* Especially for people with chronic health conditions and history of disordered eating
Proper nutrition and hydration are vital in ensuring that people stay healthy, physically and emotionally, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Reem al-Saadi, director of Dietetics and Nutrition at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), has said.
Paying extra attention to what one eats and drinks is particularly important for people who have chronic health conditions and anyone who has a history of an eating disorder or disordered eating, she stressed in a statement issued by HMC.
“People who eat a well-balanced diet, which includes a variety of fresh food items with a mixture of colourful fruits and vegetables that provide the required quantities of vitamins, minerals, omega 3 fatty acids and other antioxidants, tend to be physically and emotionally healthier, have stronger immune systems and a lower risk of chronic illnesses and infectious diseases,” al-Saadi said.
“This is a very uncertain time for many people and it is understandable that eating habits and patterns will change, particularly for people who are working longer hours than normal or are working from home for the first time. Making food choices based on convenience and turning to food for comfort is understandable, especially if you are exhausted, but I’d encourage people to pay extra attention to their diet during this time. What we eat and drink affects not just our physical health, but also our mental health and well-being,” she added.
“If possible, eat a variety of fresh and unprocessed foods every day. Drink enough water. Avoid sugar, fat and salt. As much as it is possible, try to schedule meals and snacks to help prevent mindless eating. Limit takeaways – as making your meals allows you to control fat, sugar and fat. This advice is important for everyone, every day, but it’s especially important during this time – which for many people includes higher than normal levels of stress and inactivity,” al-Saadi noted.
She says it’s also important for everyone, but especially anyone who has a history of disordered eating, to be more mindful of food choices and eating patterns.
“Stress eating can be common during times of uncertainly and it isn’t surprising that many people will experience mindless, and disordered, eating as a response to work-life distress. Some emotional eating isn’t likely to have long-term negative effects; however, this behaviour can establish a very negative pattern that can be extremely harmful and very challenging to break,” she said.
Al-Saadi says many people are struggling with their eating right now and they shouldn’t feel shame, noting there is a lot of research that suggests when people are in a crisis, eating behaviours are one of the first things that will change.
“For many people, stress can trigger cravings for high-calorie and high-sugar foods. Seeking out pleasure via food can be a common strategy for coping with stress and emotional eating can provide temporary relief from many of life’s challenges. From a physiological perspective, stress also leads to elevated cortisol levels, which can increase appetite,” al-Saadi said.
“Another stressor for some people is increased boredom, which has been linked to emotional eating. Whatever the reason, significant dietary changes and increased consumption of high-calorie, high-sugar foods can quickly establish a pattern that can be challenging to break,” she added.
Al-Saadi recommends sticking to a daily routine, as much as it is possible, having a set time for waking up and sleeping, eating, exercising, socialising, meditating and praying. She says the routine will look different for everyone, particularly those who are self-isolating or in quarantine. She also encourages people to rely upon friends, family and even coworkers for emotional support.
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has established a dedicated website (www.moph.gov.qa) to provide the public with updates on the current situation as well as information on how to protect themselves and others from Covid-19.
A hotline (16000), which is available 24 hours a day to answer Covid-19-related queries, and an educational social media campaign have also been launched, with the MoPH, HMC and Primary Health Care Corporation sharing infographics and videos through their social media channels.