A lot of people joke about coming through the COVID-19 pandemic just a little heavier than when it started. Katia Mora, nutrition director for Thorbeckes, said, surprisingly, if you want to avoid that dreaded COVID 15 (pounds, that is) you may need to focus less on what you’re eating and more on why you might be eating it.
Mora, who has been able to continue to meet with clients during Washington’s shelter-in-place orders through the Telehealth app, said she has noticed many of her clients are stress eating, which means they need to deal with the stress first before they can deal with the overeating. Food journaling can be one way to curb stress eating, Mora noted, because it can make you mindful of what you are eating and when.
“Maybe they don’t even realize they’re stressed until they start to eat differently,” Mora said. “The main thing is controlling the stress and really focusing on your mental health.”
It may not seem like nutritional advice but Heather Powell, Pediatric Dietitian for Northwest Pediatrics in Centralia said she has been urging her clients to recognize the added stress and anxiety of living during a pandemic. During the shelter-in-place orders, Powell has been seeing patients through the Telewell app and occasionally in person when needed. She said having goals toward better eating is important and for right now, one of those goals needs to be making sure COVID-19 doesn’t derail your progress.
“One of the things I like to stress to people right now is it may seem like a great time to make big changes, but with all the added stress of coronavirus, it’s OK to make some changes but don’t make big changes,” Powell said.
Powell said for parents especially, but really for anyone, trying to keep to a regular eating schedule is one great way to avoid overeating. She recommends eating no more frequently than every three to four hours.
“We’re home a lot more, so there’s a lot more bored eating or eating our feelings,” Powell said. “At those times you are eating, make sure you’re eating because you’re hungry.”
Beating the stress that can lead to overeating can be as simple as getting outside to exercise. Mora said she would also recommend people choose to focus on opportunities instead of what they are missing right now. For example, she noted that now is a great time to make some of those healthy recipes you’ve been meaning to try.
“Take this time to connect with your body and your mind and manage the stress and the anxiety,” Mora said. “It’s important to see nutrition as a holistic issue.”
Another side effect from COVID-19 restrictions has been more crowding at local stores and scarcity of some items. Mora, in order to continue to eat healthy while grocery shopping is difficult, recommends building a pantry around staple items such as beans, rice, meat, bread and eggs.
“Having those staple ingredients is good because when you do go to the store, you just head straight to the produce section, get what you need and head out,” Mora said.
Since people are spending more time at home, Mora said she would recommend they be mindful about how many sugary and processed foods they keep on hand at home. Instead of buying a dozen donuts, perhaps just buy one to satisfy your sweet tooth so you’re not tempted to eat the rest.
“You don’t want to deprive yourself. Just have a good balance,” Mora said.
Powell said many of her clients struggle with food insecurity and that closed businesses have likely exacerbated that problem for some families. Believe it or not, food insecurity can also have a detrimental effect on weight because many inexpensive and easy foods also have the worst nutritional profiles.
“If you only have a certain amount of money to spend for the month why would you not buy the $1 pizza,” Powell said. “We talk a lot about budgeting and creating meals that aren’t super complex or super expensive.”
Powell said root vegetables such as potatoes, beets and turnips last a long time, are fairly inexpensive and are nutritious. Staples such as carrots, celery and apples also keep a long time and can be used in a variety of ways. Powell also noted local farmers markets can also be a great way to supplement a pantry full of staples with fresh fruits and vegetables. The Toledo Thursday Market is open Thursdays, Centralia Farmers market is now open Fridays, Tenino Farmers Market is open Saturdays, Morton Farmers Market open this Saturday and Community Farmers Market at Chehalis opens Tuesday, June 2. Toledo already offers and Chehalis and Centralia intend to offer online ordering for market site pickup. Most local farmers markets also offer matching programs for food stamps as well as a senior nutrition program. Check your local farmers market website for more information.
But with COVID-19 making getting out of the house difficult or impossible for some people and stock at local shops unreliable, even canned and frozen fruits and vegetables can be a good choice in a pinch. Choose low sugar or low salt versions for better nutrition when possible. Canned and frozen vegetables often contain added salt so rinsing them before cooking is also recommended in order to keep sodium levels lower.
“With people right now, I’m telling them ‘do the best you can. I know this is a challenging time,’” Powell said.
Planting a garden could help you save money on groceries while also offering some stress relief. Mora noted that even if you have never had a garden before, you can begin relatively small and inexpensively. And planting your own garden makes it more likely you’ll have access to healthy foods and also that you will eat them, Mora added.
“Psychologically, when people get involved in raising their own food, it’s easier for them to consume that food because they raised it,” Mora said.
Tips for Eating Well During a Pandemic From the Providence BOLDT Diabetes and Nutrition Clinic Dietitians, Serving Thurston, Lewis, Mason Counties:
• Minimize trips to the supermarket during the pandemic. Before buying, see what food you have at home. Be creative with foods you already have in your pantry and refrigerator/freezer. Choose recipes for the week that incorporate overlapping ingredients
• Nutrition is important but make staying active and your mental health a priority as well. Think about ways you can stay active and engaged. Make mental health a priority. We know our health is important but don’t forget to think about your friends and neighbors, especially individuals who are older and those with health conditions
• There is no one food or supplement that can prevent illness, but you may help support your immune system by following the plate method to include one-half plate fruits/vegetable, one-quarter plate lean protein and one-quarter plate starch. Be sure to include a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits to optimize the amounts of beta carotene, vitamin C and other nutrients we get from these foods that help support a healthy immune system
• Canned foods can come in handy during a “shelter in place” order. Canned foods can be easy and convenient, however there are some considerations to consider: look for key phrases like “packed in its own juices”, “no salt added”, “unsweetened” and “packed in 100 percent juices.” Consider draining or rinsing beans and vegetables to reduce sodium. Avoid canned goods with dents, bulges, cracks or leaks
• Frozen food can be convenient and affordable options for you and your family. In fact, frozen foods may have a higher nutrient content because these foods are flash frozen in the field at the peak of their freshness
• Some good additional sources of information are: eatright.org/coronavirus and nutrition.org/making-health-and-nutrition-a-priority-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic/