My patients these days are expressing more angst and fear, and looking to find ways to cope with the pandemic and the “new normal.” With children and entire families home together all day, and work and school schedules disrupted, loss of a daily routine can increase anxiety and disrupt healthy eating. One of the drivers for this increase in anxiety seems to be uncertainty, which can throw plans for healthy eating out the window.
Meal planning for a family, a challenge on its own, can be more so now with seclusion at home, more people to feed with different tastes, and more food stores with limited groceries and shopping times. There’s also the uncertainly of bare shelves, with normal staples of a nutritious diet unavailable, at least temporarily. It’s tempting to buy whatever is available, even if it’s not something that’s part of your normal diet.
It’s hard to cope with being quarantined and not reach for your favorite salty, crunchy snack because of boredom or feeling on edge. A few pretzels or chips are okay, but many people may not be able to step away from eating the entire bag once it’s open. Also, if you’re already feeling blue, the quick fix of cookies or cake will ultimately make you feel worse. Processed foods and shelf-stable items like baked goods contain a lot of simple carbohydrates that create a yo-yo effect on our blood sugar, which can drive anxiety and worsen mood.
How then can we mindfully make good food choices?
- Make a schedule or a daily meal plan. A schedule is more predictable for you and for everyone in your household.
- Consider apps to stay connected around a meal. Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime with family and friends. Share recipes or even cook virtually together.
- Plan for groceries. Try to buy fewer processed, high-salt or high-sugar snacks.
- Load up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins.
- Save money. Skip the high-sugar soda and juices; instead flavor water with edible citrus or berries.
- Plan and enjoy an occasional comfort food for a weekly treat — pick a day and enjoy whatever you want, just not all your favorites on the same day!
- Manage your environment. If candy is simply not in the cupboard, then you can’t eat it.
You might be surprised to learn that certain nutrients in foods have been shown to reduce anxiety or spur the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine — and we all want to feel as good as we can during these times of uncertainty. People are feeling a lot of stress right now, and the