All of us know the importance of eating right and staying healthy. In light of the ongoing pandemic, health, hygiene and immunity are more crucial for our well-being and safety than ever before. A lot of experts are talking about the importance of building immunity by eating well during this time.
But we all know that this is easier said than done! Even under normal circumstances, many of us struggle with eating healthy and staying fit. Now, the boredom of being at home can drive some of us to turn to unhealthy snacks, as eating becomes a way to entertain ourselves temporarily. Others seem to have picked up a newfound cooking hobby and are following YouTube videos to bake cakes, make bread and/or cook other tasty treats.
Additionally, the stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic can lead us to resort to emotional eating. Emotional eating is the term used for when we use food as a way to cope with our distress. More often than not, when we’re not feeling great, we might find ourselves reaching for unhealthy or junk food items, including chocolates, chips, deep fried items and ice-cream.
Consuming less nutritious foods can not only prevent us from building good immunity, but can also have several negative effects on our health in the long run. It can lead to lethargy, weight gain and poorer mood. If you are finding it hard to stick to eating healthy, this article has got you covered. Let’s take a look at some strategies that can help you maintain a healthy diet during this chaotic and difficult time.
Plan meals ahead of time
Deciding in advance what you are going to eat and when you are going to eat it can prevent you from reaching for junk foods outside of these mealtimes. Try to incorporate fixed eating times into your daily schedule. Additionally, at the start of each week, take stock of your groceries and decide what meals you are going to cook that week. This will stop you from ordering food from restaurants or fast food stores when you don’t know what to cook.
Eat a balanced diet
Of course, eating a balanced diet that includes foods from all food groups is extremely important. You should also pay special attention to immunity-boosting nutrients such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Zinc. Adding probiotics to your diet may also help by maintaining healthy gut bacteria. Moreover, your diet should contain unsaturated fats instead of the saturated and industrially-produced fats that are found in processed foods. As far as possible, avoid consuming processed foods – these are loaded with salt and sugar which in turn can negatively impact your health. Opt for organic and whole foods instead.
Be realistic and flexible
While trying to eat healthier, it is very important to set realistic expectations for yourself. Acknowledge that you are human – and so know that like everyone else, you can’t always control your cravings. Tell yourself that it’s okay to indulge once in a while. When planning your meals, you could even pick one day of the week where you treat yourself. This will help boost your mood, give you something to look forward to, and make a healthy diet more sustainable.
Change the way you shop
The process of eating healthy starts at the time of grocery shopping. Research shows that shopping for groceries on an empty stomach leads people to buy more unhealthy snacks! So eat before you go shopping in order to avoid purchasing junk food in the first place. It may also be helpful to have a pre-made grocery list that you stick to, so that you don’t waste time or wander into the sections of the store that have the foods you are trying to avoid.
Drink enough water
Drinking 8-10 glasses of water each day is essential for health. Water transports nutrients and compounds to different regions through your blood, regulates body temperature, gets rid of waste, and lubricates and cushions your joints. Setting reminders to drink water and keeping a bottle of water in your room may help you remember to hydrate yourself.
Keep a food log
Each time you have a craving, and/or you eat something unhealthy, make a note of it in a diary. Note down the details of what happened, what you were feeling, and what you ended up eating. This will help you identify the factors that trigger you to eat unhealthy foods. Once you also build an awareness of the emotions that are linked to unhealthy eating, you can think of alternative ways to cope or manage these feelings.
Maintain emotional well-being
Since being in distress can make people more likely to resort to unhealthy food items, the problem can also be combated by improving one’s overall emotional well-being. Focus on the basics: get enough sleep, make exercise a habit, and spend time to unwind and relax each day. Make time for activities you enjoy doing – be it talking to loved ones, taking long baths or learning something new. Basic self-care can prevent you from getting distressed in the first place. Having a self-care routine can also enable you to cope more effectively in difficult times.
On the note of coping, studies show that mindfulness and meditation are powerful tools that can keep you balanced, happy and even healthy. In fact, mindfulness can be applied to eating habits too.
Using mindfulness to improve eating habits
Mindfulness is the process of consciously bringing your attention to the present moment and observing what is going on right now without judgement. Mindfulness can help people manage their emotions better, which in turn can keep unhelpful coping behaviours at bay. Even simple deep breathing exercises – where you focus on the way your breath is flowing in and out – can make you feel better, more relaxed, and less susceptible to resorting to junk food!
The benefits of mindfulness for eating go beyond just practising these exercises to address your emotions. In fact, mindfulness can be integrated into the act of eating too. Mindful eating includes being in the moment as you are eating and observing how the food makes you feel. It also involves becoming aware of your thoughts as you eat, and being in touch with bodily signals about the taste of the food and how satisfied and full you are feeling. This awareness can also be brought while buying, preparing, and serving your food.
Here are some ways to incorporate mindfulness into each meal.
Think about what you are eating
Before each meal, take a deep breath and consider the health value of what you are eating. Think about what nutrients you are putting in your body and whether you are eating for sustenance or because you are bored or feeling anxious. Having this awareness can encourage you to reign in any unhealthy eating habits. Thinking about what you are eating can also help you make better, more deliberate choices about the food you eat.
Employ your senses
Pay attention to the sound, taste, texture, and smell of your food while cooking and while eating it. Keep your gadgets away and try to tune out your surroundings in order to focus on your meal. You can also think about the reactions you are having to the food and how it is making you feel. This can help you be fully present while eating your meal and can make eating a more enjoyable experience. Eating slowly and deliberately can also be a pause from the rest of your day, and can help ease any stress or anxiety.
Think about whether you are full
Eating slowly and paying attention to how full you feel can prevent you from overeating. Check in with yourself and get a sense of how hungry you are before you start eating. If you do this consistently throughout the day, you can attend to your hunger and grab a healthy snack/meal before your hunger reaches a very high level. While you are eating, it may be beneficial to take pauses and ask yourself how full you are feeling on a scale of 1-10. Stop eating when your fullness rating reaches a 6/7 instead of waiting to reach a 10, as it takes a while for your brain to recognise that you don’t need to eat any more.
Think about where your food came from
Lastly, take some time to reflect on the ingredients of your food. We often take food for granted and don’t stop to think about the effort and process that has gone into the food we eat. From the time of harvesting the ingredients to the time we see the final dish on our table, a lot of hard work goes into keeping us satiated. Paying attention to this process can make you appreciate the food more and can also help you make more sustainable choices in the long run.
On the whole, there are several ways to improve your diet, and just because you are stuck at home doesn’t mean that you cannot be using this time to build healthier eating habits. Your emotional well-being and eating habits are deeply interrelated – so if you start working on one aspect, you will see improvements in the other one, too.
So, what changes will you be bringing to your eating habits in order to stay physically and emotionally fit?
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