Binge eating and a lack of sleep during stay-home restrictions could have a long-term effect on mental and physical health even after the coronavirus pandemic is over.
A UK survey of 2,250 people between 18 and 75 by researchers at King’s College London found almost half of people felt more anxious or depressed as a result of the outbreak.
Another 38 per cent who took part in the April survey said they slept less, while 35 per cent admitted to overeating or indulging in unhealthy food.
A psychologist in Dubai gave a warning that similar behavioural patterns were likely in the UAE.
"The current Covid-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on our daily lives," said Nadia Brooker, a counselling psychologist and specialist in eating disorders at the Priory Wellbeing Centre.
“There is so much uncertainty it can be hard to manage our physical and emotional well-being.
“It’s likely we are all experiencing difficult emotions which can often lead to changes in appetite that can eventually lead to disordered eating patterns.”
Movement restrictions and stayhome measures were enforced across the UAE on March 26, and were only relaxed almost four weeks later.
With many people still working from home and only venturing outside for essential trips, the temptation towards angst-busting overeating remains.
During times of stress, cortisol levels become elevated, which can increase appetite further and create a vicious circle of unhealthy living.
A common reaction is a craving for feel-good foods like chocolate, crisps, sweets and carbohydrate-rich foods that provide energy bursts and encourage the production of serotonin and dopamine.
A flood of these “happy chemicals” activates the pleasure centre of our brain and can distract us from the uncomfortable emotions we may be experiencing.
A quarter of people who took part in the survey said they were checking social media several times a day for coronavirus updates, which could be adding to an increase in anxiety.
Tips to avoid overeating during the pandemic include laying out a clear meal plan for the day ahead, avoid distractions at mealtimes, keeping a food journal and staying hydrated.
Overeating issues can be worsened during Ramadan, with those fasting during the holy month encouraged to keep a check on the amount they are consuming when breaking their fast.
“Utilising food as a means of coping with stress has a strong physiological underpinning,” said Ms Brooker.
“It’s unsurprising that over-eating or compulsive eating is being used by many as a coping mechanism, as opposed to simply attending to hunger cues.
“We can all become more vulnerable to engaging in these types of behaviours as many of us now working from home and faced with a daily temptation to eat more than normal.
“It is important to develop as many coping skills as possible in order to protect our physical and emotional well-being.”