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How has confinement and anxiety affected your weight?

Published: 22 May, 2020 - Updated: 27 July, 2020

Confinement, anxiety and weight control form a vicious circle. During the more than 50 days that we have gone without leaving home due to the health crisis of the pandemic, it has been quite frequent for many of us to experience episodes of stress and anxiety and, to alleviate them, to eat more and eat badly.

We have resorted to highly caloric and very sweet foods that momentarily satiate our anxiety, but later generate a feeling of guilt and sadness.

In fact, a study conducted by psychologists from the Complutense University of Madrid, supported by the Spanish National Research Agency, has revealed that during confinement one in five Spaniards has presented symptoms of anxiety (19.6%). These signs are more common in women (26.85%) than in men (13.2%) and, curiously, more frequent in young people than in middle-aged or older adults.

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What is anxiety and what are its symptoms?

Many of us have at some time experienced episodes of anxiety, even without being fully aware of it. Anxiety is basically a defense mechanism. When we feel threatened, our body reacts to protect itself and deal with those threats. The problem occurs when anxiety becomes pathological and interferes with our daily routines.

Symptoms of anxiety

Its most common manifestations are a feeling of distress that can be mild or moderate, accelerated heart rate and breathing, and sweating or a feeling of weakness. These manifestations can occur in what is called an anxiety attack and that is when the symptoms are much more pronounced.

Anxiety attacks

The most common symptoms in the so-called anxiety attacks are:

  • Palpitations or tachycardia (elevated heart rate)
  • Feeling of suffocation
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Fear or panic, which can lead you to think that you might die
  • Sweating or chills
  • Trembling
  • Nausea or abdominal discomfort
  • Dizziness or even fainting
  • Feeling of unreality
  • Feeling of numbness or tingling

Causes of anxiety

Anxiety can be caused by physical problems such as alcohol or other drug abuse or hyperthyroidism, but most often it is psychological in origin. A situation of confinement and social isolation like the one we are living in can cause anxiety.

Eating anxiety, what is it?

"I'm unable to follow a diet because it makes me anxious." This is one of the most common statements made to endocrinologists, dietitians and nutritionists. From the couch to the pantry, from the pantry to the fridge, a little chocolate, a little cheese, some sausage and back again.

When we talk about food anxiety we are referring to an emotional state in which we "need to eat" without being hungry. This need, which often appears in an impulsive and uncontrolled way, leads us to enter a vicious circle. First, we eat to calm the anxiety. Then, we feel guilty for having eaten. And, in short, we are more anxious than at first. And the circle starts again.

 

Have you gained weight during your confinement?

Being locked up in the house, boredom, anxiety, etc. explain why, in many cases, we did gain weight during the period of confinement.

The data provided by the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that, after the first days in which we bought mostly fresh products, we have started to consume more alcohol, unhealthy snacks, and refined flours for the preparation of cakes and pies.

Tips for preparing for post-confinement "operation bikini"

Summer is just around the corner and, although we still don't know whether or not we will be able to enjoy the beach and swimming pools like in other years, what is certain is that with the heat it is time to wear less clothing.

In the face of "operation bikini" that is quite special, experts recommend planning meals and exercise as our best allies against being overweight or those "extra pounds" we want to take off before the hot weather hits.

The Obesity Institute of the Fundación Jiménez Díaz recommends to:

  • Organize meals. Prepare a weekly menu that contains protein and vegetables at lunch and dinner and moderates consumption of unhealthy fats and carbohydrates.
  • Plan your shopping. Make a list of healthy foods and stick to it. If you don't buy unnecessary foods, you won't eat them.
  • Watch out for snacking. Keep busy to avoid eating between meals. If you still feel the need to eat, think twice and, if you can't help it, opt for healthy snacks and foods with fiber that will help you feel full.

In addition, physical exercise is essential. An adult who hardly exercises has enough to consume between 1,300 and 1,700 calories a day.

Keys to controlling anxiety and not snacking between meals

There are several psychological techniques, easy to learn, that can help us control that anxiety where we want to eat:

  • Distraction: talking to someone, singing, playing, etc. Distraction is a well-known technique that can help take your mind off what is causing your anxiety.
  • Breathing control: diaphragmatic breathing, used in practices such as yoga or mindfulness, helps us relax and therefore control anxiety.
  • Relaxation: there are different relaxation practices that you can do yourself, in your own home. Choose a calm, quiet place with a pleasant temperature to carry it out.
  • Self-instructions: these are phrases or messages that you address to yourself to overcome your distress. The technique is simple: write down those phrases that can help you and read or memorize them when you notice the first symptoms of distress.
  • Look for other kinds of rewards. Food can't be your only reward. A walk, a massage, a simple chat with friends or family can also help.
  • Take care of the quality of your rest. Lack of sleep makes us irritable and tired and triggers the risk of anxiety attacks.
  • Practice physical exercise. Sport will raise your dopamine levels, just like food, which will help control anxiety.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Maintain proper routines, take time to eat, eat slowly, chew your food well and always use food that provides you with quality nutrients. In extraordinary or stressful situations, you can support your diet with nutritional supplements to help ensure a balanced diet.
  • Seek specialized help. If, despite everything, the anxiety remains, it is time to seek the help of a specialist.