Why your appetite has gone haywire in isolation

checking the fridge while working from home
How often are you checking the fridge in a day? Photo: Getty

If you’ve already been spending more time at home amid this coronavirus outbreak - working or in self-isolation - you’ve likely noticed your appetite has perhaps gone a little haywire.

Maybe you’re heading to the fridge three - or ten - times in the morning, or it’s the opposite and you don’t feel like eating at all.

While boredom has a lot to do with it, experts have also revealed it has to do with how we’re feeling in our environment.

Psychologist Dr Amantha Imber says when stuck at home people are perhaps at a loss of what to do.

“I think there is a lot of boredom eating happening,” Dr Imber tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“People are finding themselves at home and at a loss of what to do given so many options have been taken away from them.

“People then turn to food as something to alleviate the uncomfortable feelings of boredom.”

Female Worker In Office Having Healthy Snack Of Dried Apricots At Desk
Snacking can be a sign of boredom. Photo: Getty

Nutritionist and exercise scientist, Amelia Phillips, adds it is actually very common for our appetite to increase when we are stuck at home.

“We have highly sensitive neurotransmitters that tell our parasympathetic nervous system if we are in a safe or stressful environment,” Amelia tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“When we are home (and safe) these neurotransmitters trigger our relax hormones, and body functions such as cell regeneration and active digestion kick into gear

“So being in a safe, relaxing environment increases feelings of hunger.”

Of course, that means if you are feeling the opposite - not safe, and stressed - this can also impact your appetite and digestion and reduce you’re desire for any food.

Amelia agrees boredom is a big factor, but also suggests it’s about accessibility as well.

“When we know there's a fridge full of delicious leftovers, a cupboard full of tasty snacks only a few steps away, it's just all too tempting,” she tells us.

To try and combat the need to grab food if you’re feeling bored, Dr Imber suggests to “wait it out”.

“My advice would be to surf the wave of discomfort,” she says. “Rather than turning to food to get rid of the discomfort, wait it out and re-evaluate your need to eat something in ten minutes.

“Alternatively, find something else to do, such as go for a walk around the block. Upon return, you'll probably find that your need to eat something has vanished.”

we often snack when bored
If you want to eat, take a moment to see if the need passes. Photo: Getty

And here are some of Amelia’s tips to avoid gaining weight, and using the time in isolation as an opportunity to improve our health:

  • Try not to eat between 9pm and 9am: Intermittent fasting has a lot of incredible research behind it. Whatever time you stop eating at night, don't start eating for 12 hours EG: Stop at 9pm, don't start until 9am. Being in a state of fasting triggers fat burning and also means that your meal times are pushed closer together preventing mindless snacking and blood sugar spikes.

  • Eat 2 full meals per day and one mini meal: For example eat a full breakfast and dinner, but have a mini meal for lunch. This could be a nutrient rich meal replacement soup, shake or porridge (my go-to is Eimele), a handful of nuts with yoghurt or piece of fruit. It doesn't matter which meal you swap out, our portions have become so large over the years we really only need two meals per day.

Nutritionist and exercise scientist, Amelia Phillips
Nutritionist and exercise scientist Amelia Phillips shares her top tips. Photo: Supplied
  • Rid the cupboard of unhealthy snacks: Fat, sugar and salt trigger the same neural pleasure pathways as cocaine, they are highly addictive! The more you eat the more you crave and the more you need to satisfy the craving. Get them out of the house NOW!

  • Find healthy swaps: Chips might be out, but air popped popcorn is in! Choc ice-cream might be out but Jarrah hot choc is totes in (my personal fave). Find healthy alternatives that satisfy the craving.

  • Exercise: We're allowed outside (for now) so hit the pavement and do some high intensity activity. Not only does exercise burn fat, calories and triggers muscle growth, it also is one less hour you're eating. Plus your metabolism stays firing for 10-15hr after a hard workout (that's why I'm a fan of morning training).

  • Stock up on herbal tea: Cinnamon, oat flower, peppermint tea all help to suppress appetite so get brewing when the munchies set in. And NO you don't need a Tim Tam to go with it! Have a chai latte if you need more (up to two coffees per day is also fine, providing you don't suffer anxiety).

  • More home cooking: Home cooking is usually way healthier than restaurant food (when they add a lot of fat and salt for flavour), so see this as an opportunity to brush up on your culinary skills. Portion out your serves into zip lock bags and freeze if you need help with portion control.

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