MAINTAINING HEALTHY EATING HABITS WHILE IN LOCKDOWN
As we enter another week of lockdown, many of us are increasingly aware of maintaining our healthy eating habits. For some of us, the first couple of weeks felt like timeless days between Christmas and New Years Eve. And for some us, we also ate like it was, with frequent fridge grazing, snacking, and stockpiling treats...
It may seem trivial in the current climate to worrying about fluctuating weight. However, many of us have had our routines turned upside down - and our eating and exercise habits were one of the first things to be affected. This not only has an effect on our overall health but also it affects our mental health too.
How has lockdown affected our healthy eating and lifestyle habits?
Exercise - for many of us we’re not moving as much as we did pre-lockdown. We can’t leave our house as much and we are only allowed to exercise outside once a day. For those us who commute, we know a large amount of our step count in done during that commute and your normal working day.
The lockdown has also meant that the 6000+ gyms in the UK have also been forced to shut meaning many gym-goers are having to find the motivation to the gym at home (if they have space) or take their exercise outdoors.
Food availability - access to food availability has also changed. We can’t always get what we’d usually eat in supermarkets at the moment so there have been changed to our diets. Some of us are also facing financial constraints which affect how we shop and the food we can afford to buy.
Baking - now we’re home we have more time to focus on cooking (and eating) so many of us have taken up baking. The UK appears to be running on banana bread at the moment!
What are the top tips for those watching their weight and trying to maintain healthy eating?
Keep it simple - there’s no quick fix to maintaining a healthy weight. The best advice will always be to follow and healthy and balanced diet. For many people this is all they need to do, the tricky part is always maintaining it.
There's no one-size-fits-all - when it comes to dietary advice, we all have completely unique bodies therefore there is no universal rule. Our nutritional requirement preferences and relationship with food all differ. If you’re looking to make changes to your diet, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed – or go to drastic! Start with small, management changes (2-3 a week) and gradually build it up.
Try a food diary - some people find tracking their food choices useful to reflect on their progress .It can also highlight patterns of behaviour. Apps like MyFitnessPal can help track your energy intake and provide some useful information on the nutritional value of what you’re eating.
Remain mindful of your behaviour around food and tracking. If you feel overwhelmed or negative feelings about your body image after you eat, you should speak to a doctor for further advice.
Mindful eating - it’s easy to eat a meal whilst watching the TV or at your desk and not really notice what or how much you’ve eaten. By sitting at a table and switching off distractions you’ll be able to focus your attention more on what you’re eating. And you'll be better at being able to recognise when you’re full.
Slow down - we’re all guilty of wolfing a meal down. Try slowing down, chewing your food thoroughly and stopping when you’re full.
Prioritise sleep – sleep helps regular our stress hormones which stops us reaching for sugar when we’re tired or stressed. Make sure you’re getting the recommended 7 – 9 hours a night.
What makes up a balanced diet?
We need lots of fruits and vegetables: aiming for at least 5 portions per day and a mixture of colours and types where possible. Fresh, frozen, dried, canned and juiced all count - but the portion sizes do differ.
Wholegrain carbohydrates are important: e.g. bread, rice, potatoes, noodles, chapattis. We should be aiming to include at least one portion at mealtimes. Choose wholegrain varieties where possible for added fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Choose lean sources of protein and have a variety of types: e.g. beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat, and other proteins. Try to have leaner cuts and limit the consumption of red and processed meat and where possible, if you eat fish, aim for 2 portions per week, one of which should be oily. Even if you eat animal sources of protein, we shouldn’t neglect plant-based sources.
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you need to make sure you vary up the type of protein source you have to ensure you are getting as many essential amino acids as possible. Portion size-wise, aim for 4 tablespoons of beans/ pulses/legumes/meat alternative or 1 tablespoon nut butter of a palm-sized piece of meat/poultry/fish.
Dairy and alternatives: These provide the highest amount of calcium in the diet which is essential for our bone health.
Cut down on fat, salt, sugar and alcohol - they may be nice to have, but they aren’t going to provide you with any nutritional benefits!
Keep hydrated - most of us aren’t drinking enough! The effects of dehydration can be subtle and can include tiredness, poor concentration, dizziness, and headaches. We can also confuse thirst for hunger.
Can we boost our immune system through healthy eating?
In short – no. You cannot “boost” your immune system through diet, and no specific food or supplement will prevent you from catching COVID-19/Coronavirus.
Good hygiene practice and social distancing remain the best means of avoiding infection. There are lots of different nutrients that are involved with the normal functioning of the immune system. So, we would encourage maintaining a healthy balanced diet in order to support immune function.
People over the age of 1 years old could consider is taking a vitamin D supplement (10 micrograms). Women over the age of 65 or those from African, African-Caribbean, and South Asian backgrounds or those who have low sunlight exposure should also consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms all year round. A simple blood test can show if you're vitamin D deficient.
If you are considering taking a nutritional supplement, speak to a dietitian or doctor, especially if you are taking regular medications.