McDonald’s, boredom is a big factor in weight gain. When you’re bored during a googlemeet or skype call, or in front of an assignment or paper to write, being at home with the refrigerator and packs of cookies just a few steps away is a solution. As many studies have shown, snacking seemed to have increased since the onset of confinement. Even with a more sedentary lifestyle, nutritional intake remains high if not higher, with an increase in homemade food accompanied by an increase in snacking (most often of industrial and processed products, such as cakes, chocolate, chips etc). 

Amberlee HUTCHINSON

Nutritionist at Nutrimis.