Professor Suna Kassier from Dietetics and Human Nutrition at UKZN has chipped in with advice for staff, students and the general public to maintain healthy consumption habits while dealing with added stress under the COVID-19 lockdown.
Kassier said that an event like the current, unprecedented global pandemic, and the uncertainty it creates, can exponentially increase the daily stress most people experience. She encouraged people to be mindful about their stress coping mechanisms, which on its own, she said, is a positive step in the right direction.
With some methods of dealing with stress less accessible during this time, such as taking a walk or spending time with family and friends, Kassier pointed out the downsides of other, less positive means people may choose, which could contribute to increased stress levels and potentially to depression.
She advised against dipping into alcohol stockpiles and drinking more than one would under normal circumstances, saying that alcohol contributes to weight gain and a depressed mood.
‘A three-week period is more than enough time to develop a habit that is very difficult to kick once we can go about our business in a less restricted way,’ said Kassier.
To keep track of alcohol consumption, Kassier suggested placing a note on one’s fridge door about how much “self-soothing” had been done in a day.
Kassier also advised against killing extra time by snacking absent-mindedly.
‘Too much eating, coupled with inactivity or lower levels of activity, will result in there being more of you to love once you are able to see family, friends and colleagues face-to-face,’ she commented.
She added that overeating can cause discomfort, and weight gain can lead to sluggishness or depression. Kassier advised rationing by eating snack foods in controlled portion sizes; for example, from a small bowl instead of from the packet, enabling one to keep track of how much was eaten and prevent overeating.
She suggested various cost-effective, healthy snack options: raw vegetables like broccoli florets, carrot or celery sticks, or sweet pepper with a low-fat yoghurt dip or low-fat salad dressing; bread sticks, popcorn (with as little butter, oil or salt as possible), pretzels, rice cakes, whole-wheat crackers or crisp bread; fresh fruit; a whole-wheat sandwich with peanut butter and jam; low-fat unflavoured yoghurt or maas; and peanuts and raisins.
Finally, Kassier pointed out that for some, stress can result in a lack of appetite, leading to undereating.
‘Skipping meals while being relatively inactive could cause havoc with your blood sugar levels, and low blood sugar levels due to irregular eating can lead to overeating later and cravings for high fat, high sugar foods such as chocolate,’ she said.
Kassier advised regular meals, even small ones, to avoid the headaches, anxiety and nervousness that can result from fluctuating blood sugar levels.
‘Be kind to your body and yourself during these very unusual circumstances, and take care of your physical as well as emotional well-being,’ she said.
Kassier has also compiled a free healthy eating guide for students living on a limited budget.
Words: Christine Cuénod