- Posted by Jon Harju
- On April 28, 2020
Lately, it’s become nearly impossible to stick to our usual routines since many of us have been working from home and practicing physical distancing. As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to unfold, many of us have unknowingly faced some new challenges for our health. Working from the kitchen table and migrating to the couch at the end of the day may have swiftly replaced our post-work gym schedule. Trying to maintain a balanced diet when trips to the grocery store are limited has drastically affected our food choices and meal plans.
During these unprecedented times, as we strive to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the virus, it is important to understand how to build defences against the many stressors that we now encounter with the new reality of coronavirus. Mental health experts agree that it’s crucial to pay attention to our routines, beginning with a healthy and balanced diet.
Why it’s hard to make healthy food choices
It’s common to seek comfort in food when we are experiencing extreme emotions. Self-isolating at home has skyrocketed the temptation to snack all day as our anxiety levels rise. Under stress, our body needs to consume more calories just to process the information and function, hence why we may crave foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt that can also activate the pleasure center in the brain and temporarily make us feel better. What’s more, stress can negatively impact decision-making, which explains why it’s tricky to choose a healthy option over satisfying the tantalizing thoughts of chips and cookies.
Over-indulging in favourite comfort foods can harm our overall health. Deep-fried, fat-laden goodies are linked to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. We also know sugar increases inflammation, contributing to conditions that put us at greater risk of viral infection – making us more susceptible to illness. Research shows it’s more important than ever to prioritize nutritious food choices and stay hydrated during this time.
Healthy options for the win
Enjoying healthy foods will not only help boost physical health but also empower us psychologically. Since we have little control over our current world, how we choose to fuel our bodies is in our control. And, we can do so in a way that’s beneficial for our mind and overall health.
So, why does the food we eat affect our mood? The answer lies in the biological relationship between the brain and the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is an ecosystem of trillions of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Scientific literature provides evidence that gut bacteria can produce hormones and neurotransmitters such as GABA, dopamine, and serotonin. More recent studies reveal that about 95% of serotonin, which is involved in many biological functions such as appetite and digestion, mood, memory, and sex drive, is produced and stored within cells in the gut.
7 ways to help you prioritize healthy eating
Here are some healthy and proactive strategies to help you prioritize your healthy eating during the coronavirus pandemic.
1) Practice acceptance and be compassionate with yourself
First and foremost, practice acceptance. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and your body weight will change throughout your lifetime. The pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone, so be compassionate with yourself. If you’re concerned about gaining weight during this time, remember that surviving and dealing with the pandemic has been a task in itself and you have done well in managing this challenging time. This is not the time to be critical and overly focused on achieving your ideal weight.
2) Keep fresh produce on hand
Stock up on and wash fresh fruits and vegetables after you purchase them. Place them at the front of your fridge or have them in a bowl at your desk, so when you crave a snack or something sweet, the fruit and veggies are on hand and ready to eat.
3) Don’t use food as a reward or to manage difficult feelings
Many of us are experiencing a range of emotions during this time and some of us are experiencing deprivation in many forms, such as limited social interactions, pleasurable activities, or routines. Food can easily be regarded as a way to comfort ourselves because we feel so restricted in other ways. Find alternative rewards when you are experiencing a low mood day that doesn’t cause negative consequences like overeating or indulging in poor food choices.
4) Discover new recipes and plan healthy dishes
Cooking daily for yourself or your family could be a change to your normal routine during this time. It can be helpful to plan healthy meals in advance and take this time to learn new recipes that support your healthy diet. Pick a day to research recipes and aim to use what you already have in your pantry or freezer, along with fresh produce. Approaching this new task in a fun and playful way might help you develop new cooking skills along with positive healthy eating routines that will continue after the pandemic.
5) Tackle boredom first
Some people turn to food to help distract them from boredom, sadness, anxiety, and stress. When you’re in the mood for a snack, consider distracting yourself for 15 minutes with an alternative task. Perhaps you could opt for a quick energizing walk, put on some music, or enjoy reading a chapter or two from a book. When the 15 minutes have passed, this time can help you decide if you’re actually hungry or resorting to mindless snacking.
6) Expand Your Coping Strategies
If eating has been your only coping strategy so far, it’s good to add new tools to your toolbox. Consider other activities that can soothe, distract, or use up some nervous energy. These will be unique to each person but could include painting, journaling, meditation, reading, riding a bike, or connecting with friends, family or co-workers. Take time to slow down and rest when you can. Try to nourish yourself with healthy food, get ample sleep, and above all else, be gentle with yourself.
7) Keep hydrated
To remind yourself to stay hydrated, try filling a pitcher of fruit-infused or plain water and keep it beside your desk. Health experts suggest we should be drinking approximately eight glasses of water a day to stay optimally hydrated. When your goal is to stay hydrated having a visual reminder is sure to set you up for success.
Be gentle with yourself
Now, more than ever is a time to try to protect your physical health and mental well-being. Take this time to nourish yourself, get enough rest and sleep, and be gentle with yourself. Know that you don’t have to struggle with this time alone. There are many online resources and supports available to help you prioritize and support your mental well-being.