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Pandemic Eating Habits and How to Lose the “Quarantine 15”

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Pandemic eating habits and the quarantine 15 - Dr. AxeAfter many weeks of sheltering-at-home, some adults (and children) across the country are noticing a little something different about themselves — an extra 15 pounds or so. It’s been called the “Quarantine 15,” and it’s the result of poor eating habits and sedentary living during this pandemic.

There are a lot of factors at play here, including feelings of loneliness and anxiety, cravings for comforting foods, turning to easy, prepared meals, and staying indoors and off your feet way more often than pre-quarantine times.

But now is really the best time to begin new eating and exercise routines that you can follow long after life returns to normal. There are many positive eating habits that are surfacing during this pandemic — so are you on board, too?

Positive Trends

1. Cooking At Home

Cooking at home is the best way to stay in control of your diet. You’re at home anyway, right? An analysis published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity indicates that eating home cooked meals more frequently is associated with great fruit and veggie intake, higher levels of vitamin C and increased consumption of foods that stop hypertension.

On top of that, those consuming home cooked meals more than five times per week, compared with less than three times, were 28 percent less likely to have overweight BMI.

Some popular quarantine eating trends have been preparing homemade breads, baked goods and decadent breakfasts. That’s awesome — and there are so many healthy recipes you can follow to experiment with prepping fun meals that are also good for your body.

2. Having Family Meals

A meta-analysis of 57 studies found a significant relationship between frequent family meals and better nutritional health, in younger and older children, across countries and within all socioeconomic groups.

On top of that, a systematic review conducted at the University of Ottawa suggests that frequent family meals help to reduce the risk of disordered eating, alcohol and substance use, violent behavior, feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide in adolescents. Clearly, eating as a family has benefits beyond weight gain and can have a major impact on overall health.

3. Preparing In Advance

Grocery shopping for your meals and then preparing them at home allows you to stay in control of the foods you consume every day. Before you head to the grocery store, plan out your meals and snacks for the week, and make a list of what you’ll need. Also consider food storage tips. Preparation is key!

Need ideas for healthy meals? Browse our recipe section, get inspired on Instagram and reach out to friends about their go-to options.

After you’ve gone shopping, keeping a list of the week’s meal and snack options on the fridge can help to keep you on track. Instead of reaching for comfort foods in a moment of hunger, just check out the list of healthy ideas instead.

Related: Getting Takeout or Groceries Delivered? Coronavirus Food Safety Tips

4. Eating Healthier Foods

Preparing ahead of time rolls right into this positive eating trend — with good intentions and preparation, comes the consumption of much healthier foods. It’s important to consume a balanced, nutrient-rich diet that includes high-quality protein sources, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, and whole grains.

Some of the healthiest foods to bring into your diet include:

  • Leafy greens, including kale, spinach, collard greens and Swiss chard
  • Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, carrots and Brussels sprouts
  • Nuts and seeds, including almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and hemp seeds
  • Quality protein, like grass-fed beef, organic chicken, wild-caught salmon and free-range eggs
  • Healthy fats, like avocado, coconut oil and olive oil
  • Legumes, including pinto beans, chickpeas and lentils
  • Gluten-free grains, like quinoa, farro and oats
  • Antioxidant fruits, like berries, cherries, peaches and plums
  • Low-calorie drinks, like water, tea, sparkling water and celery juice
  • Low-calorie condiments, like salsa, apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut and horseradish

5. Starting Your Day Off Right

Maybe you were used to hectic mornings before sheltering-at-home, but now you hopefully have some time for yourself. This is the perfect opportunity to start your day off right with some energizing, nurturing foods and practices.

For foods, making a morning smoothie is an excellent way to consume lots of nutrients right off the bat. With some leaf greens, berries, maybe a green powder and collagen protein powder, too.

The morning is also a good time to set the tone for your day with some inspiring reading, a walk outside, goal setting, and even some stretching or yoga.

Research shows that when health recommendations become routine, adherence is much more likely to occur. Establishing a healthy morning routine will set the bar for the rest of your day, so this is a powerful eating (and lifestyle) trend to follow.

Negative Trends

1. Choosing Convenient Foods

In an effort to make things easier during quarantine or sheltering-at-home, reaching for those ultra-processed, packaged and convenient foods seems to be trending.

But get this, research displays that consuming higher amounts of ultra-processed foods is linked to higher risk of death. In fact, researchers found that increasing your intake by just 10 percent was linked with a 14 percent higher risk of all-cause mortality.

To point out some health risks associated with consuming packaged, super processed foods, here are a few:

  • low energy
  • digestive issues
  • depression
  • inflammation
  • acne
  • chronic pain
  • insulin resistance

2. Emotional Eating

Are you eating in response to negative emotions? If stress, discomfort, anxiety or boredom have you browsing the kitchen, you’re engaging in emotional eating, which can surely lead to weight gain and feelings of guilt.

Instead of using food to soothe feelings during this pandemic, find a healthier outlet. Go for a jog or walk outdoors, work in your yard, organize a closet, paint, write, read, do jumping jacks — there are many options that won’t leave you with feelings of regret and sadness.

3. More Snacking

A major pandemic eating trend that’s leading to weight gain across the country is increased snacking. Many people are working from home, with full access to their kitchens.

This can make snacking a little too easy, so it’s important that you keep track of your eating and don’t get into a mindless trance of snacking. Consider having the same snack times every day and choose something healthy, like cucumber and hummus, almond butter on apple slices, homemade energy balls, or a handful of trail mix.

4. Eating While Watching TV

Mindless eating leads to increased calorie consumption and weight gain. You are way better off focusing on your meal, eating with family, engaging in positive conversation and enjoying your food.

While distracted eating makes it hard to gauge satiety, mindful eating will help you realize when you’re full and content. This will give you better control of your weight and more satisfaction from eating.

5. More Alcohol

There are reports that Americans are buying more alcohol during the pandemic. It’s likely that people are turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism during this difficult time, but this is actually one of the worst things you could do for your health.

For starters, drinking alcohol weakens immune function and may make you more vulnerable to infections. But research highlights that it also negatively impacts your mental and emotional health, weight and relationships.

Instead of consuming alcoholic beverages, try making mocktails that can actually boost your health, like one made with sparkling water, acai berry juice and fresh mint.

Related: Your Self-Care Checklist: Stay Healthy In All Parts of Your Life

Ways to Improve Eating Habits Now

During a pandemic that keeps you out of restaurants and bars, preparing meals at home is becoming a thing. For some people, this has been a great opportunity to get back in the kitchen to prep balanced, healthy meals like never before. And for others, pandemic eating habits have become focused on comfort and ease.

To improve healthy eating habits now, make a plan and start a routine. Jump on board with the positive pandemic eating trends, like cooking at home, eating with family, bringing in healthy, nutritious meals and starting your morning strong.

Get your friends on board, too! You can share meal ideas, send pictures of your progress and feed off each other’s success. If you can’t be together right now, then having a common goal can bring you closer while positively impacting your health.

Increase Exercise and Movement, Too

The foods you eat are extremely important, but don’t forget about exercise and movement. Too many people are spending much of their days sedentary, with very little physical activity.

To put it simply, research indicates that regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of premature death from any cause, and from cardiovascular disease in particular among adults. It turns out that there’s a major exercise-immune system connection.

Not sure how to exercise during a pandemic? From social distant hikes and walks outdoors, to yoga with the kids, equipment-free exercises, and getting creative with weights — you’ve got plenty of options, even when quarantined. Just remember to take it slow, especially if you’re out of shape. You can build up your tolerance slowly.

Final Thoughts

  • Have you gained the “Quarantine 15” while sheltering-at-home? Negative eating trends like excessive snacking, having meals in front of the TV and reaching for comfort foods has left many with a larger waistline. This, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, is not only bad for your weight, but negatively impacts our overall health.
  • For the duration of this pandemic, begin to follow positive eating habits, like cooking more at home, eating as a family, choosing nutrient-rich foods and sticking to a meal/snack plan.
  • Establishing a new healthy routine will help you to cope during this difficult time, and keep your body functioning properly. We all need it now more than ever, right?
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