Emily Van Eck
Eating Alone, Together, During A Global Pandemic
Updated: May 2
We are living in extremely unpredictable times. The headlines change day to day - hell, hour to hour, and we have to adapt. Practicing self-compassion is extremely important right now and may be your way through this mess. There is no coronavirus manual.
If you are having a difficult time figuring out how to best take care of yourself right now, you are not alone. The initial urge to stockpile pantry staples and frozen foods may be subsiding by now, as your body begins to calm and you realize that grocery stores continue to be restocked, and you can get fresh groceries every week if you wish. We are lucky that this is the case. And you are super lucky if you can afford fresh food every week. Not everyone can.
I am hearing from a lot of folks that being stuck at home day in and day out is extremely disorienting and that sticking to a routine is easier said than done. I am experiencing this too.
We are not working from home. We are being forced to stay home during a global pandemic and are trying to get work done in the midst of that chaos.
Do not expect yourself to be as productive as you would be if you were NOT experiencing a global pandemic and the collective trauma that goes along with it. If you are having a hard time figuring out what to eat or are experiencing anxiety about your food choices and your body, here are some tips to help guide you through eating and self-care during a really shitty period of life.
Create a Flexible Routine and Stick to It - Usually.
It's true that creating a routine is a really good idea right now, so you don't just end up floating from one thing to the next without structure - likely to end up scrolling social media for hours on end. At the end of the day, this feels exhausting and disorienting, not to mention unproductive. I suggest creating a couple blocks of "work time" when you know your mind is clearest, your energy up, and you are likely to be relatively uninterrupted. For me, that's first thing in the morning, and for a few hours mid-afternoon.
Schedule in outside time a couple times a day if possible. It seems most people are doing this intuitively, which is super cool and makes total sense. Being outdoors releases natural endorphins and breaks up the monotony of staring at the screen and at inanimate objects in your home. Contemplating nature is a beautiful way to spend a few moments in the present moment, instead of in a state of anxiety about the virus. Depending on where you live, outside is a happy and safe space to be. Take a couple laps around the block, drive to the park, or just lay in your backyard.
Keep Eating at Regular Mealtimes
Do not let yourself skip meals during quarantine. You still need to nourish yourself at regular times throughout the day, regardless of anything else you do. You can eat whenever you're hungry, as always, but sticking to your usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner routine will help you make choices you're happy with and help you focus in between meals. Unplug for a few minutes while you're eating. Move to a different room in your house, maybe sit at the kitchen table instead of at your desk. Or if you're lucky enough to have outdoor space, sit outside with your lunch.
Do not allow yourself to fall into the "I didn't exercise enough today" trap. This is very counterproductive. You do not need to earn your meals. You need to eat many times each day, regardless of how much you did or did not to an at-home workout.
Restricting eating, for any reason, has been shown to increase cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods and often leads to over-eating and binging. Allow yourself to eat enough throughout the day to reduce the urge to overeat at night or continue to snack on more and more foods throughout the day.
Stock Up (don't go overboard) on Nourishing Staples and Some Play Foods.
The availability at stores changes day to day and you really cannot count on your store having exactly what's on your grocery list. Get some shelf-stable and nutritious options in the house for those weeks when you don't score at the store (or online - please order online if you can). Try this next time you shop:
A few cans of beans (white beans, black beans, chickpeas, etc), and a bag of two of dried beans or lentils
Canned tomatoes - diced + whole
A couple bags of frozen vegetables - green beans, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, edamame are favorites of mine
A couple grains - oats, rice, farro, quinoa, pasta, rice noodles
Proteins - canned tuna and sardines, ground beef and turkey, frozen fish fillets or shrimp
Frozen fruit - mixed berries, mango, pineapple
Your body prefers fiber-rich foods. Following some basic nutrition knowledge - in line with your hunger and fullness cues - could be helpful for making you feel your best right now. Foods with fiber are good for digestion and energy levels. We get fiber from all fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned), beans and lentils, whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat bread, nuts and seeds, and avocados. Aiming to get these things in your diet at most meals is a basic nutrition principle to ensure you're giving your body what it needs.
Also try and be flexible. If you were planning on making a recipe with tomatoes and zucchini and those shelves are empty, grab what you can. If Eggplant and escarole shelves stocked? Grab one of each and use your handy google device to find a recipe using those things.
It's also okay to eat ice cream and bake cookies and eat them too. Jump on the baking bandwagon. It's comforting and that is good and okay.
Move Your Body Every Day - Reflect on How This Affects Your Mental Health
Being physically active does wonderful things for your state of mind. This has never been so clear as it is right now. Moving makes us happy and reduces anxiety. From an intuitive eating standpoint, the best way to gain a healthy relationship with exercise is to focus on the way it makes your body and mind FEEL and not the amount of calories it burns. This crisis and forced at-home time is stress-inducing. The more you notice and appreciate the way moving your body makes you feel on an energetic level, the more likely you are to stick to a regular exercise routine.
So tune in both during and after you move you body. Experiment with different classes or modes of movement. And notice - it's not only the super intense exercise classes that make you feel better - it's a nice walk, a gentle yoga class, an online dance party (highly recommend @dance.church). There is no reason whatsoever to feel you have to come out of a global pandemic being more "in shape" than you were at the beginning of this. Gimme a break. Just stay healthy and sane.
Practice Self-compassion - Every. Damn. Day.
There is no space for guilt and shame during a pandemic unless you're standing too close to people or not washing your hands regularly. No matter what you're struggling with right now, please be kind to yourself. If you're not eating as healthfully as you usually do or as you wish you were, remind yourself you're doing the best you can. Maybe next week you will have the energy to make a new recipe, learn to sew, or go for a run.
Self-compassion boosts the immune system. If you notice you're feeling anxious, fearful, uncertain, take a few minutes to tune into your body and get out of your mind. Even two minutes can be helpful to break the anxiety. Notice your thoughts without judgement. Breathe.
What are you doing to keep your eating cool, calm, and collected during these crazy times? I'd love to hear what's working for you or any thoughts or questions. And reach out to me if you need help.