Written by Melissa Bean Sterzick
During the past year, food has been one of the most unifying aspects of
the pandemic. People tried making sourdough bread, grocery shopping habits
changed, people ate more meals at home and some planted gardens for the
first time. Most of us also indulged in sweets and treats to ease the
anxiety and boredom of social distancing.
Spending more time at home has challenged even the most disciplined—close
proximity to the kitchen is a great distraction from cramped bedroom offices
and Zoom meetings. People have purchased sweats and comfy clothes, cleaned
out closets, binged on Netflix and done everything possible to find comfort
and entertainment within the four walls they call home.
Kristen Hung, a registered dietitian nutritionist and coordinator of the
CORE4 Adult Weight Management Program at Torrance Memorial, says getting
back to eating healthy foods and exercising doesn’t have to be another
stressor to add to the mix.
Evaluate problem areas
Hung says individuals and families should start by examining the changes
that have occurred and identifying problem areas. Tension and worry, boredom,
disruption and lack of routine could all be contributing to less-than-ideal
food and exercise choices.
“Stress causes an increase in levels of the stress hormone cortisol,
which often increases appetite and motivation to eat. Typically, people
increase intake of foods high in fat and sugar,” she says. “Stress
can also affect our sleep, impair our exercise and lead to increased intake
of alcohol—all of which impact overall health and well-being.”
Find your strengths
A desire to make changes is great motivation. Hung says forming new habits
requires brainstorming solutions and making plans. Creating a plan isn’t
the end of the process. Try it and make a few tweaks if necessary. Knowing
what works and what doesn’t work clears the way for success.
Establish goals based on reality. Learning to cook takes time. Learning
to cook several healthful meals can be done in a few weeks. Cutting out
dessert entirely is too punishing, but saving dessert for Saturday night
supports self-control and becomes a reward.
“Don’t give into the temptation of another fad diet,”
Hung says. “While it may be tempting to engage in a fad diet to
lose weight you may have gained in the past months, instead consider what
sustainable changes you can make for better health.”
- Eat whole foods—Many would benefit from increasing their intake of
whole, unprocessed foods including fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and
whole grains and decreasing their intake of highly processed foods.
- Pay attention—Don’t eat in front of the TV, at the desk, in
the car or when walking from place to place. Slow down, pay attention
to feelings of hunger and satiety, and eat at regular meal times. “If
we graze all day, we won’t experience hunger. If we are distracted,
we may eat past the point of fullness,” Hung says.
- Don’t let stress decide—“Eating is one way many try to
cope with stress, though in the end it does not help address stressful
feelings for long,” Hung says. She suggests building a repertoire
of coping mechanisms including physical activity, stretching and breathing
exercises, a bath or massage, spending time in nature, journaling or twalking
to a supportive friend. These alternatives are better than snacking to
cope with stress.
Reinstate successful patterns
“Routines and structure can be helpful after major changes or periods
of disorientation, like what many have experienced during this pandemic,”
For those who used to go to the gym regularly, many have adapted to outdoor
workouts, using an exercise app or working with exercise equipment at
home. As gyms begin to open up this spring, people will be able to get
back to more normal routines.
Those who like to exercise as a social activity can sign up for virtual
classes, talk on the phone with loved ones while they walk and arrange
to do yoga or ride bikes with someone in their household.
“Sometimes it just takes channeling some of our energy and creativity
to address diet and exercise routines that have become less of a priority
during times of stress,” Hung says. “It may take a little
creativity to adapt, but we are creative beings.”
To learn more, visit Torrance Memorial’s nutrition and weight loss
TorranceMemorial.org/Nutrition. Schedule an appointment with one of our registered dietitian nutritionists
through the MyTorranceMemorial patient portal or by calling 310-891-6707.
Virtual and in-person consultations are available.