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How to Balance a Healthy Diet During Self-Isolation

It can be a challenge during stressful times, but balancing 5 pillars can help

Snack of chocolate, strawberries and walnuts by laptop

With wide-ranging stay-at-home orders still in place, weight management and a healthy diet can be challenging for a variety of reasons.

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Whether it’s an increased habit of snacking because of access, the added feelings of stress or because of the extra challenge of going grocery shopping during a time when it’s not as safe as it used to be, there are plenty of ways you can slip into bad eating habits.

But there are ways that you can maintain a healthy diet and keep tabs on your weight management even during these trying times.

Balancing the 5 pillars

According to endocrinologist Marcio Griebeler, MD, while things are certainly different for everyone under quarantine or self-isolation, other things should remain the same. “There are a lot of changes, but the core values remain the same,” he says. “We just have to do some adaptation.”

According to Dr. Griebeler, five important pillars are:

  1. A nutrition plan.
  2. Appetite control.
  3. Exercise.
  4. Sleep.
  5. Stress.

“These are things we talk about when it comes to weight maintenance,” he says, “but during quarantine, some of those things are off-balance.”

The goal is to reach a balance between those five pillars, but it’s not unusual for one or more of them to go a little off-balance during a trying time. “Stress is pretty high in the current situation, especially with so many people not working,” Dr. Griebeler says.

He adds that exercise, too, is off-balance because of certain restrictions in place with lockdown and self-isolation orders. “Activity level during this period of time can be as low as half of what it was prior to isolation. If you used to count your steps, you might see numbers 50% lower.”

While reaching that balance may feel like a difficult task, it’s not impossible.

Your nutrition plan

Because you want to minimize your trips to the grocery store during the pandemic, it’s important to focus on healthy choices and plan in advance. “Try to get as much fresh food as you can and avoid processed foods,” Dr. Griebeler recommends.

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A big key is meal planning and preparation, he says. “If you go grocery shopping and you don’t know what you want to buy, you may not make healthy choices. If you plan in advance, you’ll know exactly what to look for.”

Any extra time you have can also be spent on looking for new, creative recipes as a way of keeping your meals healthy.

Appetite control

One issue with appetite control right now is stress. “We end up doing more stress eating during this time because we have a lot of triggers,” says Dr. Griebeler. He adds that we may not be snacking or eating because we’re hungry but, rather, because there’s nothing else to do.

The trick, he says, is creating new habits. “If that’s what triggers you to eat, create a new behavior so instead of eating, you’ll do something else.”

Snacking can be a big issue during this time, especially as people are spending more time at home where they have more constant access to food. Dr. Griebeler says snacks may be important to keep your hunger sensation stable and keep your appetite at bay.

But the two important aspects of snacking, according to Dr. Griebeler, are the quantity and quality of snacks. “Portion control is important. Even if you have a healthy snack, if you eat a lot, that’s not beneficial. As for quality, avoid processed foods. A good snack may be something with healthy fat, like cashews, where a portion is 100 to 200 calories. Having vegetables is a good option as well.”

Getting enough exercise

One new habit you can create instead of eating is exercise. Even during times of self-isolation and quarantine, it’s still okay to get out and exercise as long as you properly follow guidelines like social distancing and wearing a mask in public.

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Walking, biking or even starting a running program is a great solitary pursuit that can help form healthy new behaviors, get you out of the house and

If you’re not comfortable going outside to exercise or if that’s not an option (bad weather), there are still plenty of ways to keep fit around the house. Consider doing fitness classes you find online or utilizing inexpensive exercise equipment you can purchase online like pull-up bars or a jump rope.

Yoga is also a great option for a stay-at-home exercise that has a bevy of benefits, including stress management. It’s also something you can do with your kids.

Remember: Besides keeping you healthy, exercising is also a big way to help alleviate stress.

Sleeping about 8 hours

Another important component is sleep. As Dr. Griebeler points out, sleep affects nutrition, motivation and energy levels. “I usually tell patients they need to sleep at least eight hours per day,” he says. “Everybody’s a little bit different, obviously, but an average of eight hours is very reasonable.”

But it’s not just about how much sleep you get; it’s also about the quality of the sleep. “You want to try to avoid eating a late dinner,” says Dr. Griebeler. He also adds that avoiding a late snack in front of the TV can make a difference.

And then there’s screen time. “During these times, a lot of people are watching TV and you watch TV in your bedroom or you have an iPad or iPhone,” he points out. “All that screen time will just delay your sleep. You stay up late and you don’t have a restful night.”

Try going to bed earlier, reading a book and avoiding screen time at night to make sure your sleep improves.

Managing your stress level

Isolation can be a particular stressor for people during this time. And while exercise and sleep management can alleviate that stress, it’s also important to stay in touch with friends and family during this time of social distancing.

“Everything is being done virtually now,” says Dr. Griebeler, “so make sure to do that a few times a week. Create a weekly challenge where you can virtually meet and share healthy cooking tips and recipes or even exercises.” It’s also another way, he says, to create new habits and new behaviors.

“Social isolation takes a toll on your mental health,” he says. “It’s really tough for everybody. So taking advantage of these innovations. Staying connected with friends and family is important. Stay focused, have a plan and, very soon, we all will be able to resume our usual activities with our loved ones.”

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