top of page
  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Caged with calories to burn and nowhere to exercise: managing diet and exercise in lockdown. [Wise

Caged with calories to burn and nowhere to exercise: managing diet and exercise in lockdown.

A healthy diet and exercise can be a bit of a challenge at any time, let alone with lockdown. Perhaps you’ve found yourself wearing your workout gear without ever getting to the workout, or eating less healthily than you’d like.

In theory exercise should help you feel good and calmer. But you don’t feel like it…

What’s going on?

Having done a PhD on obesity, I felt some kind of responsibility to look into this.

Lockdown has psychological parallels with what might be experienced in a prison…The epidemiology suggests that being in prison results in weight gain, particularly for women.

But lockdown is more complex because we have some control over our food supply. We’re also receiving mixed signals amid a lot of uncertainty about the risks and no resolution is quite in sight, yet. There are short term issues and long term issues which our mammalian-reptilian brain is ill-equipped to deal with…

[Read on or watch the video]

Lockdown paradox: two conflicting stress responses

Lockdown is a stress for most people and it’s more complex than a basic stress response because two thing are going on:

  1. 1) A fight/flight response: your energy is mobilised to take action as a result of the immediate sense of danger. You might feel more tense or a sense of urgency to take action. In theory, exercise should help, but you’re also experiencing:

  1. 2) A freeze response: your body is preparing for scarcity in the long term (as a result of seeing empty shelves and hearing news about food shortages, etc). It’s why our satiety mechanism can switch off leading to overweight. The body tries to build up its energy stores by accumulating calories (eating more and choosing calories over nutrients). It also avoids expending energy through unnecessary exercise…You see the conflict here…

Lockdown has induced complex feelings of helplessness and frustration. We are under acute and chronic stress.

So what can you do?

First, the thing not to do is to increase your stress by trying to push yourself, criticise yourself or get into arguments with the people you care about by blaming them for why you can’t exercise or eat properly.

Being aware of the lockdown paradox and being kind to yourself are the pattern-interrupt.

Two things to look out for to help keep your diet and body healthy:

  1. 1. Empty calories:

Empty calories are foods that give you the energy but not the nutrients (often a scientific term for what we colloquially call junk food).

  1. 2. High intensity exercise

This is not the best routine right now for most people because it’s likely to add to your stress response. Simply thinking about exercise activates your sympathetic nervous system. Start smaller and gentler and build up again.

A simple tool for decision making around food and exercise right now.

Rather than pushing or criticising yourself, choose one realistic option at a time:

Avoid (don’t buy the junk food in the first place; or let go of the high intensity routine for now)

Manage (hide the calories out of sight; do 10 minutes of your routine instead of the full 60)

Replace (replace empty calories with nutrient-rich ones like nuts or dried fruit, and especially vitamin D because we’re missing sunshine; go for more balanced exercise like yoga or qi gong rather than the adrenaline pumping ones)


…perhaps you just need to put some relaxing music on and sway. Then grab a cup of herbal tea, sit and breathe.

Have a good week,


Today: Join me and Beata Young, Founder of WOnIt, a community for women in tech and STEM. Beata works international and collaborates with the Malta government to expand the community locally. She created it specifically for those who see themselves as leaders (not followers) in the digital world and want to break the barriers. We'll be focusing on the big F: Fear. And how to transform it. 5pm UK. Link to the live YouTube stream here or via Facebook here.

p.s. The Leaders Circle (and other new offerings) will be coming soon to an online space near you!

0 views0 comments
bottom of page