It may appear harmless on the face of it.
Call it survival or adaptation to an unfolding situation. Zimbabweans, especially those in urban settings, are no longer following a defined routine in terms of when they have their meals, the type of meals and number of meals in a given day.
This is largely due to the twin challenges of intermittent water supply and electricity load-shedding that have made cooking at regular times almost impossible.
Many families, especially those that cannot afford alternative water supply sources or energy sources, tend to wait for power to be restored before they undertake their cooking, hence leaving their eating times at the mercy of the irregular power outages.
Many people have resorted to eating once or twice a day while some have incorporated going to bed hungry as the new normal with the cost of food also being a contributory factor.
While year on year average inflation reached 97,85 percent in July, food and non-alcoholic beverages inflation, accounting for 33,5 weight in the Consumer Price Index, was at 126 percent, with prices now beyond the reach of many hence also affecting their eating patterns.
Speaking to B-Metro, Tendai Sibanda of Cowdray Park, expressed anger at being deprived her normal meals because of excessive load shedding.
“I prepare tea in the morning and spend the whole day waiting for electricity to be restored so that I either prepare late lunch or late supper. This is unfair because electricity is usually restored at around 10pm,” lamented Sibanda.
She added: “I usually wake up to a still morning, a sign that there is no power and I instantly know that I now have to get busy searching for firewood while hoping that Zesa may come back soon to save the day.”
Another resident who identified herself as MaDube shared Sibanda’s sentiments and further expressed her concern on how this was affecting children.
“It’s really sad to see your child constantly coming to tell you that they are hungry yet there is nothing you can do about it.
“All we have to do now is train them to adapt to the situation to make it endurable for them,” said a distressed MaDube.
Health officials have expressed concern over these irregular eating patterns as the hunger induced promotes binge eating.
In an interview with B-Metro, Lynn Ndlovu, a nutritionist, gave some insight on how irregular eating poses health risks on people.
“Eating once or twice a day causes high blood pressure especially if the food has high carbohydrates and fats.
“At the same time eating one type of food may cause nutrient deficiency diseases like a weak immune system. Excess sodium leads to high blood pressure while high potassium may trigger electrolyte imbalance leading to heart conditions.”
B- Metro also consulted online sources on the impact of irregular eating on the human body wherein it was established that irregular eating can cause one’s metabolism to slow down, which can cause weight gain or make it harder to lose weight.
Skipping meals causes erratic blood sugar levels, making weight control difficult.
Well-controlled blood glucose helps manage appetite.
Dr V Pravin Kumar notes that our bodies always try to conserve energy for future emergencies like starvation or hibernation.
He explains that there are two types of chemicals acting in the body, with one group involved in breaking down proteins, fats and stored glucose to provide energy while the other group tends to preserve them.
“The current concept of eating at regular times has developed due to our daily working and sleeping hours. So our body also maintains its chemicals according to our routine.
“If you disturb this balance, what happens is, as an example you wake up late and have breakfast at 10 am. You had dinner last night at 10pm.
So your body is under a condition similar to starvation till your breakfast (8hrs after any meal, body responds like it is starving).”
He says at this point the body releases chemicals that break up all the fat from the peripheries, that is, arms and legs. As the body starts getting energy from the food, this fat that was immobilised has to get stored.
Our bodies, he says, then store it in our bellies because it is meant for extreme conditions.
“And also the partially broken fats are being circulated as unhealthy cholesterol. It starts getting deposited on walls of blood vessels later leading to heart attacks and stroke. The body’s control of blood sugar is also not good because your eating times are variable. So you become at risk for diabetes.”
Meanwhile, some Bulawayo residents say they have been able to maintain healthy eating patterns because they are in possession of gas stoves and water storage tanks that help them have uninterrupted supplies.
However, they have expressed fear over constant usage of gas stoves.
“Gas stoves are dangerous especially if you have young children in the house.
They can also be seriously dangerous to adults too if not properly handled,” said Lubalethu Ndlovu, a Selborne Park resident.
“At this point in time, we just pray that Minister Chasi’s adventure works. As much as the gas is efficient, we cannot entirely rely on it because of the cost and neither can we trust it with our lives,” she added.
Energy and Power Development Minister Fortune Chasi is in power import talks with South Africa and Mozambique to bridge the electricity shortfall, and if a deal is reached there could be hope that eating patterns would go back to normal.