The COVID-19 pandemic presented many individuals with new problems that most of us had never experienced before. It disrupted people’s normal routines, caused stress and worry, and pushed them out of their comfort zones, all of which may have an impact on their overall health.
Vaccines are now being provided, certain limitations have been relaxed, and health organisations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are beginning to reduce physical distance recommendations.
Nonetheless, the move out of COVID-19 lockdown may now bring its own set of problems in terms of adjusting to a new normal. This essay examines how COVID-19 altered our lifestyles, how to discover your new normal in its aftermath, and how diet and nutrition may help your mental health in the process.
How COVID-19 Affected Our Mental Health?
Excessive or long-term stress has previously been shown to have a detrimental impact on mental health. Thus, It’s not surprising that as stress levels increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health suffered.
People worldwide have reported increased anxiety, sadness, and mood swings in the last year. A survey of 600 people revealed that over half of those were concerned about their eating habits, particularly during the epidemic.
Another research, which included over 100,000 men and women, discovered that moderate and severe depressive symptoms increased from 6.4 per cent to 8.8 per cent in persons under the age of 60 during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in young women.
Other research discovered that moms and women, in general, appeared to be especially vulnerable to sadness and anxiety during the epidemic.
However, evidence indicates that there are connections between mental health, nutrition, and exercise. Some of the changes in people’s mental health that they experienced during quarantine may have been due to changes in their food and physical activity patterns.
According to one poll, those who reported unfavourable changes in their exercise routines during the COVID-19 pandemic had lower mental health, whereas those who reported improved exercise habits had better mental health.
Another sample of teenagers showed similar findings, with those who had a better diet and moderate activity during the COVID-19 pandemic reporting fewer symptoms of sadness and anxiety.
How COVID-19 Changed Our Eating Habits?
People began reporting diet changes soon after the epidemic began. Several studies have also found a significant change in eating patterns over the last year, albeit the changes were not uniform.
More Snacking And Pastries
In a survey of nearly 8,000 persons, 30% of adults reported consuming more unhealthy items than normal during the epidemic.
Another research of around 2,500 adults discovered that 45 per cent snacked more than normal during the epidemic, and 50 per cent ate more overall.
People reported eating less out and cooking more at home than normal, eating more pastries and fried meals.
Several other research found similar outcomes, with individuals eating out less yet eating more food and snacks overall. However, not everyone’s food consumption changed in the same way. Some respondents saw healthier improvements, such as eating more fruits and vegetables at home.
Dietary insecurity during the epidemic has impacted some people’s food choices and eating habits. Due to a lack of financial means, food insecurity promotes unfavourable alterations in food consumption and dietary patterns.
According to a handful of studies, persons who lost their job had less employment than usual or faced unexpected changes in their living circumstances were more likely to report food insecurity during the epidemic. To deal with these changes, some people ate less and bought less expensive meals than usual.
Others reported cutting back on more expensive food groups, such as meat and animal proteins and substituting them with less costly items.
Effects On People With Eating Disorders
People with eating problems appear to have been affected by the epidemic as well. Social distancing policies and COVID-19 lockdown limitations have made it more difficult for certain people to receive therapy and assistance.
One research polled 5,469 participants, 180 of whom had a self-reported eating problem or a history of eating disorders. Those with eating disorders were shown to have higher restricting, binge, purging, and exercise behaviours throughout the epidemic.
Surprisingly, the researchers discovered that even those with no history of disordered eating had greater eating levels during the epidemic.
While there are several reasons why some people acquire eating disorders, mental health may have been one predictor that had a significant role throughout the epidemic.
During the peak of the epidemic in 2020, the COVID-19 EAT research polled over 700 young people. The findings indicated that higher stress levels and depressive symptoms were strongly related to a higher risk of binge eating behaviour.
Changes In Physical Activity And Weight During The COVID-19 Pandemic
According to recent surveys, people are also reporting changes in their physical activity levels and weight. However, as previously stated, the adjustments have not been uniform.
Although results vary by population, research has revealed a significant drop in physical activity and a rise in sedentary behaviour since the onset of the epidemic.
While women and university students reported increased physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, males and young people reported reduced physical activity and increased idle time.
According to one research of over 1,000 people from various nations worldwide, daily sitting time rose by an average of 5–8 hours during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Another study among people in Spain found that the amount of time spent walking each day fell by 58% during the epidemic, while the amount of time spent sitting increased by 24%.
Some people’s weights have also changed in the last year, maybe due to changes in their typical eating habits and physical exercise routines.
According to a few studies, 30–50% of those polled reported gaining weight during the epidemic. According to one research, persons who were already overweight before the COVID-19 pandemic were more likely to report gaining weight.
Having said that, not everyone gained weight throughout this period. In a study of US residents, 19 per cent reported losing weight, while 43 per cent reported no change in weight.
Furthermore, other research discovered that weight increase was associated with particular variables such as insufficient sleep, snacking after dinner, stress eating, decreased physical activity, and changes in work habits.
How Your Diet Can Support Your Mental Health?
Though experts are still working out the intricacies, new research studies show a relationship between nutrition and mental health.
Changes in nutrition, for example, may result in mood changes.
The Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiota, which is heavily impacted by what we consume, impacts our mood and behaviour.
Fruits and vegetables, high in fibre and nutrients, increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut and enhance overall gut health.
They may also assist to prevent depression. High-processed meals, on the other hand, have a detrimental impact on brain function and mental wellness. They have also been related to higher levels of stress and sadness.
Effects Of Nutrition Counselling
The 2017 SMILES experiment was one of the most significant studies on nutrition and mental health. It was one of the first randomised controlled trials to assess dietitian-assisted nutritional counselling as an intervention for depression.
The study looked at the impact of dietary counselling on depressive symptoms, mood, and anxiety levels. At the end of the research, the group that received nutritional counselling had considerably better symptoms.
A 2020 research examined individual vs group-based dietary counselling on various variables, including specific mental health indicators.
The researchers discovered that participants in both groups reported decreased levels of worry and body dissatisfaction in the following therapy in the following therapy.
Tips For Adjusting Into A New Normal
As the COVID-19 lockdown ends and we move into a new phase of the epidemic, you may be seeking methods to resume some of your former habits.
Here are five pointers to help you to get started.
1. Envision Your New Normal
A lot has happened in the last year. Understandably, things may never be the same as they were before the COVID-19 epidemic.
Instead of focusing on how things used to be, consider how you want your new normal to be. Begin with a blank slate to imagine your new normal. Forget about how things used to be and reset your expectations to reflect how they are now.
You may do this by focusing on the aspects of your life over which you have power and can alter, rather than those over which you have no influence. For example, you may not attend your favourite group fitness class, but you decide to invite a buddy to accompany you on a weekly walk instead.
2. Set A Goal
When you’ve envisioned your new normal, try creating a goal to keep you motivated. Having a particular goal or a few minor objectives gives you something solid to work toward.
First, consider the precise changes you wish to make. Next, make an objective, which should be:
Finally, try writing down or stating your objective out to a friend or family member. This may help your goal feel more solid and responsible.
3. Make A Plan
Making a strategy for how you’ll achieve your objectives and transition into your new normal might be one of the quickest methods to get there. A strategy does not have to be intimidating or anxiety-inducing.
Rather, it may be a basic set of measures you intend to follow to help keep your objectives,, and you’re new normal in mind. To create your strategy, consider all of the individual steps you’ll need to do to achieve your objective.
This might contain items such as:
- how much time you’ll need each day
- the supplies you’ll need
- any barriers you’ll need to overcome
- how you’ll document your progress
4. Focus On Nutrients
If losing weight is part of your new normal, fight the temptation to focus on statistics such as your calorie intake or the number on the scale. Instead, choose nutrient-dense meals that have been linked to enhanced mental health and general wellness.
Foods that are rich in minerals such as iron, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, folate, and zinc fall under this category. Several studies have shown that eating specific foods while avoiding others can enhance the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut, promoting gut and brain health.
To get the most out of these nutrients, eat a diet rich in:
- Fruits: apples, bananas, berries, pears, oranges, etc.
- Vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, leafy greens, peppers, etc.
- Dairy: unsweetened milk and yoghurt varieties, cheese, sour cream, etc.
- Whole grains: oats, millet, barley, brown rice, quinoa, etc.
- Healthy fats: fatty fish, avocados, olives, olive oil, etc.
You may wish to restrict or avoid the following:
- Sweets: hard candy, gummies, pastries, sweetened beverages, etc.
- Refined grains: refined bread, cakes, cookies, etc.
- Processed meats: bacon, cured meat, hot dogs, etc.
If you are concerned that you are not receiving enough of a specific nutrient, supplementation may be essential. Your doctor can order laboratory testing and recommend supplements if necessary.
5. Adopt A New Routine
Remember, this is a new scenario for everyone. It may take some time and experimentation to find your new normal.
As you strive to accomplish your health objectives, trust yourself to know what is best for you on any given day.
Try these suggestions as you strive towards your new routine:
- being flexible
- having realistic expectations
- practising self-acceptance
- using positive self-talk and affirmations
- leaning on a support system
It may take some time and effort to find your new normal after the COVID-19 epidemic. Choosing clear goals to strive toward, eating a nutrient-dense diet, and doing things slowly might all assist in reducing stress.
The Bottom Line
The COVID-19 epidemic had a toll on people’s physical and mental health all across the world. There is a wide range in how people are impacted with COVID-19, but one thing stays consistent for the majority: people are eager to reclaim control of their health behaviours.
Regular exercise and a diet rich in good nutrients not only have the potential to aid with things like weight loss, but they may also help with your mental health in the tough COVID-19 pandemic. Ease into your new routine by setting a few minor goals and making a strategy to attain them.