Welcome to Part 2 of this series on keeping it together in times of crisis. Read Part 1 HERE
Staying Healthy: Bring it Back to Basics
When life feels scary or stressful it's normal to shrink back to our most basic needs for food, shelter, and warmth as a protection. Don't beat yourself up if all you want to do is lay around and eat. It's a normal psychological response to an abnormal situation. You are not broken.
That said, it's unlikely that you'll feel less stressed if you throw caution to the wind and eat whatever you want, as much as you want, any time you want, and confine yourself to the couch binge watching the news.
To stay healthy in times of crisis, bring it back to basics. Make it a priority to care for your basic needs for food, shelter, warmth, safety and security first. Once you do, you’ll be in a better place to make smart choices and solve higher level problems related to relationships, finances, education, and community.
Eat with a Healthy Purpose in Mind
Eating serves many purposes. It satisfies hunger, brings people together, provides mental stimulation, and helps us to feel safe and secure.
It’s totally normal to crave comfort foods or to eat for temporary relief from pain and emotional discomfort. It’s also totally normal to experience changes in appetite in times of prolonged stress. Some people feel constantly hungry while others don’t want to eat much at all.
In the short run, there’s no need to panic or make any changes. It’s perfectly okay to eat a little bit more, or a little bit less than normal. It’s highly likely that your usual eating routine will resume once things have calmed down around you.
On the other hand, long-term problems could arise from falling into a habit of neglecting one’s mental and emotional care or eating mostly low-nutrition, ultra-processed foods.
If you notice significant changes to what, when, and how much you eat, or if you find yourself isolating with food, check in and ask if this is the direction you want to continue with, or if a course correction is needed. If you decide that a change to your eating is warranted, consider the following.
Eat to satisfy hunger, nourish your body, and feel safe and secure, rather than to avoid discomfort.
Maintain awareness of your appetite so that you eat enough, rather than too much or too little.
Connect with others over food for social interaction, bonding, and comfort.
Eat foods that you enjoy, including comfort foods, in quantities that feel appropriate to you.
Eat what, when, and how much you’ll feel good about later, not just in the moment.
Eating with a healthy purpose has nothing to do with weight loss, dieting, or skinny jeans. That may need to take a backseat for the time being. If you eat to support your mental and emotional health, you’ll likely find that the physical health benefits naturally follow.
Eat Slowly and Feel Satisfied from Food
In times of crisis the “fight” response can show up in the form of overeating, over-buying, and over-consumption in general. Some people may notice that suddenly they're eating as much as they can, as fast as they can, or every time they sense the urge to eat.
Distracted, hurried, urgent eating keeps a person in an amplified, stressed state that calls for deliberate behaviors to counteract it. Eating slowly, with intention, is one way to that. It helps to turn off the news, sit down at a table with others (virtually counts), take a moment to become present in the moment, possibly give thanks, and pause several times during your meal.
Slowing down when you eat will also help you notice the point where your hunger has been satisfied and you’re feeling more content. This will help you eat the right amount of food (not too much or too little), as well as return your stress-response system to a normal state.
Once you’re in a more calm, safe, level-headed frame of mind, your brain will be freed up solve problems, help others, work on a project, or rest.
Turn of screens and sit down at a table.
Pause several times by putting the fork down, sipping water, and observing your surroundings.
Notice changes to hunger, fullness, and your emotional state as the meal progresses.
Stop at the point where you feel content with food.
Say, "That's enough."
Put the food away and move on to your next activity.
These behaviors will help you to detect your internal signals that you’ve eaten enough and feel more satisfied, on the right amount of food, for many hours after you’ve eaten.
Eat a balanced diet.
In times of high-stress it is important to support your immune system by eating high quality, nutrient dense foods. That means lots of vegetables, protein, and healthy carbohydrate like whole grains, beans, nuts, and fruit. Include some “fun” foods and desserts that you feel good about eating.
Minimize your intake of ultra-processed, hyperpalatable foods, as they are likely to cause you to eat far more calories than you need, and may increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems.
Be reasonable and realistic based on what your time, budget, and skills allow. Be creative with spices, condiments, and pantry ingredients to make it fun and stave off boredom. Choose foods that you and your family enjoy eating. Remember, the goal here is to reduce stress, improve our ability to cope with a crisis, and stay healthy while doing it.
Stressing about whether or not your food is "clean," or whether or not carbs make you fat (they don't), is counterproductive to keeping your mind clear and free to focus on higher level thinking.
What is helpful is being prepared and having what you need on hand. Consider purchasing enough food for 2 to 3 weeks.
Fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables.
Shelf stable proteins like canned fish, chicken, and beans.
Bulk food such as lentils, rice and beans.
Whole grain pasta and a variety of sauces.
Whole grain cereals, crackers, bread, tortillas.
High calorie, long lasting, shelf-stable foods like nuts, nut butter, jam, and dried fruit.
Ingredients such as flour, sugar, salt, cooking oil, baking powder, and powdered milk.
Condiments such as salsa, mustard, dressing, etc.
Dried seasonings, bullion, or salad dressing mix.
Instant coffee (…trust me on this one, you’ll be glad you have it)
TP - No, you can't eat toilet paper.
It’s a well-known fact that exercise, especially the kind that gets your heart rate up and makes you sweat, is known to reduce of anxiety and depression, strengthen your immune system, and improve mental focus and cognitive ability.
Regular exercise also improves sleep quality. If you’re feeling wired and tired at night, consider adding in some form of daily physical activity.
And don't worry about all the fitpros pushing challenges and "no-excuses" mentality. Do what works best for YOU, on your terms. Think about why you personally want to, need to, and will benefit from daily physical activity.
Be creative and keep it fun!
Include daily physical activity, as much as your circumstances allow.
Spend time outdoors where and when it’s possible to do so safely.
Aim for a minimum of 20-30 minutes each day, if possible.
Include resistance training 2 to 3 times each week.
Make it something you look forward to, not dread.
Balance regular physical activity with adequate rest.
Keep it Clean
Shoes, hands, keys, clothing, and frequently touched surfaces harbor bacteria and germs that can make us sick.
Consider these recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control for cleaning and disinfection for households.
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds.
Avoid touching your face or eating with unwashed hands.
Follow the CDC recommendations for social distancing.
Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily (e.g. tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, phones, tablets, touch screens, remote controls, keyboards, handles, desks, toilets, sinks).
Disinfect hard surfaces with a standard household disinfectant or a bleach solution made from 4 tablespoons of bleach per quart of water.
Stay Home, Stay Safe.
When all else fails, go back to basics. Food, shelter, warmth, safety and security, and above all, love. Take care of your body and your body will take care of you.
If you’ve found this information useful please share it with a friend.
I help women improve their eating and exercise habits so they can lose weight and keep off, without losing themselves in the process.
Get Fit, for Life! Online group coaching is open through June 30. Monthly membership includes 2 LIVE ZOOM FitFusion40 Classes each week, daily check-ins, and weekly coaching. Spend as much, or little, time with the group as you need to reach your goals.
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