By Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP
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.
How Emotions Affect Food Choices
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.
The Role Of Cortisol In Comfort Eating
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 nonperishable foods like pasta in the cupboard, in contrast with a shortage of fresh produce in the fridge.
7 Ways To Avoid The “Quarantine Fifteen”
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.
1 – Be Conscious Of Why You Are Grazing
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?
2 – Practice Mindfulness
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.
3 – Develop Soul-Nurturing Activities
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.
4 – Shop Smart
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.
5 – Vary Your Sources
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.
6 – Plan For Nutrition
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:
- Greens to add to smoothies
- Alternatives to pasta such as zoodles (noodles made from zucchini squash)
- Roasting root vegetables and keeping some on hand (these tasty veggies have the advantage of a long shelf life)
- Try fermentation instead of baking (kimchi and kombucha are much better for your digestion than bread!)
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 favorites.
Keeping specific healthy meals and snacks in mind as you shop can help you ignore the less nutritious choices.
7 – Focus On Health Attributes
Knowing the physiological needs your food is meeting is another angle that can help you make good choices:
Foods That Support Your Digestion
Avoid “isolation constipation” by ensuring you’re consuming enough fiber. This is a great time to try new recipes with beans for example, which happen to also be cheap and easy to store. Some good recipes to start with can be found at https://minimalistbaker.com/58-easy-bean-and-rice-recipes/.
Foods That Support A Healthy Immune System
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/
Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP, is a woman’s hormone expert and the owner of Wise Woman Wellness LLC, an innovative wellness and hormone care center at 1480 Swan Road, De Pere. Mann is the author of the eBook: A Guide to Gluten and Going Gluten Free. She is a board certified Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner, one of a handful in Wisconsin and less than 1600 worldwide to achieve this distinction. She combines the best of conventional, functional and integrative medicine to help women with female, thyroid and adrenal hormone issues to live healthier, more abundant, joy-filled lives using a blend of compassion, cutting edge science, practical guidance and humor. Contact her at 920-339-5252 or via the Internet at www.wisewomanwellness.com. Attend the introductory seminar, “End Hormone Havoc – Crazy Hormones Cause Fatigue, Weight Gain and Brain Fog and How to Fix Them!”, now offered VIRTUALLY monthly, to learn about specialized thyroid, adrenal and female hormone testing and customized, bioidentical hormone treatments to achieve lifelong optimal hormone balance, increased vitality and longevity.