Checking In On Yourself During Quarantine: Focus on Eating Habits
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This is part of Lark's "Checking in on Yourself During Quarantine" series. The pandemic has drastically altered many aspects of our lives, and the new normal of the stay-at-home lifestyle has likely impacted you both physically and mentally. It is important to check in with yourself regularly to assess how you are coping, so that you can identify self-care practices that will support you. Lark's "Checking in on Yourself During Quarantine" series is all about slowing down, taking stock of how you are doing, and learning about easy things you can do to nourish your body, such as eating habits, and mind during COVID-19.
Your daily life has likely changed in one way or another during the pandemic. Did you adjust to a work-from-home model, are your kids home all day doing virtual learning, or are you busier than ever working on the front lines? Whatever the case, your lifestyle may look a little different this year – and your eating habits may look a little different as well.
According to a survey from the International Food Information Council, 85% of Americans have changed the way they eat or prepare food since the pandemic began. Many people are eating more, snacking more, consuming more unhealthy foods, and gaining more weight.[2,3]
This may not come as a surprise. It makes sense that the pandemic caused changes in eating habits. Our routines have been completely disrupted, so our eating schedules have been thrown off. We are also spending a lot more time at home with fridges and pantries in constant reach. Not to mention we are under high levels of stress, are isolated, and may be feeling bored, making us more prone to emotional eating or turning to food for comfort.[2,3,4]
Ultimately, many of us are overwhelmed by all the uncertainty and change, and we might simply be putting less energy and focus towards healthy eating. That is why it is important to slow down and check in with yourself to take a closer look at your diet.
Check In With Yourself: Have Your Eating Habits Changed?
It's time to turn your attention towards your eating habits and bring some mindfulness back to eating.
- Has my eating schedule changed?
- Am I skipping meals often because I'm caught up in work or other activities?
- Am I snacking constantly throughout the day?
- Do I eat more food each day than I did before?
- Have my food preferences shifted at all?
- Am I eating more sweets, junk foods, or snack foods?
- Is my diet less balanced than it was before?
Really slow down to consider what your diet and eating patterns look like right now. If you are like many people, you may notice that your eating habits have taken a turn for the worse.
Good Food Choices Boost Health and Wellbeing
It is always important to feed your body with healthy foods, and to follow a well-rounded, balanced diet. But during a global pandemic, this becomes more important than ever.
As the World Health Organization explains, "Good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times when the immune system might need to fight back."
In addition to making sure our immune systems and our bodies are physically strong during the pandemic, following healthy eating patterns can also make a big difference when it comes to mental and emotional wellbeing. In fact, the CDC suggests that eating well is an important part of self-care, helping you to better cope with the stress of the pandemic.
Top Tips For Creating Healthy Eating Habits During Quarantine
If your eating habits have taken a toll since the pandemic began, then it's time to make a change. Here are the top things you can do to get things back on track:
1. Create A Regular Eating Schedule
One of the biggest issues with quarantine life is the lack of structure, schedule, and routine in our daily lives. Without the regular schedule we were used to following before, we can become quite mindless about when and what we eat. We might snack all day long, or we might skip meals altogether.
Try creating a regular schedule for your meals to bring more intention back into your eating patterns. To make things easy and familiar, consider following a similar schedule of eating that you would have on a regular work day before the pandemic began.
Wake up and have breakfast before you begin work. Schedule a true lunch break even if you are working from home, just like you would have previously when you went into an office. Ensuring you take time to eat wholesome, nutritious meals during the day can fill you up and prevent excessive snacking or junk food grazing while you work.
A schedule also helps to add routine to your day as a whole, and consistency and predictability can be good for the whole family.
2. Plan Ahead
Meal prepping is always useful to encourage healthy eating, and it can be especially valuable during the current times.
Planning out your meals ahead of time and making sure you have all the ingredients you need on hand helps you to be more mindful with your food choices. Instead of having to scrounge around for last-minute meals, planning ahead allows you to create healthy, well-rounded meals that last you all week.
Meal prepping helps you to:
- Save time
- Save money
- Eat more nutrient-rich foods
- Avoid last-minute stress
- Lose weight
- Limit grocery store trips
3. Load Up On Healthy Snack Choices
Whatever you have access to in your fridge and pantry, you will be tempted to eat. So make sure to load up on healthy food choices and replace junk foods or sweets with these more nutritious alternatives.
If you have fresh snacks like veggie sticks, hummus, nuts, fruit, cottage cheese, and other healthy options on hand instead of the items that tempt you and aren't good for you, you can minimize impulse and emotional eating.
Keep the healthy snacks front and center in the pantry and refrigerator so they are the first thing you see when you are craving a snack.
4. Stay Focused While Grocery Shopping
When you go to the grocery store to stock up, be prepared with a list. Stick to your list, and don't wander throughout the store unnecessarily. This can help you stay away from impulse buys and avoid buying unhealthy foods just because you are hungry or craving them at the time.
5. Focus On A Variety Of Foods For A Well-Balanced Diet
In general, your diet should feature a variety of healthy foods. If you are including a wide range of whole foods that are rich in nutrients like colorful veggies, whole grains, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats, then you are off to a good start.
The World Health Organization's tips for a healthy diet during quarantine include eating a variety of foods (especially fruits and vegetables), cutting back on salt, eating moderate fats, limiting sugar, staying hydrated, and avoiding too much alcohol.[5,9]
6. Add In Foods That Support Stress And Immune Function
We know that nutrition is tightly linked to immune function. The less well you are nourished, the more likely you are to be susceptible to infection. To support your immune system, it is important to eat a variety of foods within a balanced diet.
While no one food can protect you from infection and keep you healthy, certain nutrients can help to build up a strong immune system – and they can also help your body deal with stress. Consider foods rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, probiotics, magnesium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids like citrus fruit, red bell peppers, shellfish, cashews, eggs, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, fatty fish, sauerkraut, kimchi, and berries.
7. Have Fun In The Kitchen
You may have extra time on your hands due to all the time spent at home. Instead of eating unhealthy foods out of boredom, take on a new challenge and stimulate your creativity by getting into the kitchen with new recipes. Focus on recipes that use nutrient-rich foods and that are loaded with things like vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, legumes, and flavorful herbs and spices.
Have fun experimenting with new recipes as a productive, healthy, and exciting use of your extra time. Get the whole family involved if you can!
It's okay if your eating habits have changed during quarantine; it has been an unusual year. The changes in routines combined with stress in an uncertain world have made it so that many of us aren't being super mindful about our food choices.
So check in with yourself. Do you notice that your eating patterns have changed since the pandemic began? If so, it is time to bring some intention back to your diet.
Consider what you can do today to start to get things back on track so that you are nourishing your mind and body. Begin by creating more structure with your eating schedule, practice planning ahead with your meal prep, stock your pantry and fridge with healthy foods, and try to have fun with it!
- COVID-19 Pandemic Transforms the Way We Shop, Eat and Think About Food, According to IFIC's 2020 Food & Health Survey. International Food Information Council. https://www.foodinsight.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/2020-Food-and-Health-Survey-.pdf.
- Giacalone D, Fr√∏st MB, Rodríguez-Pérez C. Reported Changes in Dietary Habits During the COVID-19 Lockdown in the Danish Population: The Danish COVIDiet Study. Front Nutr. 2020 Dec 8;7:592112.
- Ingram J, Maciejewski G, Hand CJ. Changes in Diet, Sleep, and Physical Activity Are Associated With Differences in Negative Mood During COVID-19 Lockdown. Front Psychol. 2020 Sep 2;11:588604.
- Naidoo, U. Eating during COVID-19: Improve your mood and lower stress. Harvard Medical School. April 7 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-during-covid-19-improve-your-mood-and-lower-stress-2020040719409.
- Food and nutrition tips during self-quarantine. World Health Organization. https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-emergencies/coronavirus-covid-19/publications-and-technical-guidance/food-and-nutrition-tips-during-self-quarantine.
- Food and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated December 31 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/food-and-COVID-19.html.
- The Nutrition Source. Food safety, nutrition, and wellness during COVID-19. Harvard School of Public Health. March 25 2020. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2020/03/25/food-safety-nutrition-and-wellness-during-covid-19/.
- The Nutrition Source. Meal Prep Guide. Harvard School of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/meal-prep/.
- #HealthyAtHome: Healthy Diet. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/campaigns/connecting-the-world-to-combat-coronavirus/healthyathome/healthyathome‚Äîhealthy-diet.
- The Nutrition Source. Ask the Expert: The role of diet and nutritional supplements during COVID-19. Harvard School of Public Health. April 1 2020. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2020/04/01/ask-the-expert-the-role-of-diet-and-nutritional-supplements-during-covid-19/.
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Food safety and nutrition. World Health Organization. August 14 2020. https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/coronavirus-disease-covid-19-food-safety-and-nutrition.