Editors’ Note: With full acknowledgment of the big-picture implications of a pandemic that already has claimed thousands of lives, cratered global economies and closed international borders, Deadline’s Coping With COVID-19 Crisis series is a forum for those in the entertainment space grappling with myriad consequences of seeing a great industry screech to a halt. The hope is for an exchange of ideas and experiences, and suggestions on how businesses and individuals can best ride out a crisis that doesn’t look like it will abate any time soon. If you have a story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In hunkering down at home, we’re in constant close proximity to our pantries and refrigerators. And, with many of us depressed, anxious and out of work, comfort food can often seem like all we have left. Legion loaves of banana bread are being baked, recipes invented and food pictures posted online, while the phrase “Quarantine 15” become common parlance.
We know overeating won’t really help, and yet, we can’t seem to stop. But consider this: according to Dr. Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of seven mindful eating books, the “hit” we get from comfort eating lasts only about three minutes. So, is it really worth it? Here, she explains the science behind our drive to overeat, and gives some tips on dodging the cookie jar.
Then there’s exercise: a guaranteed way to manage anxiety. Countless gyms and fitness instructors have launched online classes during this pandemic, but where to start? Joey Gonzalez, CEO of Hollywood-beloved gym Barry’s, explains some ways to get on board without breaking something, plus how to get your kids involved.
And if all that still sounds intimidating, simply enjoy a clip of Bill Murray’s new workout video below. Murray wrote and directed the video, which costs $5 to access in full, in an effort to support the small local business of his favorite gym, Longevity Fitness Charleston.
DR. SUSAN ALBERS, Psy.D.
Right now, people are emotionally eating, even if they’ve never really experienced it before. They’re anxiety eating, boredom eating, stress eating, and just simply pleasure eating or comfort eating. A lot of my clients are talking about how their emotions are triggering food right now. They’re also just steps away from the kitchen, and so that food is closer than it’s ever been throughout the day. For so many people, their typical coping mechanisms have come to a screeching halt over the past month, and eating has become a way of coping with their feelings. Where traditionally they would have gone to the gym, or gotten out of the house, or met with friends, now they’re doing a lot of comfort eating.
Serotonin is that feel-good neurotransmitter that relates to almost all parts of our body and activities. It relates to sleep, to eating, to when you’re engaged in activities that you enjoy. Really, you want to keep that serotonin in balance, and we do that pretty much every day in the ways that we take care of ourselves. Dopamine is more of a pleasure neurotransmitter, and we get that from positive things, like going to the gym. There are negative ways in which dopamine hits as well, like drugs, alcohol, [and overeating] food. So, when we’re really stressed, our dopamine becomes depleted. And unfortunately, there’s been an avalanche of anxiety, stress and turmoil lately, so everybody’s serotonin has taken a big hit.
Food creates a hit of dopamine, and dopamine is what makes us feel really good. So, people find that they’re turning to these different ways to increase their dopamine level, and those comfort foods are a really quick hit. You feel it pretty immediately, and you feel good for a short period of time. But what studies show is that the good feeling only lasts about three minutes and then it fades. Instead of comfort food, what people are really looking for is some soothing of their feelings or change in their feelings.
A lot of it’s unconscious— we’re not even really aware that we’re doing it. So, making sure you take a pause to really think it through can cut down on a lot of mindless and comfort eating. The acronym I use is STOP. ‘S’ stands for ‘slow down’ when you get that urge to comfort eat. ‘T’ is to ‘take a deep breath’, because taking a deep breath is going to help to slow you down, also to reduce your blood pressure, slow down your breathing. ‘O’ is to ‘observe’ how you feel. Are you really hungry? Physically hungry or emotionally hungry? And then ‘P’ is ‘pick an option’. Do you really need food, or do you need something else soothing? In slowing down, sometimes you say, “Well, yeah, I really am bored. I really am just feeling stressed.” But you have to take that pause moment to figure it out.
Practicing mindful eating habits can help too. My motto is when you eat, just eat. Make sure you’re not doing something else at the same time. Also, pick a ‘snack spot’. A lot of people are now using their tables and dining rooms for makeshift offices and they’ve lost that place where they tended to eat, and instead they’re eating all over the house. So, pick a spot in which you dine and that’s got to be a focus. And don’t do desk dining, because that is often a recipe for mindless eating or comfort eating. We’re also very stressed now with this new system of doing work. Don’t eat in front of the television, just focus on what you’re doing. It’s fine to have a snack, but just make sure that you’re not doing something else at the same time, because that’s going to help you to be more conscious about how much you’re eating and why you’re eating.
Right now we have to really focus on the things that increase people’s serotonin level that they would normally get from social connection. Doing group Zoom meetings or connecting with friends helps. Also, anything soothing to the body, whether it’s curling up in a blanket, or putting on some comfy clothes, or relaxing music. Anything that’s going to help to relax you is going to help boost that serotonin level.
Also, cortisol is stress hormone that makes you crave sugary, fatty, salty food. Black tea has been shown to help to reduce your cortisol level. Another thing that’s really important is Vitamin D because it’s very involved with your mood. When your Vitamin D level is low, that also impacts your serotonin level. If you can, go outside and get it from the sunlight, but there are also some Vitamin D enriched foods that are helpful. Mushrooms are high in Vitamin D, fortified milk, eggs, cheese, and some fatty fishes have Vitamin D. Orange juice is often fortified with Vitamin D as well. The other food that I love for stress eating is mandarin oranges, because they’re a good hit of Vitamin C, but also studies have shown that the aroma of citrus foods is calming.
When we first closed, almost immediately, we began to offer complimentary workouts live on Instagram, and those workouts continue to live on our IGTV section. We really wanted to provide our followers and our customers the opportunity to just keep moving and staying positive through this. There’s a endorphin experience when you sweat and move your body and challenge yourself, and you feel like you’ve accomplished something. So, for both the physical and the mental, it is really a must in terms of staying healthy through these closures.
One of the things that has been really obvious in the COVID-19 crisis is people who are overweight and not fit are at much a higher risk. So I think any place is a good place to start. You can try just Googling ‘beginner workout’ and it will pop up with thousands of different web pages to get started. But one way is to pick some short workout moves for the day. For example, just do however many squats you can until you’re maxed out. Then do something for your upper body. So, add pushups. Pick two or three different exercises. Also make sure above all else that your form is correct, so try to work out in front of a mirror. And of course you want to make sure your heart and lungs are healthy, so pick some kind of heart-elevating cardiovascular exercise, whether it is jumping jacks or squat jumps or just jogging in place. Or you can go outside and jog outdoors when it’s safe.
If you’re thinking you don’t have time to exercise while also caring for your kids at home, remember kids love to exercise. Only they don’t call it exercise, they call it playing. You can have races, you can play hide and seek, there are so many different activities you can do with your kids that keep you moving. If you want to get more literal and you want to actually do workouts with your kids, there are plenty of those as well online. Depending on the size of your kids obviously, while you’re doing those squats, you can hold your kid. While you’re doing a pushup, you could have your kid sit on your back (you might need to drop to your knees for that one).
I believe we are one of the only boutique fitness studios in the country that has made a commitment to every single instructor, part-time and full-time, to keep paying them through the closures. But we got to a point where financially we couldn’t continue only delivering free content online while maintaining our commitment to our trainers. So, we developed a series of paid online classes too, with the hopes that our community would continue to support our efforts. It really has been heartwarming to see how many thousands of people have been showing up each day to the classes.
What I hope happens when those doors open up again is that people start going out and taking hikes together and taking classes together and working out again, because the community piece is makes it so special. I think to me it’s actually what makes it go from working out to playing again.
WORKOUT WITH BILL MURRAY
Watch the clip below, and you can access the full workout for $5 here.
Coping With COVID-19 Crisis
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