Thrive by IU Health

May 11, 2020

Ideas for Staying Healthy During COVID-19

Ideas for Staying Healthy During COVID-19

When it comes to healthier living, there’s no better time than the present. With less on your plate during extended stay at home, this is a great opportunity to focus on the foods that should be filling your plate.

Maybe you started with good intentions to eat well but several weeks in, you find yourself struggling to stay motivated. But forming and maintaining healthy eating habits even now can help you feel your best. So, whether you’re ready to ease back into society or maybe find yourself still planning to hunker down for several more weeks, it’s still a great time to get started.

“A healthy, balanced diet will help reduce risk of disease and improve quality of life,” said IU Health gastroenterologist and obesity specialist, Ashley Cuellar Gilmore, MD. Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, it is now more important than ever to be prioritizing your health.

IU Health experts Dr. Gilmore, pediatric gastroenterologist, Sara K. Naramore, MD, and pediatric endocrinologist, Tamara S. Hannon, MD, MS, provide knowledge and advice on how you can incorporate healthy eating habits now that can be maintained long after COVID-19 passes.

Why Is it Important to Eat Healthy Right Now?

Since food helps fuel your body, it is important to be mindful of the nutrition choices you are making. Maintaining a healthy diet is a crucial component to keeping your energy levels high, improving brain function, and warding off diseases, said Hannon.

Eating nutritious foods provide the right number of vitamins and minerals and balance of carbohydrates and fats to help your body feel good, Hannon said.

You may be feeling additional stress, another key reason to focus on your health.

“Making sure that you are taking care of yourself with nutrition, physical activity, and getting enough sleep is extra important,” said Gilmore.

And your physical health can be tied directly to that stress.

“Stress causes hormonal changes that can put you at risk for disease or worsen diseases you may have,” said Gilmore.

While it may feel as though few things are in your control right now, your nutrition does not have to be one of them.

How Can I Incorporate Healthy Habits into My Lifestyle?

It’s important to make and keep a routine during this time of uncertainty, Dr. Naramore said. Being confined to your home is the perfect time to work small changes into your schedule that can improve your health and wellbeing.

Set Goals for Yourself

While it is okay to cut yourself some slack, COVID-19 is not a reason to form unhealthy habits. If you’re struggling to keep yourself motivated, especially when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, come up with goals that feel doable right now.

When it comes to achieving goals, Hannon said you should:

  1. Brainstorm goals or habits you think are realistic
  2. Pick one of those goals and physically write it down
  3. On a daily basis, take a few minutes to track your progress for the goal you set

Here are some healthy goal ideas you may consider:

  • Drinking more water
  • Cutting out sugary drinks
  • Going on daily walks
  • Learning new recipes using whole ingredients.

Incorporating routine goals into your schedule can help create structure and normalize life at home, Naramore said.

Recognize If You’re Eating When You’re Bored or Anxious

More people are resorting to food when feeling bored, anxious, or stressed, Naramore said.. She said it is important to differentiate if you are experiencing true hunger or emotional hunger.

If you do notice that you may be an emotional eater, there are a few ways you can work on combatting this habit.

“Eating when you are anxious or bored is something we all do,” Hannon said. “It’s very common.”

Next time you find yourself going to the pantry when you are not truly hungry, Hannon suggested the following steps:

  1. Become aware that you are experiencing emotional hunger
  2. Be willing to break the cycle
  3. Come up with an activity or two to do instead of eating when you are not hungry
  4. After you complete your activity, reassess if you were hungry

If you do find yourself unable to avoid emotional eating, Gilmore advised people to purchase healthy alternatives and make pre-portioned snacks ahead of time to encourage more mindful eating.

It can also be helpful to keep snacks and sweets on a higher shelf or simply not purchase them at all to avoid temptation, Naramore added.

Use What You Have

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of grocery shopping, know that you do not have to completely overhaul your fridge or wallet to make healthy choices.

Ease into the process by eating at home rather than ordering in so you know exactly what is going into your meals. Hannon recommended going through your kitchen, seeing what ingredients you have, and then searching online for a recipe that calls for those ingredients.

Now is a great time to break out kitchen appliances like a slow cooker or blender that make meal prep convenient.

Make Meals Using Fresh Foods

When it comes to creating healthier lifestyle choices, don’t overcomplicate it:

“Keep it simple,” said Gilmore. “It doesn’t have to be more complicated than a lean meat and some veggies.”

Naramore recommends planning meals out ahead of time using the following staples:

  • Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Avoid purchasing canned goods when possible or be mindful of the amount of salt or added sugar listed on the label.
  • Whole grains
  • Lean proteins

“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” said Hannon, about incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine.

Limit or Eliminate Sugary Drinks and Processed Foods

Right now, it can feel especially hard to avoid foods and drinks that may not be the healthiest option.

“Foods that are high in sugar increase our levels of feel-good hormones in the brain,” Hannon said. “If we eat a piece of candy, people get a short-term benefit of that. However, that feeling doesn’t last”

While it feels good in the moment, highly processed, sugary options do not provide the same nutritional benefits that whole foods do.

“If you want to feel good and want your body to function optimally, you have to give it proper nutrition,” said Hannon.

Next time you are at the grocery store, try to reduce or eliminate processed items from your cart. The cleaner that you eat, the better your mind and body will feel.

Gilmore said parents tempted to eat certain snacks they purchased for their children to stop purchasing them all together.

“If you shouldn’t eat it, don’t feed it to your children,” she said.

Incorporate Exercise into Your Daily Routine

Physical exercise is a great way to stay healthy and busy, especially while you are staying at home. If you are new to working out or have trouble staying motivated, Hannon recommends just starting a timer for five minutes. Often, once you start doing the activity, you will continue well past the five-minute mark.

An easy, equipment-free way to get active is to go outside for a walk or jog. As the weather in Indiana is getting nicer, you can get out in the fresh air and take a lap around your neighborhood while still maintaining social distancing.

Walking is also a great way to socialize with loved ones, whether that be through the phone or getting active with those in your household.

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