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Coping with Pandemic Stress through Diet

If you're feeling out of control when it comes to what you're eating and drinking these days, you're not alone.  In fact, one of the biggest questions we're being asked right now is "how do I deal with unhealthy food habits during this pandemic?" According to a recent NCBI study, nearly one in four adults has gained weight during the pandemic. Our answer is surprisingly simple. It all boils down to planning. That's it. 

The first and most obvious is one we're all familiar with: meal planning. It can be challenging under the best of circumstances, but throw in having your whole family stuck at home for an extended period of time- not to mention the 'hit or miss' going on right now with many products in our grocery stores- and it can be downright tough. But by making it a priority, you're not only building a stronger, healthier family; you're making your life simpler in the long run. The key here is managing our environments. By loading up our kitchens with healthy foods and eliminating the not-so-healthy ones, we also eliminate our need for willpower and in-the-moment decision making. In other words, we eat what's available to us and if it's not there, it's not even an option. My personal method of meal planning involves sitting down with a pen and paper- and a cup of coffee- on Sunday mornings to hash out what I'd like to cook for the coming week. I write the 'menu' on one sheet and the grocery list on another. Always going to the grocery store with a list is another key piece of the planning process. Come Monday morning, I know exactly what I'm shopping for and what my family will be eating for the next 5-7 days. Need help getting started? That's what we're here for. 

Once you've got your menu together, the second part of the planning process is meal scheduling. In other words, when you'll eat your meals, what those meals will look like, how you can keep them on a schedule. For many of us, the stress of the pandemic and the boredom from being stuck at home more than we're used to has led to an increase in snacking and overeating as a means of comfort. But even the healthiest snacks, when consumed in excess, can lead to weight gain. That's why it's more important than ever to stick to a schedule when it comes to eating. The easiest way to do this is to determine the number of calories you'd like to consume daily and then divide them into the number of meals, including snacks, you eat each day. It's important to remember liquid calories here, too, including alcohol. (Be sure to check out our post on Keeping Our Alcohol Consumption in Check!) And absolutely include daily and weekly treats! This is NOT about elimination, but about taking back our control. The next step is to make it fun. Schedule a virtual dinner party with family and friends, FaceTime your friend while you're both cooking dinner, etc. Anything that helps you stay motivated!

The final piece of the planning puzzle is maintaining our exercise regimens. Pandemic life has definitely reduced our opportunities to move our bodies and many of us have been faced with reduced physical exercise. But just like meal planning, the way we think about movement has to be from a place of priority and privilege. Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes are both strong, established risk factors for severe COVID-19. By pairing our diets with exercise, we are able to help modify our immune responses. Does this mean that we need to embark on a new intensive exercise program? Absolutely not. We just need to incorporate movement where we can into our daily lives, even if it's just five minutes here, ten minutes there.

Social Distancing Meal Infographic

So many of our uncertainties- and anxieties- around our diets during a pandemic boil down to simple planning, something we're all capable of doing. For more planning ideas, check out this article. For help getting started, we'd love to help. Even if you just start in one area, that's a step in the right direction and worth celebrating. Small changes add up in big ways! 


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