Selected Podcast

COVID-19: Food For Thought

Christina Brothers, LICSW, discusses food and eating issues during COVID-19.
COVID-19: Food For Thought
Featured Speaker:
Christina Brothers, L.I.C.S.W.
Christina Brothers is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Eating Disorders Specialist at MIT Medical. She received her M.S.W. from Salem State University. Outside of her work at MT Medical, Christina enjoys spending time with her dog, baking, and being active—running, hiking, gardening, and going to the beach. 

Learn more about Christina Brothers, L.I.C.S.W.
Transcription:

Melanie Cole (Host):  Welcome to Conversations With MIT Medical. I’m Melanie Cole and today, we’re discussing food and eating issues during COVID-19. Joining me is Christina Brothers. She’s a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Eating Disorders Specialist at MIT Medical. Christina, it’s a pleasure to have you join us today. As we’re talking about COVID-19, and how unprecedented these times are, what makes it unique as it relates to food and the relationship that we’re all having with our bodies as we are quarantined and practicing social isolation and social distancing. Tell us a little how this is all connected.

Christina Brothers, LICSW (Guest):  Yeah, I mean honestly, there’s so many different things you could focus on. But I’ve been noticing during you know I think we are kind of at what week 15 or 16 some particular themes from the students that I work with both those that do struggle with eating related issues and those that kind of have a very healthy outlook on their body. But predominantly the themes I’ve noticed are in kind of a basic way, we are all being asked to isolate. So, really being alone with -people are being forced to be alone with their thoughts and somewhat less connected to what’s important to them. I would also say there’s also kind of this lack of structure that some people are really facing, needing to create different schedules that create more feasibility with working from home and I think that kind of leads to additional thoughts around food.

There’s also this real lack of unknown. These are really uncertain times that create some tendencies of wanting to lean in to really being able to control certain things which food can sometimes be a good outlet for. And then I think lastly, really with this extra time at home, I think we’ve really noticed an increased use in social media which we can get into further because there’s a lot to say about that.

Host:  Well let’s do that then as personally, I’ve noticed like I got onto TikTok and there’s a lot of food hacks. I’ve tried a bunch of them. And people are creative, and you can come up with some creative things but then there’s also this social media requirement. Are you – the pressure really, from it and some people are gaining weight and you’re watching more alcohol consumption on social media. Speak about what you’ve noticed as far as patterns.

Christina:  Yeah, it’s been really interesting to watch. I think in just a very simplified way I’ve noticed a lot of messages around kind of this pendulum way of thinking of oh we should really be using this time to be as productive as possible or maybe we should use this time really just to rest and to kind of be more connected to that. And I think what’s really interesting is then food and our weight and like you said alcohol consumption can kind of play a role in that of there’s these kind of ingrained messages around oh maybe we should use this time to do like a Whole 30 diet or we should exercise every day for 30 days.

And I think these are really challenging messages when some people are just frankly trying to get through the day. And then I thought it was really interesting – I was kind of looking more into this idea of social media related to kind of food and our body and one thing that I came across is that as of March 18th, on social media, there were five times more in-home workouts being shown on Instagram than ever before. And I think that really just speaks to really, the influence that kind of social media has taken in terms of really focusing on individual’s weight and shape through all of this. And I think it can be really difficult frankly for people to make sense of how to navigate these messages especially if you’ve had any sort of history or do have current concerns related to food and your body.

Host:  Well that’s true and I’ve noticed that as well and I’m an exercise physiologist and so, I always like to look at those and see what people are doing and they can get pretty creative and it’s been a positive in that way but there’s also negatives. People are scared as you said, Christina. They are uncertain. Tell us about some of the psychological impacts. We’re hearing about supply chains slowing. We’re hearing about supplies tainted. Meats closing. You know meat plants closing and so what is that doing to the psyche of us when we’re scared of food shortages?

Christina:  I think you kind of hit the nail on the head. There’s a very real way, especially early on with the pandemic where fear really spiked in terms of food. And if we kind of just take a step back, fears drives our behavior. So, kind of like we all noticed and maybe even fell into, early on we were buying a lot more food and even maybe hoarding some food with not knowing what to expect. And with that, we saw a lot of empty shelves at the grocery store which I think only intensified that fear. So, it’s kind of a reality to our psyche and I think really goes a long way to then take in those messages of oh we should be fearful about what’s happening in our world.

The other kind of thing to note is that for people that do have some struggles related to binge eating behaviors, it was suddenly really challenging for people to have all of this excess food in their home. And so I think it really created some urges for people that were battling those struggles already.

Host:  Well so then let’s talk about some of the signs that you might notice in yourself that people are falling into some of these negative patterns as you say and because people are out of work or staying home, they’re bored eating, they are mindless eating. Mindfulness is not so prevalent. Do you feel that you’ve noticed that it’s leading to more junk food binging or are people getting creative and trying to eat healthier? Tell us what are some of the signs that we’re falling into some negative habits.

Christina:  Yeah, I mean I think you kind of used the word mindlessness and I think really, starting to notice those patterns and be more connected to really, what feelings we’re having when we do eat certain foods or when we do move our body in certain ways. So, really starting to make connections to if we’re feeling pretty negative about ourselves, following maybe eating maybe certain types of foods or not moving our body as much as we had intended to for that day. I think I would really just be more connected to that. I think perhaps we’ve all been engaging in some changes of what we’re eating and how we’re working out and I think the message really is just be aware how all of those things are affecting you. So, really bringing in that mindfulness behavior.

And I think the last thing I would really say is like if you’re starting to notice that maybe you have some rigid rules around needing to eat certain types of foods at certain times or needing to do this type of workout every day or whatever it is; I would really try to kind of recognize that and maybe even challenge that. Because I think there is a real reality to like I was talking about earlier, with this uncertain period that we’re in, I think it really can be tempting for people to lean on something that they can control. And kind of insert food and exercise there. Bu ultimately, what we really want is to feel like we can have flexibility with our eating and exercise.

Host: This is really an interesting topic. Wrap it up for us Christina with your best advice about mindfulness and eating and our relationship with food as we’re finding ourselves socially isolated and quarantined and how this all ties together during this pandemic.

Christina:  I think what I would say is I think it’s so important for people to be noticing what’s happening in their body. I think any time we start leaning towards one side of the spectrum or another; I think that kind of starts making us much more mindless in our behavior. I would also say I think it’s important for all of us to figure out how we are able to make connections through this period of time. Because we need connections and ultimately, I think the more time that people are isolated; the more the window that people really start to get fixated on certain things. And that’s kind of not what we want as individuals.

So, there’s a lot of different things to look at for yourself but I think ultimately, it does come back to being really authentic with what’s going on and what you’re noticing and if you need more support around that, trying to figure that out; whether it’s mental health support or just more support from your friends and family, trying to really reach out and make those connections happen.

Host:  Thank you so much Christina for joining us today and really explaining so very well our relationship to food and eating issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you again. You’ve been listening to Conversations With MIT Medical. For more information, please visit www.medical.mit.edu to get connected with one of our providers. Please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast and all the other MIT Medical podcasts. Also, share this show with your friends and family on social media because it’s such an important and interesting topic and that way, we learn from the experts at MIT Medical together. I’m Melanie Cole.