29 Apr 2020
Nutrition in a Time of Chaos
29 Apr 2020
Whether you find yourself working overtime on the front lines, and on weekends with way less time for anything else or you are at home with less or no work, homeschooling and navigating endless hours to fill – one thing that is true for everyone is that our sense of a normal schedule is gone.
Today we will look at what this means when it comes to nutrition, feeding ourselves and our relationship with food in these times.
You may be wondering why all you want to do is eat comfort food these days. I know this is true because I am also longing for bowls of macaroni and cheese and peanut butter toast and tea!
The fact of the matter is we are all under the constant stress of the unknown. As humans we are designed to function best when we have predictability in our lives. Without this sense of predictability our bodies go into a stress response wondering, worrying and preparing to fight, flee or freeze – this is to keep us safe from short term risk. However as the uncertainty continues, not knowing when we will go back to work, not knowing when the extra work will end, not knowing when the kids will be back at school, not knowing if there will be food at the grocery store and ultimately not knowing when things will feel normal, this system that was designed to take care of short term stress gets overwhelmed. So while it may feel like you are doing nothing all day….your brain is actually constantly busy. A busy brain actually uses a ton of fuel, which then makes sense why despite binge watching Gilmore Girls, I actually feel as hungry as if I had just had a massive workout!
So – how do we make an eating plan that addresses these concerns?
The first piece is to recognize, there is nothing normal about the times we find ourselves in. There is no “Perfect Plan”, so we can let go of the judgement of ourselves. This is so important because if we are feeling like we are “failing” at eating during a pandemic and we are then judging ourselves for it – we are heaping a ton of pressure on ourselves in an already stressful situation.
We need to remember that food is one of the biggest things we have been conditioned to see as safety. Many of us have been raised to associate food with feeling good. In fact my desire for macaroni and cheese or peanut butter toast is directly linked to that! Those are the foods that my mom would always make me if I had a bad day, so naturally I gravitate back to those in times of stress. Think for a moment about the foods that you instinctively reach for in times of stress. Do you find you are eating these more often now?
The second piece is to try to give our bodies the sense of structure that it is craving to feel safe. However, this structure has to feel doable, simple, and comforting or else the judgement piece sneaks in!
What can a simple food structure look like?
Eat at the same time everyday – It is easy to roll out of bed straight to your laptop and start tackling emails and zoom calls and before you know it it’s 2pm and you haven’t eaten a thing. Instead try getting out of bed 15 minutes earlier. Have a glass of water, eat a piece of fruit and a handful of almonds, or make a smoothie and then head to that zoom call. I find some people benefit from setting reminders on their phone to go and grab some food. Eating constantly throughout the day will let your body know you are going to take care of it. Therefore giving it one less thing to stress about.
Add protein and veggies/fruit to the comfort food – To continue with my Mac and cheese example, if I were to add some diced chicken and cut up some raw veggies or add some steamed spinach, I still receive the comfort of the Mac and cheese and I’m adding some much needed protein and veggies to the meal (which also then means I can watch my portion size!). Protein and the nutrients found in fruits and veggies are super important right now to make sure our body has the resources it needs to manage our stress response and to keep our immune system functioning well. Having these resources on board is another way to allow our bodies to feel safer during this time.
Drink more water – Most of the time, and especially under stress we sometimes mistake the cues of dehydration as hunger, so we reach for a snack when our body really wants water. Having a water bottle on your desk/coffee table/night stand and drinking from it regularly will make sure that you are well hydrated. For those of you who don’t like water, you can add things like lemon, mint, or cucumber to improve the taste.
Batch cook – If you have the energy to cook, capitalize on that and make a bigger batch. There are tons of healthy comfort foods out there that keep and freeze well. Chili, Curry, Casseroles, healthier muffins, homemade trail mix. If one day you feel like hitting the kitchen, make a bigger batch of chili and then when a day hits that you are feeling low you still have food to eat!
Find non food related activities that bring you joy – Right now a lot of us are finding the only joy in our day comes from food. The bag of chips with the movie, the pizza on the couch with the family, the chocolate bar and cup of tea when you are feeling alone. It can be hard to find anything that we love to do when we are starting to feel stir crazy in our homes. However, trying to separate food from joy is really important in trying to maintain a sense of structure with food. Look at what you liked to do when you were a kid, can you bring some of that back in, crafting, doodling, colouring, knitting, word puzzles can all give you something to do and bring a sense of comfort. Remember it is the sense of safety and comfort that your body is looking for, not necessarily the food. Baths have become a staple for me, so have walks, stretching/yoga, zoom calls with friends….all of these can help me remember that I am safe and comforted.
The biggest thing to remember through this is to not judge yourself for the decisions you are making because none of us have ever navigated through something like this. If you are realizing that your relationship with food is a bigger concern than you thought and you would like support through this, a nutritionist can help.
I am still booking virtual appointments and I would love to chat. You don’t have to do this alone, there is no “perfect” that you have to hold yourself up to.
Some days you will drink the smoothie and go for a walk – celebrate those days! Some days you will lay on the couch and eat the Mac and cheese – be gentle on yourself those days! And if you need help to develop a plan that works for you – reach out and we can work together.
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