During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people’s personal as well as work situation changed. People who previously worked in an office now work from home. Other people were put on short-time work or even lost their jobs. This new time – with all its restrictions and recommendations to stay at home and to not socialize – drove people to start something unexpected: they started baking! In this blog, we will look at what baking does to people as a coping mechanism, based on a survey by a Canadian research group.
Neuroscientist Melissa Chee and her colleagues from the Carlton university in Ottawa conducted an online survey, to which 680 people responded. The online questionnaire was divided into several sections: demographic data (e.g. age, gender, weight), the COVID-19 experience, food and beverages consumption, mood, stress appraisals and coping mechanisms.
Weight gain during the pandemic
The results showed something many of us expected: the dramatic lifestyle changes that were the consequence of the COVID 19 pandemic were a psychosocial stressor for most people. Interestingly, Chee and colleagues found that the increased occurrence of mental disorders such as eating disorders, anxiety or depression was often paired with considerable weight gain (often up to 10 pounds or 5 kg). The weight gain was more pronounced in people who reported themselves as overweight in the questionnaire than in people who considered themselves to be of normal weight. You might think that this only concerns a minority of people, but the research showed that almost 2 out of 3 adults in North America were affected. To make matters worse, the excessive weight gain induced by the life changes during COVID also makes us more vulnerable to COVID since obesity is one of the most severe risk factors for hospitalisation, intensive care and ventilation due to a COVID 19 infection.
But obesity does not always have to do with diet; other metabolic processes and lack of exercise also play a role. And during the Covid-19 lockdowns, we all moved much less, because we were also deprived of sporting opportunities such as the gym or club sports.
Baking to cope with stress
Now I would like to come to the aspect that (healthy) baking can also have its good sides, as far as stress processing is concerned and as long as the result is not a calorie bomb.
So we start with the question should you or should you not bake? Let’s start with eating habits: a healthy eating pattern with a balanced diet is a prerequisite for controlling and maintaining a healthy body weight. A healthy body weight is an important prerequisite to be more resistant to COVID-19. However, this healthy eating behaviour can be disturbed by stress. Chee and her team found that people who claim to be conscious eaters actually eat more and unhealthier food in stressful situations. Especially tasty snacks with a high sugar, salt or fat content are readily eaten in stressful situations. This comfort-eating can be seen as a way of coping with stressful situations by oneself, but it has negative effects on the body in the long run. However, in the study, participants reported eating healthier at home, partly because they have less access to fast food at home, despite an increased stress level due to the pandemic.
The survey data shows that eating is a form of emotion-based coping with stressors. The people that reported that they used eating as coping (next to some other coping strategies), also reported less stress Individuals may use their eating behaviour to cope with their internal emotions as well as external stressors during the pandemic. For someone who really enjoys baking, the eating may be secondary and baking could actually reduce stress.
So what is the result of the knowledge gained from the study? Should we bake more (cakes) in the pandemic? Or should we leave it alone? Overall, cooking and baking is not a bad coping mechanism, but we should all keep an eye on our intake of fat, sugar, and other unhealthy ingredients. So why not try a homemade sourdough bread with lots of fibre or replace the sugar in a cake with bananas and the wheat flour with oatmeal? Like this: Banana Bread by Cookie and Kate Or just eat the cake in moderation and give some to your friends, neighbours, and family, to make everyone happy.
Chee MJ, Koziel Ly N, Anisman H, Matheson K (2020) Piece of cake: Coping with COVID-19 Nutrients 12:E3803 —E3803. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12123803