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Tips for Healthy Eating When Routines Drastically Change

A change in routine and heightened stress levels during the COVID-19 pandemic have created the perfect storm for stress eating. Instead of going to work and eating a planned lunch, you may be taking repeated kitchen breaks with kids at home that lead to unplanned snacking. Instead of managing stress by working out at the gym, joining friends for a fun night out together or going to a movie, you may be self-soothing with food.

And unfortunately, the chips, sweets and other tempting treats that may quiet your kids end up sabotaging your good intentions.As we all try and manage coronavirus-related anxiety and boredom, eating can and should still be a pleasurable activity. We just don’t want food to be our go-to self-soother.  

Here are some tips to keep a healthy relationship with food: 

Plan in advance• Whether you’re making infrequent grocery store runs or ordering online, this is the time to ensure you have the right foods at home not just for your children but, for you, also.• One of the surest ways to reduce the consumption of high calorie, fatty, salty and sugary snack foods is to keep them out of the house – or off the counter and out of sight.• Your shopping list should include the nutritious foods that boost your health and satisfy hunger, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grain items, lean proteins and non-sweetened beverages.• Include healthy, grab-and-go snacks such as nut packs, light string or Babybel cheese, low-fat Greek yogurt cups, cut up veggies such as bell peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots or fruit such as berries, oranges, apples or grapes.• Look online for new healthy recipes your kids and you will love. Try a portion-controlled sweet snack such as no-bake energy bites or a crunchy snack like roasted chickpeas. 

Set simple guidelines for mindful eating at home At work you have certain routines and guidelines you follow. Maybe eating is only done in the lunchroom or during your break. With your home being your new makeshift workplace, it’s easy to apply similar rules here, too. Try to eat only when you have these three things – a table, plate and chair. Avoid eating food out of a bag, off your child’s plate or while at your workstation.If a certain time of day is difficult for you, such as after-dinner snacking, consider tracking your after-dinner snacks for a week. Just the simple act of tracking can make you feel more in control and motivate healthier eating. 

Identify non-food related coping strategies We are all experiencing an increased sense of stress during this challenging time. It is important to deliberately schedule activities that will reduce stress and replenish your mind and body.Try making a list of go-to activities that help improve your mood, such as: • Call a friend • Listen to music• Do some deep breathing• Journal your thoughts• Go for a walk• Play a game with your smartphone or watch funny videosWith social distancing in mind, look for new ways to participate in activities you used to enjoy.No more lunch out with friends? Schedule regular zoom meetings or cocktail hour virtual ‘gatherings’ instead.No more group lessons or events? Find virtual alternatives for things you enjoy such as an exercise class, dance lesson, card games or a book group.The bottom line is you need to give yourself a break and do the best you can with the current situation.Progress is better than perfection. 

Dr. Singh is a board certified internal medicine and obesity management physician. He offers a comprehensive weight management program for patients.

Published April 20, 2020

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