Food is essential, it sustains us. Not only does it nourish the body, but for many of us, eating means feeling happy. However, in times of stress and uncertainty, overeating becomes a real issue, especially when it’s always an option. Restrictions and heavy dieting do not usually work in the long run, so the best idea at the moment is to learn to make peace with food and internalize habits for eating healthy.
Being indoors all the time and constant exposure to food can lead to habits like eating out of boredom or over-snacking. To better learn how to maintain good eating habits, we’ve asked expert nutritionists and dietitians to give renters some tips for eating healthy during the #stayathome time, as well as draw attention to which food-related behaviors renters should avoid. Here’s what we found out.
Keri Gans, author of The Small Change Diet
“My top advice for anyone during this time is to actually lighten up on themselves. As much as I don’t think one should use this pandemic as an excuse to eat poorly I also don’t think someone should feel badly if they aren’t eating as healthy as they normally would.
Something to avoid is mindless eating, especially snacking, which can definitely become a behavior of concern, adding up to a whole lot more calories than one intends. Try to stick to an eating schedule the same as you would if you were going to an office every day. For example, pick a time for an afternoon snack and if possible let that be the only time you enter the kitchen between lunch and dinner. Start your day with a large bottle of water at your desk so you don’t need to keep opening the refrigerator for a refill.”
Kristin Kirkpatrick, president of KAK Consulting LLC
“A habit to implement is to stay on schedule and even better, get your eating ON a schedule. Many of my patients have found that time restricted eating (TRE) has greatly improved their eating habits during this time. TRE is where you limit your eating to 8 or 10 hours a day, and not eating outside of that time frame. For example, you can do 11-7, or 10-8, so that you can have more control over your cravings.
Keeping food in sight, all day long is something she advises us to avoid. If you are working from home, find a space that is not in an eating area. That means, don’t work in the kitchen or near a pantry, if possible. Instead, work on your deck, or put a desk in your bedroom. Out of sight can truly be out of mind.”
Maggie Michalczyk, Chicago-based registered dietitian and founder of Once Upon a Pumpkin
“My top advice for eating healthy while staying at home is to continue to do meal prep (even if it’s on a smaller scale) that will make it easier for you to put together healthy meals and snacks throughout the day. Something as simple as boiling a half a dozen hard-boiled eggs for the week or prepping proteins like chicken, fish or quinoa that are ready to use.
This way, you’re saving yourself some time and committing to making healthier choices by using the things you’ve prepped. Inevitably we’re snacking at home a little more these days, so in that case I recommend prepping a batch of these protein balls to have on hand as a snack that will fuel you and provide you with good nutrition!
If possible, renters should avoid eating all their meals in front of the TV on the couch. When you’re watching TV, browsing on your phone, and doing multiple things while trying to eat, you’re less likely to be paying attention to the food you’re eating and your brain is not necessarily registering that you are becoming full (because it’s distracted), which could lead to over eating.
I recommend sitting in a chair, eating your food off of a plate at a table, distraction free. This way, you are focusing on your food and taking a few minutes to savor and enjoy the meal. It’s a great time to chat with your roommate, enjoy the meal together and turn off the TV!”
Sarah Adler, owner of Simply Real Health
“When in doubt, smoothie bowl. And make it green. It’s the quickest path to a meal that will keep you full for hours and has everything in it your body needs to thrive, without having to stop work a million times to snack! You can pack in greens, healthy fats (like avocado, chia seeds, etc), protein (spirulina or almond butter, etc) and fiber/antioxidants (frozen berries, etc). Try out my chocolate almond butter greenie (power house) smoothie.
Learn a few great make-ahead meals. This means meals that don’t require cooking; instead, just chop a few things (mostly veggies, sometimes beans or herbs or cooked chicken, etc) and let them marinate in dressing for up to 2 days ahead of time. When you’re ready to eat, add that make-ahead over greens for a salad, mixed into quinoa or rice, or in corn tortillas or lettuce cups as tacos.
Make a soup for the week. You can change it daily with different toppings (leftover chicken one day, avocado the next, crushed tortilla chips the next, etc), but it’s the most efficient way to get in lots of veggies and have a warm meal ready within a few minutes. Some of my favorite recipes are: Veggie & Red Lentil Curry Stew, my Cozy 3 Ingredient Tomato Soup or Roasted Kabocha Squash Soup.
Keep your freezer stocked of quick healthy options. A bag of butternut squash, broccoli or cauliflower that you can quickly roast, bean or lentil burgers, organic chicken sausages and others. These are always great in a pinch and are quick to cook when you’re working away.
Eat when you are actually hungry. Don’t eat when you’re bored or stressed out after an email you got. Don’t eat as entertainment, especially when you work from home and the kitchen is right there. It’s a great time to come up with a regular rhythm for yourself based on your own body’s cues, rather than the time the clock says.”
Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, registered dietitian at Tracy Nutrition and author of The Better Period Food Solution
“Prepare meals for the week. With all of us participating in #stayathome, we have more time than ever to meal prep. Even though we are not going to an office or school, meal prepping your lunch and dinner as if life was “normal” can help keep you on track. It helps to keep a routine and ensures you will not eat all the food that you just picked up or got delivered from the grocery store!
Log off your computer during mealtimes. It can be very tempting to power through your work and eat all three meals in front of your screen. Taking the time to log off and mindfully eat your meals will help curb the urge to overeat, and it will provide a sense of calm during this stressful time.
Keep a routine. During this period, it can be very easy to sleep in and stay up late. Sticking to a regular bedtime and getting proper sleep impacts what you eat. If you are not sleeping enough, your hunger regulation center in your brain will not work correctly. Getting on a routine will allow you to lean into your hunger cues, and you will be eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, and your snacks at around the same time.
Don’t be afraid to use your kitchen. If you are not the owner of your space, it can be scary to cook because you may be scared of making a mess and losing your security deposit. However, a one-pan meal such as salmon with veggies is heart-healthy, packed full of antioxidants, and is a quick clean up.
Avoid deep-frying your food. Deep-frying your food is very dangerous not just because of the hot oil and smoke but the oils are likely full of artery clogging saturated fat. We want to keep saturated fat low because it has been linked to increasing the risk of heart attacks. There is no need to deep fry your food, try sautéing or roasting instead of running the risk of burning down your home.
Don’t fear composting. In a small space, you may not want to compost your food, but it can reduce the amount of waste in landfills and take carbon dioxide out of the air, which will allow your houseplants to grow faster and stronger (win, win!). In an airtight container, like a Tupperware, add in your food scraps and place it in the freezer. When your container is full, bring it to a compost collection site and know you are doing your part in protecting the environment.”
Hopefully, you’ve found some helpful advice to guide you on your nutritional journey during this period. Stay safe and healthy!