We all have enough to worry about right now—food shouldn’t be another stressor. But it certainly can be.
Between product shortages at grocery stores, anxiety over bills, new at-home routines, and the very real desire to stress inhale everything in sight, it can be challenging to eat thoughtfully right now.
Here to help is Christine Patorniti, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and owner of Nutrition Center of Colorado. She suggests the following tips that you can follow now to keep your meals and snacks as beneficial as possible. No one needs to feel any worse, after all.
1. Pick just a few health goals. Instead of striving for perfection, choose just a few micro wellness goals that are actually doable for you. Maybe it’s drinking water every two to three hours; consuming leaner proteins; and getting outside for daily walks. Or perhaps it’s meditating for 10 minutes every morning and eating two to three cups of veggies with dinner. Whatever small wins are feasible for you, channel your energy towards achieving them—and don’t sweat the rest.
2. Load up on fruits and vegetables. On average, people overeat carbs and protein and undereat fresh produce, says Patorniti. An easy way to improve your intake is to simply increase the amount of produce you’re eating. Patorniti’s daily recommendation: two cups of fruit and three to four cups of vegetables. If that amount sounds daunting, start with a cup of vegetables at lunch and a cup at dinner. Also, consider consuming your greens before the rest of your meal, as it will help with portion control too, says Patorniti.
But maybe you’re only going to the store once a week or are on a limited budget. Maybe you’re worried about the potential health risk of eating fresh produce that others have touched. (There is no current evidence that supports transmission of COVID-19 associated with food, per the CDC, but some public health experts have recommended carefully washing raw produce before eating it).
In any case, frozen or canned produce is also a good option. If you’re opting for frozen, steer clear of “sauced” or “dressed” products as these can deliver excess salt and sugar, Patorniti says. Instead, buy items without additives. And with canned products, opt for the “no salt added” varieties, or rinse the contents for 10 to 15 seconds after opening to wash away some of that extra salt.
3. Make a back-up plan. As you’re meal planning and making your grocery list, consider what items could serve as substitutes in case the products you initially wanted aren’t available, says Patorniti. Maybe that means subbing green lentils for chickpeas; swapping in tofu for chicken breast; or using arugula in lieu of romaine. Having a plan B (or even plan C) before you walk into the store can help you stick to healthful choices and limit the amount of time you’re spending inside.
4. Forget calorie tracking. Now is not the time to count calories, says Patorniti. Why? “There could be a need for control right now because there is a sense of lack of control with everything going on,” she explains. And that could trigger people to try to control things in their day-to-day lives, like food, which in turn could lead to disordered eating habits. So instead of closely tracking your diet, simply focus on the basics: hitting your water goals, meeting your fruit and veggie goals, and getting physical activity every day.
5. Find your happy hydration level. Another easy way to support your physical health right now? Stay hydrated. The right amount of daily water intake varies person to person—and there are tons of different equations for how to calculate your specific needs—but Patorniti suggests starting with eight glasses each day and adjust from there based on how you feel. If downing eight glasses sounds like a lot, try drinking two cups of water with every meal, she says, and then see if you can sip just a little bit more outside of mealtimes.
6. Let yourself stumble. “This is your new normal for the foreseeable future,” says Patorniti. “And we do want to make it the healthiest normal that we can,” but we also need to make room for imperfection, she adds. We’re grappling with the very real anxieties while rebuilding a new day-to-day routine. So, if you didn’t meet your micro health goals today, be gentle with yourself.
If you find yourself struggling with disordered eating, an eating disorder, or any other type of anxiety related to food, visit the National Eating Disorders Association website for resources, and consider reaching out to a professional for help.