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By Michelle Lau
Keeping your immunity high by keeping unhealthy snacking low.
During COVID-19 social distancing, people have either upped their exercise and made the healthy shift to becoming home chefs, or have been consuming an unnecessary share of treats and taking a break from their exercise routine due to gym closures.
The coronavirus pandemic is unleashing havoc on every aspect of society and is clearly impacting our day-to-day living, including our dietary patterns. Our good habits are being challenged by our natural tendencies to eat more while at home, particularly leading us to eat more unhealthy snacks and comfort foods. That, together with everyone’s newfound baking fever, will certainly add more calories to the day.
At this unprecedented time, stress levels (and emotional eating) are exceedingly high, and are likely to be sustained at this level for a seemingly indefinite length of time, as the novel coronavirus does not appear to be dissipating anytime soon. So how can you stay on track to avoid coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic with the unwanted belly fat?
Adjust your WFH setup
Get your office out of the kitchen. If you must be near food while working, set a schedule for yourself that will keep your eating habits on track. For example, don’t consume any food until your usual lunch hour. In a way, this is like giving yourself the structure you’d have during a normal workday at the office.
Avoid eating in front of any screen
Whether it’s a computer, tablet, smartphone, or TV, sit down at the dining table to avoid distractions while eating. And if you must snack while working in front of your computer, avoid eating directly from the bag (chips/popcorn/cookies). Portion out a small serving (eg. 10 chips) and put the bag away.
Avoid mindless snacking altogether
This is likely a tough one, since everyone’s stuck indoors indefinitely. It can be rough on mental health and easily lead to stress-eating. But the next time you stand in front of the fridge or reach for the bag of processed junk food, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Am I actually hungry, or just bored or tired (or whatever else you might be feeling)?”
If the answer is no, then step away from the fridge or food corner. If you really are hungry, here are some guidelines to remember while reading a nutrition label:
- Keep the snack less than or equal to 150 calories.
- Make sure there is at least 5 grams or more of fiber and protein combined.
- Keep sugars less than 5 grams per 100 grams.
Planning is key
They say that failing to plan is planning to fail. Try writing down your planned meals/snacks for the next day the night before, or the morning of. Having a blueprint of your day can help to guide you nutritionally, and avoid consuming unnecessary calories.
This also goes for those limited grocery store trips. Make sure you write down a list for what you actually need – you could even look up some simple, healthy recipes and put those ingredients down on the list to cook later in the week. And, avoid going to the grocery store hungry – a study has shown that shopping when hungry leads to more spending, even when you’re not buying food.
Ignite your inner-master chef
Get creative with healthy foods. Some simple and nutritious examples of long shelf-life food: canned tuna, low sodium beans, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, Greek yogurt, light string cheese, frozen tofu, raw nuts, eggs, and low sugar muesli. Websites such as Cookpad, Delish, The Kitchn, and Tasty, just to name a few, regularly share lots of ideas.
Eat with a plate
Making fruits and vegetables the focal point of every meal – in other words, at least half of every plate – will help you meet your recommended amount each day. Besides this, be sure to fill one quarter of your plate with lean protein (e.g. chicken, fish, beans) at each meal, and the remaining quarter of your plate with whole and intact grains such as whole wheat, barley, and brown rice.
This combo of protein and fiber is more filling than a plateful of white pasta, and can help stabilize blood sugars (and hunger).
Eat, Move, Sleep, Repeat
Anywhere, anytime! Exercise helps with appetite control appetite by affecting appetite hormones. Get creative. Look at videos online; download a fitness app, or simply put on some music and dance.
If it’s safe for you in your city, take a walk or run outside, with a mask on. If you have exercise equipment at home, put it to use. Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of the two.
Good nutrition is essential to a strong immune system that in turn can help protect us from the highly infectious novel coronavirus. Let’s be honest – some of us might have a little more time on our hands than normal times. Make the most of it by staying healthy and active, and being good to your body.
About the Author
Michelle is a Registered Dietitian (MSc.), nutrition educator, media personality, and the founder of NUTRILICIOUS, a B2B nutrition consultancy and communications company that aspires to inspire millions across Asia to eat their way to healthier and happier lives. Michelle and her team passionately motivate all audiences to Eat Whole, Train Smart, Live Full and deliver science-based nutrition information in fun and “digestible” ways. As an avid runner and obsessive home baker, she appreciates and prioritizes balance in all areas of life. “Change the world, One bite at a time.”