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Food diaries: successful method of coping with Covid-19 overindulging

14/06/2021
Tracey-devonport

A recent study, involving University of Wolverhampton’s Professor Tracey Devonport and Dr Wendy Nicholls, has found that using a food craving diary is an effective remote intervention to help people deal with food cravings and negative emotions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The research involved two groups; one completing a daily food craving diary and a second completing a food craving diary and mindfulness practice daily. The aim was to investigate differences between these groups in relation to food cravings, emotional states associated with cravings, eating, perceived wellbeing, and physical and mental health.

The results show there was a significantly lower experience of unpleasant emotions and a significant decrease in the experience of food cravings over the course of the study in both groups.

This led to the participants reporting that they were snacking less and eating healthier, and also experienced improved wellbeing at the end of the study compared to the beginning.

The results therefore support the use of remote interventions to help manage food cravings and associated emotional experiences. Remote interventions help increase awareness of emotions and associated eating, which prompts the use of strategies, other than food, to regulate those emotions.

There were no significant differences in results between participants that completed mindfulness practice and those that didn’t. However, the mindfulness practice plus diary group perceived mindfulness to be more effective in managing cravings than the diary.

Professor of Applied Sport and Exercise Science Tracey Devonport said: “Adjusting to life during the Covid-19 pandemic presented considerable challenges to people, especially as many were juggling home schooling, learning new ways of working, reduced opportunity to pursue hobbies, along with experiencing separation from friends and family.

“A consequence of this was an increase in unpleasant emotions, including stress, anxiety, depression, tiredness and boredom, which are all recognised as emotions that lead to emotional eating.

“During lockdown, people also purchased high quantities of long-life food which is high in sugar, trans fat, and salt content and therefore more individuals are living with larger quantities of unhealthy food within their immediate environment.

“The reduced experiences of unpleasant emotion over the course of our study is of significance as restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic that impacted on people’s emotions, were still in force. This suggests that while individuals were not able to alter some of the circumstances causing unpleasant emotion, they were able to regulate their responses.”

A total of 171 participants from the United Kingdom, Finland, Philippines, Spain, Italy, Brazil, North America, South Korea, and China took part in the seven-day intervention.

The development of mindful eating involves bringing full attention to the process of eating; to taste, smells, thoughts, and feelings that arise during a meal, as well as internal cues of hunger and fullness.

The participants were provided with guidelines for mindful eating and a daily reminder including additional brief instructions on the practice.

Before eating, participants were asked to think about the connections between their emotions and a desire to eat, to become aware of potential emotional triggers for eating.

They were also instructed to use “if-then” planning to manage potential emotional triggers. For example, "‘If’ I feel anxious, ‘then’ I will speak with a close friend about how I feel". This enabled participants to consider ways of regulating emotion other than the use of food.

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