Guard against overeating while staying at home Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: As UAE residents work and school from home, in an effort to check the spread of coronavirus, doctors and dieticians are cautioning them against the risk of overeating.

“The current COVID-19 situation and the change in working (and studying) patterns with people staying at home would definitely result in their binging on food if they do not watch out,” said Dr Salvin George, Specialist Internal Medicine, Medcare Hospital, Al Safa.

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Dr Salvin George Image Credit: Supplied

The reasons are simple.

“When people operate from home in the absence of office or school pressure, they end up taking frequent visits to the kitchen and the refrigerator to munch on something,” said Dr George, adding that it could stem from either boredom with more time on their hands or just a sense of happiness as they make the most of the rare opportunity of functioning from home.

Blame it on stress

For some, the sheer stress of the coronavirus situation could lead to overeating.

As Lubna Abdussalam Dhalani, registered dietician at Aster Clinic, Bur Dubai, pointed out, “Many people tend to overeat in a stressful environment, they find comfort in eating and may gain weight during this period. They end up eating at odd times, well out of their regular diet schedule. These are times when they eat additionally to what they usually do, without even realising how much and what they consume.”

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Lubna Abdussalam Dhalani Image Credit: Supplied

As calories add up, so do the risks

With foodstuffs in ample supply in the supermarkets, residents are shopping for more and cooking more elaborate meals than they would otherwise as they have more time on their hands.

The result is that calories add up, as can the risks.

Amera Varghese, Clinical Dietician, Mediclinic Welcare Hospital, said, “Many people struggle with overeating they are home. Over time, this can lead to unnecessary weight gain, indigestion, bloatedness and lethargy.”

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Amera Varghese Image Credit: Supplied

That’s not all. According to Varghese, “When we overeat with limited access to physical activity, the body uses some of the calories we consume for energy and the rest is stored as fat. And consuming too many calories than we burn over time can cause overweight or obesity. This can also increases the risk of many chronic diseases like heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes and gastrointestinal distress. Gaining too much weight can also make people feel depressed and anxious.”

Diet, exercise on ‘lockdown’

Dr George said, “It would not be uncommon to find people keeping their diet and exercise in lockdown mode until the pandemic is over. The sudden change in dietary habits can lead to rise in blood sugar, hypertension and high cholesterol levels. A rapid fluctuation would be more dangerous for people suffering from chronic diseases.”

He said people need to focus on their caloric intake over a 24-hour period. “It is healthy to have regular meals on time which helps our digestive system and mental state which can help body to heal from many ailments. However, it is important to practise portion control and ensure a balanced diet including plenty of fruits, vegetables and other fibrous foods.”

He said, “Cut down on sugars and fats. Find work within the household to keep physically active. Avoid binge television viewing. Get a good night’s sleep, avoid late nights. Turn this period into your advantage for mental and physical well-being by focusing on healthy habits.”

The dieticians said it is imperative that residents keep a close calorie watch.

Physical vs emotional hunger

Varghese said the ability to differentiate between types of hunger can be helpful.

“There are two types of hunger: physical hunger which surfaces gradually and can be satisfied by just about anything edible and emotional hunger which comes on suddenly and creates a craving for certain foods. We have to understand this difference and eat only when we are physically hungry. The first thing is to realise is that you are not actually hungry and are only eating emotionally because you are bored,” said the dietician.

Tips for calorie control

Lubna Abdussalam Dhalani, registered dietician at Aster Clinic, recommends the following to keep calorie count under control:

Watch your total carbohydrate intake, since actual physical activity is reduced to basic movement within the house.

Proteins having carbs can be consumed to compensate for only carb sources. Examples: Pulses and legumes.

Watch consumption of fats, as they are calorically dense. People when free and at leisure tend to consume something special, which invariably is high in fat content.

Increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.

While nuts are considered healthy fats, they are calorically dense and should be consumed wisely.

Avoid frozen foods as in the UAE, supply of fresh food is available readily.