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Nutrition Tips During COVID-19

Staying on track with your nutrition while staying at home

By Jaqueline Perez, MS RD

To say that 2020 has been a weird year is an understatement. With so many people effective by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s safe to say that life has been a little different this year. Many of us have had to work from home, shop at the grocery store less frequently, or unfortunately, may have lost a job. Of course, all the change that has taken place in the last eight months has had an impact on the mental and physical health of many Americans. Having said that, I have had so many clients, friends and family have come to me with questions about staying consistent with their nutrition and wellness while staying home. As a dietitian, my first instinct to address anyone’s concern about their nutrition with an individualized approach. However, I have a few tips that can apply to many of our situations at home that may help you stay on track with your nutrition goals.

Here are a few of the most common questions and concerns I have received in the last six months about staying on track while staying home…

1. “I have gained a few pounds after working from home because I can grab snacks anytime I want.”

I must say this topic is probably most frequently brought up in client conversations. The shift to working from home is a HUGE change. If you think about it, you are likely closer in proximity to the kitchen and possibly have the television on in the background with commercials about food making your mouth water. Not to mention, you may have less distractions around such as conversations with coworkers or walking across the office to attend a meeting. Here are a few tips to help combat constant snacking:

  • Keep snack-like foods in a cabinet behind other items so it takes more effort to access. For example, put your favorite crackers or trail mix in a cabinet behind bulk oatmeal, dry rice and beans, or behind baking ingredients. Typically, easier access to food can lead to mindless snacking, even if you’re not hungry.

  • When you do grab a snack, put it on a plate or in a bowl. Try to avoid eating straight from the package. Seeing your food on a plate can help with portion control and help avoid mindless eating until you see the bottom of the bag!

  • Be mindful of your hunger level. If you find yourself snacking to fill time or just because there is food available, try to evaluate if you’re actually hungry. Could you be eating out of boredom or maybe due to thirst? If you had a balanced lunch an hour prior and know you should not be hungry, it may be time to tap into your hunger cues. Try taking a walk around the block or doing a short task like a chore and then re-evaluate if you still feel hungry.

2. “I haven’t been able to dine out much and don’t cook so I resort to takeout or drive-thru food for a lot of meals.”

Pre-pandemic, going out for meals with friends and family was a great way to practice portion control, enjoy a nice meal as well as incorporate a lot of variety of foods. With countless types of cuisines available in larger cities, you could dine out for sushi, BBQ, vegan food, great salads, Mexican food, and the list could go on. Now, with many restaurants closing or operating at 25% capacity, it makes dining out a little more difficult. For those that relied on dining out for meals, the cooking at home part can be a little tough, in which case they may fall into a routine choosing fast food or the same takeout delivery orders. I’m going to put my foodie hat on for this and list a few things to help prevent a fast food routine.

  • Take a virtual cooking class! Now, with everything moving to virtual education, there are many virtual cooking classes available. I love the Tasty cooking videos on Instagram. They are short, sweet and offer a great variety. Taking a class can help you learn the basics of cooking for yourself at home to incorporate more wholesome meals without extra salt and added fat that often accompany a fast food or takeout meal. May save you a little money, too!

  • If you do opt for fast food, get creative with your order! Perhaps, if your go-to is a burger and fries, ask if they can lettuce wrap your burger or switch the fries for an alternate side that is more nutrient dense like fruit or a salad. Some fast food places also have secret menus, in this case, Google is your best friend. Secret menus can be great to change up your routine and discover different foods available at your favorite spots.

  • Make a goal for yourself to try a different fast food place or take out spot at least once a week. Change is good!

  • For takeout, whether it’s Chinese takeout from your favorite place or pizza delivery, ask for a side salad and eat that first! Starting off your meal with some veggies will help fill you up (with the good stuff) and prevent overeating something that may be heavier on the fat or salt.

3. “How do I prevent gaining weight when I am just sitting all day in front of my computer?”

Trust me, if you have had this thought, you are not alone. This struggle comes up a lot in conversations with clients and friends. Working from home has thrown many people for a loop! No more walking up and down stairs, no more walking around the office to meetings or co-workers desks, and no more walking to get a bite for lunch. All of that activity that was previously part of a daily routine and calorie expenditure may have been significantly decreased for you. In this case, this is when you may need to examine your nutrition a little more and fine tune anything that may contribute to excess energy intake leading to undesired weight gain. Your best bet for this is to meet with a Registered Dietitian (RD like Me 😊) to help create an individualized plan for you to optimize your nutrition at home to maintain your desired weight and body composition. However, in general, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Try to keep up your exercise regimen. Sadly, many gyms are closed or have limited capacity but there are so many virtual classes you can take for home workouts. You can also look for outside workout classes around your city that are socially distant. I’m not a personal trainer but the general recommendation for Americans at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five times per week.

  • Practice mindful eating. Eat when you’re hungry and don’t eat when you’re not. It sounds simple but many people struggle with their hunger cues. It is likely that because you are not expending as much energy due to working from home or staying home. Your body likely does not need as much food to fuel it with this new drop in activity level. Remember, food is fuel. Let’s give our bodies what they need but prevent overeating or eating because it’s “time to eat”.

If you’re needing a little extra support, meet with an RD to help you navigate the new normal and stay on track with your nutrition goals while staying home. Thanks for stopping by!

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