L I F E S T Y L E – F O O D
I stared at the clock with jittery fingers. After an agonising wait, the clock struck 1pm. In a flash, I brought out my phone to order from BFC, making sure to use the promo code that’s only applicable after 1pm. The food arrived 20 minutes later — two burgers and three pieces of fried chicken — and I dived right in. My tummy was full. The jitters had stopped. But when I looked at the rapidly shrinking Bkash account balance and piles of work before me, I never felt emptier.
There are countless people all over the world who have had their eating habits affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. As I read through the articles myself, I couldn’t help but feel my problem was relatively trivial. From stress eating to malnutrition — the ranges of impacts have been quite massive. But how has all this happened? On the surface, it makes sense for a literal pandemic — that brought our daily lives to a standstill — to affect our eating habits, too. After all, eating is a huge part of our lives. But it’s much more complex than that.
The global response to the coronavirus has been to impose lockdown and quarantine orders. Combine these strict measures with food scarcity and worsening food supply chains and you have the perfect environment for food insecurity to breed. At the early onset of the pandemic, millions of families in Bangladesh had flocked to supermarkets and convenience stores to stock up on food. The mass hysteria had created a culture of hoarding that had gripped the entire nation. People started to spend more on food with a longer shelf life. That meant whole grains like wheat, rice, and essential vegetables were in short supply. Retail prices of foodstuff were hiked. Families that could buy up food were able to ride the wave of panic. But those who couldn’t were left to suffer. Due to the lockdown, many workers — particularly garments and manufacturing — couldn’t earn enough to put food on the table.
The increased food insecurity has drastically affected our eating habits. Households that hoard food eat less to conserve supply. Others succumb to binge eating out of fear of the food going bad. On average, families now consume more boxed carbohydrates like rice with a gradual reduction in protein consumption. In other parts of the country, a stable diet with all necessary nutrients is now a rarity. All these changes have worsened obesity in a lot of individuals who can’t control their intake or do adequate exercise. On the other hand, people who suffer from anorexia find it even more difficult to consume food that’s been sitting around for a while. Many children and teenagers who need protein to grow healthily now suffer from malnutrition.
But let’s take a step back and think about the mental impacts of the lockdown. For students all over the country, the pandemic has uprooted all their plans for the future. Board exams have been cancelled or postponed. University applications have become exponentially harder. It’s no surprise that many have felt the mental strain of their well-made plans being thrown into disarray. Thus, many students report that stress levels have increased on average. Lack of motivation or a sense of purpose is also quite common. As a result, many of our youth have succumbed to stress eating as a form of temporary relief. The release of endorphins at the sight of a large pizza does well to combat the momentary stress. But it keeps coming back to haunt us. Others have seen a marked decline in appetite due to the worsening mental health. The lump in their throat gets bigger with each passing day.
Tasnia Shahrin, a Bangladeshi student, shared her experience,
“My eating habit in the quarantine has shifted towards the normal side, actually. When I had work and university, I often used to skip meals. But now, as I’m all by myself at home, I eat full meals. Even though this is a good thing, it still feels like overeating to me. So, I’ll definitely say that lockdown has increased the intake of food for me.”
Even for those who’ve had better eating habits, the mental impact still remains. But there’s a beacon of hope that’s echoed by her statement.
All isn’t doom and gloom for our eating habits. There are numerous helpful guides on the Internet that can ensure we eat more healthily. However, the pandemic has also opened up new doors of opportunity for lots of people. For many, work-at-home practices are much more flexible than field work. The flexibility has allowed them to set aside time for healthy habits like regular exercise. People have also started to eat more home-cooked food which is much healthier than food from outside. It makes sense. When people are not strictly bound by work obligations, they can theoretically control their habits. As a result, people who used to suffer from overconsumption of junk food have now recovered and improved their diet. Students and workers who led a sedentary lifestyle now feel more active, thanks to the daily exercise. People who used to worry about their waistline now feel confident in their own skin, thanks to the lost weight. It’s truly remarkable how we thrive in situations of despair.
The pandemic has affected our eating habits in a multitude of ways. For many, the effects have been bad. Food insecurity remains a big problem that the government needs to solve. But others have found a way to turn this pandemic into a wonderful opportunity for healthy growth. If we — who have been blessed with adequate food supply — are motivated enough, we can cultivate healthy habits on our own. I know I won’t be ordering junk food any time soon.