This post is sponsored by Baptist Health 4Her Wellness Program to support you during the COVID crisis.
According to my very unofficial calculations, we are about 35 days in to sheltering at home. In that crazy amount of time, my emotions, mind and eating have been on one heck of a roller coaster. You? To help navigate this interesting time so we come out the other side with our sanity and some semblence of health, I've crafted a COVID healthy eating survival guide.
I acknowledge that each of us are probably experiencing very different circumstances in our work and family responsibilities. We also may have very different access to fresh food and outside exposure. What we do share is a commonality in the brokenness of our "normal life" and having to reconfigure just about every aspect of it.
Let's just pause to acknowledge this: life is currently challenging in every way.
It's important to remember this again and again because it validates the feelings you are feeling. It help explains why you are so freaking tired even though you haven't left your house. It sheds light on why it's so easy to get mad, frustrated or agitated at people you really love.
On top of that heap of a mess is your personal health and wellness. I don't know about you, but I'd kind of like to avoid to getting run over by the mack truck of unhealthy quarantine habits that all too quickly develop. ("It's 5 o'clock somewhere!" is a legit argument, right?!)
But with how full your responsibilities plate now is, who has energy to double down and try hard on healthy eating or fitness?
Of all the things you could do, should do, and can do, I've boiled them down to a simple list as a COVID Healthy Eating Survival Guide.
I'm of the mindset that since this situation is probably going to the norm for a while, you've can't completely disengage with your health to simply survive. While it's ok to ride the emotional roller coaster, it's not going to end well if you let it take control every day, all day. There needs to be some anchor habits to keep you tethered to health that are achievable and covered in all kinds of grace.
I hope this survival guide is doable for you and gives you some sort of solid footing through the COVID experience. Here we go.
Schedule Your Eating
By now you may have a new daily routine or schedule but if you're anything like me, that schedule can go off the rails real quick. So while you may not be able to keep as tight of an activity schedule as you would like, I do think it is wise to experiment with an eating schedule.
Having an eating schedule does a few helpful things:
- It helps you avoid going long periods of time without eating which leads to major drops in energy and therefore being HANGRY. No one is in a good place when they're hangry.
- It brings a little structure to your day and gives you permission to take breaks from working, school, or other responsibilities. You should take a legit lunch break at home. Seriously.
- It helps you avoid seriously snack cravings (mostly related to point #1) because you're avoiding being super hungry. Schedule those snacks times people! Don't put it off.
- Eating can bring some joy into your day and that's not a bad thing.
There's not a right or wrong way to schedule your eating. It's all about experimenting with different ideas and see what works.
To get started think through your day the night before (or first thing in the morning). Plan your breakfast, lunch and dinner, then fill in with snacks.
My keys to success have been choosing what I'll eat for lunch before I eat breakfast (this makes it way easier to execute) and making sure I get a protein rich snack by 3pm. The afternoon snack is absolutely crucial for me to keep energy levels up, be a "good mom" and help me not fall into the happy trap at 4:30pm.
I am hearing a lot of people blame snacking for their eating woes right now. It's a legit problem if you let it be.
Strategically snacking can help prevent some mindless snacking episodes because they stop them from ever happening. As I mentioned above, I know that having a strong snack by 3pm is crucial for me to stay energized. It is also my secret weapon against mindless snacking on chips while I'm cooking dinner (aka the happy hour trap).
Take a moment to think about if you have a consistent time in your day when you get the munchies. Can you add a strategic snack in right before that time hits to help prevent it from ever happening? Yes, yes you can.
You can strategically snack even if it's a weird time like 4:23pm. Your brain might tell you to wait until dinner, BUT if you do that, you end up eating 4 handfuls of chips and 2 handfuls of chocolate chips before you even sit down for dinner (speaking from experience here). So which choice is actually going to "spoil your dinner". That would be the latter.
Choose snack appropriate to the time they fall in your day. If snack time is smack dab in between meals, it's ok to have a substantial snack. If you're not too far out from a meal time, choose a smaller portion size.
Choose a snack with protein for staying power like yogurt, string cheese, nuts, or a bar. Add a piece of fruit to it when I can.
Try these Make Healthy Easy Snack Ideas
Make a Stress Recovery Plan
When you experience anything stressful in your day, your body responds with the fight, flight, or freeze response and the cascade of hormones that go along with it. Perhaps you've noticed your demeanor changes when you get an email with a new work demand, a call of bad news, or yet another request from your child in the past 10 minutes.
When your body initiates this stress response, eventually it will work to return you back to homeostasis, where your hormones levels drop back down and you see and think clearly again. In the minutiae of your day, this response might be initiated multiple times without you even realizing it. More than likely you also "treat" this response with something to help you recover from the stress. You could also say you do something to cope with it.
Whatever you call it, most human bodies want to return back to a state of peace and calm. Without self-awareness of what's going on, our psyche will all too quickly lead us to quick fixes in food and drink that seem to help, but truly return your body to homeostasis.
Alcohol, chocolate, crunchy snacks, a handful of that, a splash of this...(insert your thing here) all promise to make us feel better but don't actually lower the stress response. It masks it momentarily. This is why the "I'll just have a small glass of wine" turns in "sure, I'll have 1 more, and another..." because our body isn't actually recovery as a result of wine or chocolate or whatever.
Instead of running to your food or drink of choice when stress hits (or after the end of a long, stressful day) first do something ACTUALLY helps your body recover from the stress response. Science shows that these things literally return your body back to a normal state:
- Deep breathing
- Moving your body (From a walk to a workout, it all helps)
This week, set an intention to try one of these things before hitting a food or beverage and see if feel your stress levels drop. The bonus is you'll grant yourself the ability to actually enjoy drinks and foods for the wonderful thing that it is instead of plowing through it to feel better.
Check out these Make Healthy Easy Ideas for At Home Workout Ideas.
Choose High Fiber Foods
I realize that this is about as old-school as I can get for a nutrition recommendation, but you guys, it's still a good one!
A high fiber diet is connected to a slew of health benefits that trust me, you want happening in your life. When it comes to our COVID healthy eating survival guide, fiber is absolutely your best friend.
Fiber helps you feel full and satisfied on less quantity of food. I could end it right there as the only reason you need to hear, but wait, there's more!
Fiber also keeps you regular. You probably knew that, but I'm guessing there's a few of you out there who's bathroom regularity situation has changed since being at home all the time. Am I right? If that's you, you don't need a pill, you need more fiber-rich foods in your life.
The goal is to get about 30-35 grams a day from food first if you can. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are all great sources. In addition, there are great packaged food items that contain fiber. If it's a snack food, I like shooting for 4+ grams. In a breakfast cereal, look for 5+ grams.
As a general (I do mean general) rule of thumb, a high fiber snack is better than a low fiber snack. So if you are choosing between a low fiber and higher fiber crunchy/salty snack, I'd go with the higher fiber option. I think for the purposes for which this survival guide is being written, that's a motto to live by right now.
Check out these high fiber recipes:
Again, I know this is not groundbreaking nutrition science, but it's so simple it's easy to forget.
Are you drinking water throughout the day? For goodness sake, being embarrassed in front of your coworkers about too many bathroom trips is certainly not an issue for most. (Btw HUGE thank you to those who are still going to work every day.)
Drinking water is also associated with a number of positive health outcomes that you do want happening for you right now. One of my favorite, lesser known benefits is people who are hydrated have a better mood and outlook. Raise your hand if you could use more of that right now?! (Read more about it at Benefits of Drinking Water: Better Mood)
How much water should you drink? Lucky for you, I wrote a whole post just about that. Read it here: How Much Water to Drink in a Day
Forget Rules, Create Principles
With daily stress happening and perhaps some extra snacking and drinking, you may be concerned about how your clothes are going to fit when you actually have to wear something beside stretchy pants/shorts.
This is a valid concern.
In desperate times, you might try some desperate measures, like making all kinds of diet rules that you are going to follow to keep you from gaining weight. I totally understand why this happens, but you need to be honest with yourself. Do you actually believe you are going to be able to keep them all?
I am not trying to cut you down or deflate your self-confidence at all here. You can do anything you want to do. BUT, in my experience as a nutrition counselor, I see diet rules do way more harm than good. Here's why
- Diet rules are rigid and are not flexible with circumstances. We are in a time where I think flexibility, not rigidity, is a key to success.
- Diet rules qualify food as good or bad. But what if you really want a food that is "bad". Does that make you bad? Diet rules make those lines very blurry and I am not OK with that.
- Diet rules tend to make you feel like if you break one, you might as well break them all. I don't know why exactly this is, but I don't like it. We don't treat anyone else with such a stringent measuring stick.
Are you seeing why I think diet rules suck? Great. No what then?
I encourage my clients to create "guiding principles". Don't laugh. It's not just a game of semantics. I'm serious.
Guiding principles helps us see the forest for the trees. They are flexible and can adapt to your circumstances. They qualify anything as good or bad but instead help you prioritize what's more important. They don't shame you nor do they kick you off of any moving vehicle.
A guiding principles says something to the effect of: if this food, drink or experience is important to you, then other foods, drinks, or experiences should be less of a priority to provide balance to your health.
Needs some examples? I'm so glad you asked. I'll happily share a couple of mine, but these are mine and you might need something different.
- I love to bake (so much), but baking everyday right now would impact my wellness. I will bake one thing a week on the weekend and put a lot of thought into what I would really like to bake that would be most enjoyable for me.
- Drinking 2 glasses of wine every night is fun in the moment, but I regret it almost every time. I don't sleep well and feel sluggish the next day. I will try enjoying a glass of wine every other day (instead of daily which is what I would really like to do) and drink a lot of water in the day to stay hydrated.
Does that give you an idea? These guiding principles are new as of COVID, so they are unique to this situation. I have found new and different challenges to my wellness have arisen and therefore I need new principles to guide me.
Take some time to brainstorm some ideas for your guiding principles. What will you help you make decisions about prioritizing right now?
Work with a Professional
I don't need to remind you that we are in uncharted waters. This also applies to wellness. You can't outsource anything in your health, nutrition or fitness right now. That's a big change and likely a big responsibility shift if you are used to going to a gym, a fitness class, eating at restaurants, or having access to certain food. Let's not forget just the lack of in person relationships right now too! That one is hurting me big time.
If you are struggling, like almost every other human being on the planet right now, you could probably benefit from hiring a professional to walk with you through this time.
I have been working with a counselor for years and just recently had our first virtual appointment since being homebound. It was so what I needed and I am definitely continuing throughout this time. It's an invaluable time of having an outside, trusted person troubleshoot your problems.
Is there an area of your life you could use some help with right? Nutrition, fitness, health, mental health, cooking?? It's not a sign that you are not good enough or smart enough to do it on your own. Far from it. Wouldn't it be nice to get some instant clarity on your situation? That's what a professional can do for you.
If you could use some help wading through your nutrition and wellness challenges, I would personally love to work with you through my nutrition coaching and counseling services.
Another tremendous service I want to make sure you know about is the Baptist Health 4Her Membership that includes 3 virtual/phone sessions with a RN Wellness Coach in addition to a wide array of other wonderful benefits. At just $49 for a lifetime membership, I assure you that you can't beat that price for coaching. Learn more at the 4her Wellness website or sign up for a membership directly here.
So there you have my COVID Healthy Eating Survival Guide. I'd love to know if this is helpful or how you use these ideas. Leave a comment or message me on the Make Healthy Easy Facebook Page. Don't miss my Thursday night live broadcasts (8pm eastern) to encourage you through the COVID crisis. I can't wait for you to join!
Hang in there friends!