5 Reasons We Eat More in Quarantine

The beginning of April is typically the time of year people come out of hibernation. 

  • Cuffing season is over. 
  • The days are getting longer. 
  • The weather starts to improve.

All of these factors lead to a common goal: Summer Bodies!

  • We hone in on our diets. 
  • We spend more time at the gym. 
  • We dust off the bathroom scale.

...Except this year. This year, we’re throwing in the towel before the fight starts. 

Why shouldn’t we? We’re stuck at home and there’s no end in sight! Will we even get to enjoy this summer? Who knows?

But hey, at least we have the internet to take the edge off and lighten the mood. No matter how desperate times get, you can always rely on someone creative to make a hilarious meme that strikes a chord.

Here are two of my favorites:

       

It is totally natural to find yourself eating more food these days. 

We eat more when there’s a variety of food at our fingertips. We eat more when we watch TV. We eat more when food is close to us. We eat more when we’re stressed. Finally, We eat more when we’re bored. 

The studies I describe below support all of these claims. The cards are stacked against us while we’re in quarantine. 

There are workarounds, however. The first of which is simply being aware our current situation is set up to hurt us more than help us. 

Read through each study and its conclusion. I provide a few possible solutions to combat our innate tendencies, but I’m sure you can come up with more. 

Food Variety Can Increase Consumption

The University of Oxford ran a study with 36 subjects to test if increasing food variety leads to higher consumption.

Study:

On 2 separate occasions, 36 subjects were served a plate of 4 sandwiches. On one occasion, each sandwich filling was different. On the other occasion, each sandwich filling was the same. 

Conclusion:

The research concluded that subjects ate 33% more when they were offered a choice between four different sandwiches than when they were offered four of the same sandwich. 

As someone eats the same food, the satisfaction obtained from that food will likely decrease. Therefore, variety can cause us to eat more. 

Having a variety of foods presented in succession during a meal enhances intake, and the more different the foods are the greater the enhancement is likely to be.

Proposed Solution:

For the time being, reduce the variety in your diet. Consider eating the same breakfast every day. Consider eating the same lunch every day. If you crave variety, maybe try to switch up dinner. The key here is to have less options. 

Luckily for us, we eat basically the same thing every day. We satisfy our desire for variety when we go out to eat or order takeout/delivery.

Eating While Watching TV Can Increase Consumption

The University of Massachusetts ran a study with 20 undergraduate students to test whether or not eating while watching television increases consumption. 

Study:

The objective was to determine if the amount eaten of two familiar, palatable, high-density foods (pizza and macaroni and cheese) was increased during a 30-min meal while watching TV.

The subjects were split into 2 groups. One group (n=10) ate pizza while the other group (n=10) ate mac and cheese. Each group ate their high density foods across two sessions. One session was in front of the TV watching one episode of a familiar show. The other session was while listening to classical music. 


Source: @bdccarpenter

Conclusion:

Eating while watching television increased pizza intake by 36% (one slice on average) and mac & cheese intake by 71%.

Furthermore, although the length of time to eat one slice remained the same between viewing conditions, subjects wasted less time before grabbing another slice while watching TV. Mac & Cheese was eaten at both a faster rate and for a longer period of time while watching TV. 

Proposed Solution:

Simple enough: Turn the TV off while eating, especially snacking. 

Even throughout this quarantine, we haven’t really turned the TV on before 5PM. That may change now that Dia is officially on maternity leave, but I hope it doesn’t. We don’t have a table to eat on so we essentially eat all of our meals on TV dinner stands while sitting on our couch. The couch that happens to be right in front of our TV. Yikes.

Proximity & Visibility of Food Can Increase Consumption

St. Bonaventure University ran a study to see if participants would eat more fruits (apple slices) and vegetables (carrot cuts) if they were closer and easier to see.

Study:

Proximity was manipulated by placing the fruits and vegetables either near (same table) or far (table 2 meters away). 

Visibility was manipulated by placing the fruits and vegetables in an opaque bowl that was covered or in a clear bowl that was open. 

Conclusion:

Proximity was shown to increase intake in both occasions (apple slices and carrot cuts). Visibility only increased intake of apple slices. 

Proposed Solution:

Hide ya wife, Hide ya kids, Hide ya chips, hide ya cookies. 

Store those treats on the top shelf of your cabinets! If any “grab and go” type food lives on your kitchen counter, they should be “healthy” options like fruits or veggies. 

Our kitchen island has a fruit bowl on it. Typically full of bananas, apples, and clementines. I will admit the cereal lives on top of the fridge in plain sight. But if anyone touches my cereal, there will be a major problem. 

Stress Can Increase Consumption

University of Luebeck ran a study to see if psychosocial stress influenced food intake. 

Study:

14 normal weight men were tested in a randomized crossover designed study. 

Participants were put through a modified version of the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and a Control Test on two separate occasions. After each test, the participants were allowed to eat as much food as they wanted from a buffet. 

Source: ScienceDirect.com

Conclusion:

The average food intake after a stress test was significantly higher than the average food intake after the control test (2,037 kcal vs. 1,689kcal). 

Psychosocial stress increased cortisol levels in all subjects and approximately 80% of the subjects reacted by eating more food (a.k.a Stress Eating). 

Proposed Solution: 

Here are 3 specific stress reducing recommendations.

  1. Meditation - Click here to read my thoughts on meditation. I do it. It’s awesome. You should try it. That’s all I’ll say here. 
  2. Exercise - All it takes is 10-30 minutes a day to manufacture a euphoric state. My quarantine workout has been a simple 150 pushups, air squats, and sit ups per day. It takes me about 20 minutes to finish. I procrastinate that first pushup, but I can’t deny I’m so freaking happy when I’m done.
  3. Socializing - I once heard something like “if a lonely, obese, smoker walked into a Doctor’s office, the Doctor would tell that person the first thing they should do is get some friends. I have no idea if this is true but I like to think it is. A good support system makes all the difference, especially during times like these. We’ve been using Zoom and Houseparty for video chats with friends and family. We’ve also been using the phone. Remember calling people? Yeah, that’s a thing again.

Boredom Can Increase Consumption

The University of Limerick conducted a study to find out if boredom leads to increased food consumption. This study was derived from the notion that, “being bored effectively marks an appraised lack of meaning in the present situation and in life.” 

Damn, that’s depressing. 

Study:

The researchers ran a three part study to analyze boredom’s effect on eating. 

  1. Subjects were asked to write in a “food and mood” diary for one week
  2. Subjects were asked to complete high vs. low boredom tasks and then asked about their desire to snack
  3. Subjects watched one of two clips: a sad video or a boring video. They were offered snacks as they watched. 

Conclusion: 

  1. The diary showed boredom was positively associated with increased caloric intake.
  2. Participants were likely to eat unhealthier snacks when completing boring tasks.
  3. Subjects who watched the boring clip ate more unhealthy food and more exciting healthy foods, but not more unexciting healthy food.

Collectively, these novel findings signify the role of boredom in predicting maladaptive and adaptive eating behaviors as a function of the need to distant from the experience of boredom. Further, our results suggest that more exciting, healthy food serves as an alternative to maladaptive consumption following boredom.

Proposed Solution:

I am still working on a solution for boredom. There’s just so much time in the day right now. Some random ideas: Online courses for something you’ve been meaning to learn. Puzzles, if you’re into that sort of thing. Writing, or creating content in general (TikTok Videos).

Wrapping Up

I was feeling a little guilty and defeated when I noticed I was eating and snacking way more than usual these past few weeks. Reading these studies helped take a little pressure off. At the very least, it helped me understand why my behavior changed so dramatically while in quarantine.

I hope reading this article does the same for you. If you see any hilarious quarantine memes on IG, tag me: @sunshak. I always appreciate the opportunity to share a laugh with you.

Sunny Shakhawala

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