Hands up if you’re at home, picking at scrumptious and calorific food, if your goals of getting fit and healthy have been side-lined by gym closures and social distancing. I’m imagining a whole lot of hands in the air. Mine would be up waving around with yours. I’m a personal trainer and a PN nutrition advisor, but that doesn’t mean I’m impervious to temptation especially when it’s right in front of me. Who else has rediscovered their love of baking now that they’re home more? Before this I hardly ate bread and now, here I am, baking 2 loaves a day under the pretence that it’s for my family.
So, it’s time to take back control before I start remembering my love of making cheesecakes.
Here are my top 10 tips for healthy eating during isolation. I’ll try and include real-life science where I can, but some of this will be just what I find works for me.
It’s so easy to make choices based on convenience and emotion. You could wake up hungry, grab that piece of cake sitting on the side and then decide to skip lunch to get your calories back in check. Then you get to the afternoon grumpy and hungry and the cycle repeats.
Now planning our food in lockdown is going to take a little more consideration, some foods are harder to get an online shopping is tricky but you can plan healthy meals using tins, frozen food and most importantly the fresh food available at local shops (many of which are now delivering). When I say plan your meals I don’t just mean the evening meals, I’ve found that it really helps if I plan out my breakfast, lunch and supper.
I’m not going to go into a whole load of detail as to what you should be including in your diet but try and choose food with little to no processing.
You’ll find most diet plans insist that you increase the amount of water that you drink in a day (8 x 8oz glasses seems to be the norm). I find that having a big glass of water 30 minutes before each meal will stop me overindulging and there’s been plenty of research to back me up. A 2014 study of overweight females found that those that drank 500ml 30minutes before meals in addition to their normal water intake (for 8 weeks) reported a reduction in body weight, body fat and body mass index…worth a try right? Who else is guilty of thinking they’re hungry and grabbing a snack and finding it doesn’t quite hit the spot? Try having a glass of water instead; it’s not uncommon for us to mistake our bodies’ thirst que for a hunger que. I’m really guilty of craving juicy sweet grapes when all my body is really asking for is some god damn water!
3. Get enough sleep
There are so many reasons why we should be getting a solid 8 hours sleep a night and my friend and nutrition expert, Sarah Bennett, has written some great tips in her recent blog. There’s a huge connection between overeating and lack of sleep, especially an overconsumption of highly processed ‘junk’ food, that in turn leads to weight gain. And the science behind this? We have two hormones that regulate hunger (ghrelin and leptin) and these are both affected by sleep. Ghrelin stimulates our appetite and leptin decreases it. Guess which of these spikes when we don’t get enough sleep? Yup, you guessed it; we have a spike in ghrelin and the levels of leptin falls and in turn we get really bloody hungry.
Are you asking what this even means? I mean it all sounds very wise and wholesome but what it actually means is paying attention to the way we eat. My husband tells me that I eat like a jazz drummer and it’s like a race to the finish line. However, we have a Korean friend in lockdown with us who eats everything slowly so I’ve taken to trying to keep pace with her. She puts only a little on her fork and chews each mouthful carefully. She then puts her fork down between mouthfuls. I have good reason for trying to eat more like her and that’s because eating mindfully has been shown to improve our digestion, regulate our appetite and help us enjoy our food more. Slowing everything down and thinking about what we’re doing can stop us from overeating and help us make better choices about what we’re putting in our mouth. I’ve definitely found mealtimes have been more enjoyable and I’ve had less bloating and discomfort after eating.
I love to exercise and I’m still working hard to include my main training sessions but I have noticed a reduction in my step count. We know exercise burns calories but it doesn’t mean that we can out-exercise a poor diet. The thing that I get the most from exercise is the endorphins that give me a burst of positivity and a brighter outlook. A nice can-do attitude that helps when making good food choices. If exercising hasn’t been part of your routine then try adding it in. When we follow a diet we are restricting ourselves in some way, but when we add in exercise we aren’t taking something away, we’re adding it in. That in itself feels great.
Now this one really works for me; I hate telling myself that I can’t eat or drink something. If I’m never allowed to eat chocolate then all I can think about is that “forbidden fruit”. Instead, I tell myself I can have it, but at a certain time and only if I still really want it. I used to crave a bottle of coke, probably the caffeine and sugar, so I used to buy myself the coke and say that I could have it later if I still wanted it, but it had to be worth it. I’d normally get to the afternoon and find I didn’t feel like it anymore (by then I’d have had a glass of water and that hit the spot). The bottle of coke would still be there the next day so I’d try the same again, I mean it would eventually get drank but it stopped me drinking too much and too often.
7. Set some goals and tell a friend.
Writing down goals helps us keep sight of what we want to achieve and describing our goals has been strongly associated with goal success. A goal of weight loss isn’t quite what I’m talking about though. Goals need to be specific and well planned. Your overall goal might be to reach a certain weight or dress size, but your goal setting should be about how you are going to get there. My overall goal right now is to maintain my size during this lockdown and how I’m going to achieve that might be to get my step count to 10k, plan my meals for the whole week and drink water before every meal.
An accountability partner is a great way of sticking to your goals. Knowing my friend will be checking on me to see how I’m getting on is a great motivational tool. My friend has similar goals to me and likes the same types of food which helps too. We often have confessions, but we make sure we encourage each other not let our indulgences be a slippery slope. We want each other to succeed, to feel healthy, fit and strong. If I’m doing a workout I’ll let her know and if she’s making a healthy meal then she’ll send me the recipe. Having that accountability makes us stop and think.
I won’t dwell on this one too much, but the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is so true. People who leave temptation in plain sight are far more likely to indulge without thinking. This goes back to mindful eating. Have you found yourself with a massive packet of open m&m’s on the counter? You thought you’d just have a few and then you go back later and realise you’ve eaten them all…you had no idea you’d eaten so many! It’s time to hide those bad boys at the back of the cupboard.
9. Don’t get too hungry
This is key for me. I make bad choices when I’m hungry as well as suffering from a serious case of hanger. Who finds that if they skip a meal, they get home ravenous looking for ANYTHING that can be eaten quickly? I was the worst for this at work; no time to pop to get food between clients and I didn’t take food in with me. I’d grab a Grenade Bar and get home hungry and in a seriously bad mood. Now I’ve started keeping some Be Animal ready meals at work…back up for days when I have forgotten to take lunch. Okay, so I’m at home all the time now, but I still need to know what I’m eating and when. This links back to planning our meals for the week. Don’t plan things that are super complicated, batch cooking food that can be reheated is a great option.
You’ve high fived yourself for a day of great eating. You’ve got the kids to bed and settled down in front of Netflix, but then you start to browse the snacking potentials. You feel like eating something: crisps, ice cream, chocolate or perhaps…wine? Now try stopping in your tracks and heading upstairs, putting your jammies on and brushing your teeth. Simple, but effective. A great tool if you get snacky in the evening. All of the snacks mentioned won’t taste quite as nice with minty fresh breath and with you being your jammies you’ll be getting in the mindset for sleep, not snacks.
The biggest win of this tactic for me is that I’m a path of least resistance sort of girl. If I’ve brushed my teeth once already then I’m not going to ruin it all by eating and then having to do it again that’s way too much effort.
So now for my main piece of advice. Don’t feel that after reading this you need to change everything at once. Choose one on the list that you’ll find easy, master it and then, when you’re ready, add another.
Good luck and stay safe,