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Addressing the “Quarantine 15:” How to Get Back on Track with Healthy Eating

Addressing the “Quarantine 15:” How to Get Back on Track with Healthy Eating

It’s no surprise that many people gained a few pounds over the course of the pandemic. And, it’s understandable.

For those confined to their homes, such close, constant access to the cupboards or fridge proved too tempting. Gym closures cut people off from their normal exercise routines. The general fatigue of dealing with COVID-19’s persistence is also a reason individuals lost a bit of steam in regards to healthy lifestyles.

It’s not too late to get back on a healthy path. Sara Housman, a registered dietician at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System (SVMHS), urges people not to beat themselves up if they haven’t been making the healthiest choices.

“We need to acknowledge this has not been a normal year. People have lost loved ones. They've lost their homes. They've lost their jobs. We need to have some kindness for ourselves,” says Sara Housman.

To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic with Sara Housman, Registered Dietician at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, click here.

Start Small

One way to overcome feelings of “hopelessness” is to start with a few small goals and allow yourself to feel those successes. This could be as simple as adding just five minutes of exercise a day or incorporating a vegetable into one of your meals.

Another tactic is to try to listen to your body’s hunger cues. Is stress responsible for your cravings, or are you actually hungry? “Chronic stress interferes with our ability to listen to our bodies, and our hormones start to tell us we need to store food. Then, we go looking for those comfort foods,” adds Housman.

Shopping Strategies

Early in the pandemic, many people were hesitant to go to the grocery store because they were fearful of exposure to the virus. Retailers quickly adapted, offering delivery services or curbside pickup. Individuals also pivoted, often buying a few weeks of groceries at one time. The key to effective grocery shopping, says Housman, is making a good shopping list.

“A big part of your self-care could be sitting down and planning out your meals. I think a lot of our stress comes from the unknown, and having those meals planned provides some known,” she explains. “I'm a big fan of soup, especially this time of year. You can make soups from a whole variety of foods: frozen vegetables, beans and whole grains. If you make a big enough batch of soup, you can eat some now and freeze some for later.”

For fresh foods, she advises turning to more “shelf stable” vegetables and fruits, such as beets, carrots, winter squash, oranges and apples.

Treats Can Be Healthy Too

While it’s important to limit the amount of “treats” you and your family consume, Housman says they don’t have to be totally off limits. They can, in fact, be healthy.

“I think it's a good thing to allow yourself a treat. Some of my favorite comfort foods include a fresh pot of lentils, fresh homemade rosemary bread, homemade soup, and cinnamon rolls from the bakery downtown. When you’re having a bad day or week or month or in this case, whole year, you have foods you can turn to that you know are good for you, but will also bring you comfort.”

Health-Specific Considerations

Of course, anyone who has a medical condition that requires adherence to a special diet (e.g. diabetes, high cholesterol) should be extra careful about meals. The last thing anybody wants right now is for more people to have to go to the hospital.

“We really want you to do the best you can to take care of yourself at home. It's really about being present and mindful with what you're eating and how much you’re eating,” notes Housman.

She suggests looking into meal creations by SVMH chef, Jason Giles, who has developed a number of heart-healthy recipes many of which are plant-based. Other resources include the American Heart Association website and the Blue Zones series of cookbooks.