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Dubai: The eating out culture here is huge. And ordering in, is even huger. Living here is so ‘go, go, go’ that we are constantly rushing around. Ain’t nobody got time to meal prep, let alone cook their own food, if they have a full time job and a heck of a commute.

But now… well… you don’t need me to remind you about how different the situation is. Our pandemic has completely changed the way we live, work, and eat. The pandemic has put everything on pause.

Going out to eat was a way of life

In our pre-coronavirus era new restaurants used to pop up almost on a weekly basis. The food scene in the UAE is one of the best. Not only do we bring in incredible concepts from all over the world, we also have very successful homegrown concepts that totally steal the show. Eating out isn’t just a way to fill our bellies. It is practically the way to socialize here. It is so integral in our work-life culture. It’s pretty much how I spent my own money. Trying new places, treating myself to incredible indulgent meals and catching up with friends while doing so.

It’s actually a big reason why I was never able to reach my goal weight at the gym. I work out 5 to 6 times a week, yet achieving my goals was pretty much impossible because all I did was just eat out at night.

“One of my favorite things to do with my fiancé was going out to eat. We would literally dedicate two to three days a week trying out something new. It wasn’t always fancy. Some days we go out and get ramen, other days it would be Cipriani and sometimes just share a waffle,” Mirna Salama, an Abu Dhabi resident told Gulf News. “These days I am rediscovering my love for cooking. I feel much lighter and healthier.”

Cookbooks and cooking tutorials are on the rise

According to the New York Times, cookbooks are rarely among the top-selling books on Amazon. Yet this week, “Magnolia Table, A Collection of Recipes for Gathering” by Joanna Gaines is No. 2. The search term “online cooking classes” saw a fivefold increase on Google over the past four weeks, and the search title “cook with me” saw a 100 percent increase in average daily views on YouTube in the second half of March.

“I definitely feel like I've become healthier during this period. Just the fact that I have the time to really think about what I should eat is change enough,” Hiba Hani, a Dubai resident told Gulf News. “At work, I either don't have time to think, or I mindlessly go for a cheaper and faster option because I wouldn't be able to afford ordering healthy food every day. Most days I also barely have the time and the energy to actively go out and buy all the ingredients I need and then cook so I was unhappy with the eating habits I've formed when I started working. With this time at home I'm learning more recipes, trying things out to see what I like, and also controlling what I eat in the day as a whole. I'm able to also save a lot of money which is an added bonus.”

This surge in cooking is meaningful, as people who frequently cook meals at home eat more healthfully and consume fewer calories than those who cook less, according to multiple studies.

Why cooking at home is your best bet right now

“Outside food tends to typically be high in chemical additives, hormones, sugar, salt, unhealthy fats and is generally high in calories which can adversely affect your mental health and outlook,” Mudit Malhotra, a fitness trainer and nutrition expert, told Gulf News.

“When you prepare your own food, you are more aware of what you're putting in your body and how different foods affect the way you feel. With a lot of organic food options available in the market right now, home cooked meals aren’t only less unhealthy, they can be really nutritious if you want them to be. At this point in time, you should be feeding your body foods that are rich in nutrition and packed with vitamins and fibers which can help in your immunity and fight antibodies.”

By far one of the biggest contributors to chronic illnesses is bad nutrition. Bad nutrition includes lots of sugar, unnatural ingredients that are found in sodas and gummy bears, canned processed foods and white flour just to name a few of the top culprits.

In order to build up your immunity against potentially getting very sick during the coronavirus pandemic, you have to clean your diet up and eat as much nutritious food as you can.

Generally restaurants have a way of serving you food that makes it taste so delicious. “It can be the ingredients, but also the preparation,” Lauren Jacobsen, the Nutrition Director Kcal World said to Gulf News. “When eating out it’s tough to avoid eating anything made with white flour or white sugar – common culprits are bread, pasta dishes and desserts. Ingredient quality might be harder to detect when you are out, but the menu description might give you some indication on what kinds of ingredients they’re using – hormone free, grass fed, no added sugar, healthy fats, etc. Most restaurants also have large portions.”

So now that we are at home, and we are cooking more than ever before, does this guarantee that we will get healthier. Yes and no.

An increase in the frequency of cooking does not necessarily mean we are getting healthier during the pandemic. Tragedy and fear are making us stress-eat, as we drown ourselves in tubs of ice cream or binge bake. Moreover, with gyms closed and movement restricted, many of us are now more sedentary than ever.

But we are acquiring an ancient skill that has been shown to help people live better and longer. If we apply that skill with greater frequency over the long run, it could reduce our risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

“As long as people still make the correct choices when selecting foods to eat and control their portion sizes. Eating too much of what people may think is a healthy food can also be unhealthy,” Daniel Andrews, Owner of Instabody Gym told Gulf News.

“Someone who cooks their own food should see better results in their fitness goals and an improvement in general health as they will know exactly what is going into their meals. There are healthy takeaway options and meal prep companies but cooking yourself would always be the best option.”

Once life rebounds, we may go back to our previous ways, but our palates will have experienced a reset and our hands would have acquired an artful skill.

There will be many lessons from the coronavirus pandemic, but we would be wise not to forget this one. This newfound proficiency could be lifesaving.

-With inputs from NYT