Let’s start with the good news: If you’re self-isolating, you should have more time to devote to creating a healthy diet for yourself. At least, that’s the fantasy that many of us started out with a few weeks ago. However, terms like the “quarantine 15” and “isolation constipation” are starting to appear on social media.
It turns out that eating healthily and avoiding overindulging during a pandemic isn’t always easy, even if we have the best intentions.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is that we’re all human. It’s perfectly normal to be feeling a wide range of emotions right now, from hope to boredom, uncertainty to terror and even contentment - sometimes all within the same hour!
Many people turn to food when they’re stressed, whereas others can’t seem to stomach a bite when upset. All of these are perfectly normal reactions to a very unique situation.
On the surface, it may seem that your motivation to dive into a plate of freshly baked cookies is that they are one of life’s few remaining pleasures.
But there are innate physiological reasons we reach for sweets when we’re stressed. When the body senses that it’s under threat, it releases more of the stress hormone cortisol. And cortisol has been tied to an increase in appetite. Some studies have found that the hormonal cycle (aka sugar high and sugar crash) created when we turn to sweets is actually addictive.
On top of that, many people are turning to baking, both to avoid going to the grocery store and to stay busy. And if you’ve recently drooled over a photo of a friend’s perfect loaf of freshly baked bread you know that the seductive power of social media may also play a role.
In addition, having to limit our trips to the store can lead to an abundance of non-perishable foods like pasta in the cupboard, in contrast with a shortage of fresh produce in the fridge.
So, what’s a socially isolating person to eat in order to stay healthy? The most important thing is that you take it easy on yourself. Being overly self-critical can escalate the cycle of stress and overeating. Always keep in mind that we’re living through unprecedented developments. There is no “right” way to deal with these changes.
It’s also useful to examine the causes behind any overeating. Do you walk through the kitchen every time you’re bored? Eat chips during your Netflix binge nights?
Some interesting studies have found that developing a mindfulness practise through yoga or meditation can lead to better food choices. With its positive effect on overall wellbeing, there has never been a better time to take up mindfulness. One unexpected result could be healthier eating habits.
Delving into activities that give you a sense of satisfaction can help replace the sense of boredom and want that leads to overeating. Look into rewarding pastimes such as fixing things in your home that have been on your to-do list, decluttering that long-ignored hidden shelf, sewing, knitting, felting, teaching your pet a new trick, or even building a raised planter to grow a unique mix of salad greens in the smallest of sunny spots.
Feed the need with self-pride instead of cookies.
Of course, you can’t eat food that isn’t in the house. So being more mindful of what you buy in the store or order online is also important. If you’re finding it difficult to stay stocked up on fresh produce, investigate produce delivery services in your area.
Local organic farms are a good place to source regular veggie boxes, or if those are not available look into new produce services that many local restaurants are running as a way to stay afloat. If you manage to stagger your shopping from different sources, you can improve your odds of having fresh produce when you need a snack.
Becoming more conscious of your choices when you’re shopping will also help you make good food choices. Look for easy ways to add more nutrient-dense foods, such as:
If you’d like to continue baking, that’s great! Just keep in mind that you can find many gluten-free or health-oriented recipes online. You might discover some new favourites.
Keeping specific healthy meals and snacks in mind as you shop can help you ignore the less nutritious choices.
Knowing the physiological needs your food is meeting is another angle that can help you make good choices:
Avoid “isolation constipation” by ensuring you’re consuming enough fibre. This is a great time to try new recipes with beans for example, which happen to also be cheap and easy to store. Here are some good recipes to start with!
Nutrients such as zinc and vitamins A and D can help support a healthy immune system. Foods rich in zinc include most seeds and nuts. Good sources of vitamin A include orange and yellow fruits and veggies as well as dark green leafy vegetables.
And of course, while we’re talking about immune supportive vitamins, remember to catch a few rays of sunshine to top up your vitamin D. You need skin exposure at the sun’s peak times to get your daily dose, that’s why most of us supplement this essential vitamin.
Aside from your diet, how are you holding up? It’s important to check in with others to maintain your wellbeing. If you would like to talk about ways to stay healthy while in isolation, give the office a call!
Curbing weight gain from emotional eating: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6137864/
Why we overeat when we’re stressed: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4214609/
Yoga and mindful eating: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5932774/