Singaporeans still have another four weeks until the end of the circuit breaker on June 1st. Stricter measures of closure of bubble tea stallsh, temperature screening at all malls, and staggered entry into popular wet markets will persist. We have been encouraged to bring our photo identification cards when we visit such places as well. While many continue to be physically safe at home, more and more people are feeling increasingly anxious about the uncertain future. In fact, hoarding and panic buying can be seen as a direct response to anxiety, while counselling hotlines have also seen a sharp increase in the number of calls they have received during this period.
For a country that loves its food, it should come as no surprise then that one of the ways in which people are dealing with their stress is through eating. The demand for food delivery services has skyrocketed, in part due to the new restrictions, while more people stock up on frozen foods, including ready-made meals. But, as stress levels continue to rise across the island, food starts to become a crutch, and people can start to overeat.
Usually, when people are stress eating, the hormones that make them overeat also make them crave high-fat, sugary “comfort foods”. This, coupled with a more sedentary stay-at-home lifestyle where people cannot get out of the house as much anymore, will invariably lead to weight gain and a higher risk of obesity. This, in turn, might lead to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and even heart disease. There are also concerns of childhood obesity, as research has shown that children gain an unhealthy amount of weight when they stay out of school.
It is also important to recognize that stress eating is an ineffective response to emotional problems. While eating might make you feel good in the short term, it does not help you cope with your stress and anxiety in the long run. The weight gain from overeating might also give you body image issues and thus even more stress to deal with.
More crucially, stress eating that is not properly addressed can lead to binge eating. Binge eating happens when you regularly eat excessive amounts of food, often very quickly and sometimes to the point of discomfort. This is usually accompanied by feelings of shame, guilt, and self-loathing. Binge eating is one of the most common eating disorders, but actual statistics are lacking because people tend to overlook it as gluttony.
So, how can you tell if you’re really feeling hungry or if it’s because you’re feeling stressed? There are key differences between physical hunger and emotional hunger. For example, when you are feeling physically hungry, the hunger tends to develop gradually. You will also be more open to eating any sort of food and will stop eating once you are full. There are also no negative emotional feelings when you eat.
However, emotional hunger happens suddenly and is typically accompanied by cravings. You might binge and not be satisfied when you are full. There might also be feelings of guilt and shame when you eat.
The most important step to keeping your stress eating in check is to ask yourself what is causing you the stress in the first place. Is it being cooped up at home? Is it not being able to meet your friends? Or is it general anxiety from the number of cases in Singapore?
Knowing what is causing you the stress will help you to target the issue directly. For example, if watching the news coverage about the virus is stressing you out, you could set time limits on how long you consume the news daily.
This is a stressful period, so it is understandable to want to turn to comfort foods. However, it is important to be conscious of how much and how often you are eating high-caloric, sugary, and deep-fried foods. Be more deliberate about when and what you eat. You can even choose to start a food diary to track your eating habits and identify unhealthy eating patterns or start planning your meals to limit the unhealthy foods you consume.
If you are not confident of your ability to control yourself, the best thing you can do is to make sure you do not have snacks lying around in the house. This will help lower the chances of your stress eating an entire bag of salted egg fish crisps at one go! But, if you would still like to munch on something while watching movies at home or just to reward yourself, then make sure to keep healthy snacks in your pantry. Good examples of healthy snacks include fruits like apple slices and berries, unsalted nuts, edamame, and dark chocolate.
What are some common symptoms that you might experience as a result of overeating? You can expect the typical stomach aches, but there is actually a myriad of symptoms that can accompany overeating, including:
Bloatedness from gas
Drowsiness and fatigue
Diarrhoea or vomiting
There are many ways to alleviate these symptoms, including taking over-the-counter medications like antacids or charcoal pills. But, if you are feeling unwell and are unsure of what to take, it is best that you consult a doctor beforehand, as taking the wrong medication can do more harm than good.
Since we have all been advised to stay at home during this period, if you would like to seek medical advice for your symptoms, we recommend engaging a house call doctor. Having a doctor come right to your doorstep would be a great alternative to going to a GP clinic.
It is important to note that such services are meant for non-emergency symptoms. If you are experiencing a medical emergency such as chest pains, difficulty breathing, or continuous diarrhoea, you should call 995 immediately.
If you are interested in booking a consultation with our licensed medical care professionals, you can make an appointment by using our online system here, download our app on the App Store or Google Play Store, or contact our hotline at +65 8180 8948.