Nutritional self-care tips in a time of global crisis
These days when you go online or check your social media accounts, you're most certainly going to be bombarded with a lot of information surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of it is factual and helpful information, and some of it is just straight-up spreading fear. It's safe to say that most people are experiencing a higher-than-normal level of anxiety from the unknown, depressive symptoms from social isolation and financial stress.
Research is clear that heightened states of anxiety and depression can interfere with normal digestion, and hunger and satiety cues can be confused. In addition, social media platforms have exploded with weight-shaming and stress-inducing messaging including warnings about potential weight gain with quarantining, and shaming people for using food to cope emotionally.
In times of crisis, it is crucial to not get caught up in harmful messaging like this and instead, focus on getting your basic needs met. This is my message to all of you out there right now struggling with eating:
- If you're suffering from appetite loss: Whether due to illness, stress, anxiety, depression or disease, it is NOT an option to just not eat. Fill your grocery list with liquid calories such as bottled juices, milk, ingredients to make smoothies, yogurt, soups, protein drinks, sherbet, ice cream, popsicles, etc. Most people find that when their appetite is low, liquids are easier to consume.
- If you're suffering from low motivation: For many, and particularly for those with mental illnesses, low motivation during stressful times is common. If this is you, fill your grocery list with minimal-prep foods like frozen meals, frozen pizza, Lunchables, soups, canned goods, macaroni and cheese, crackers, pre-cut fruits and veggies, caloric beverages as mentioned above, etc.
- If you're tempted to exercise control over your eating habits when everything around you feels out of control: Please don't fall prey to fear-mongering messages about food and exercise. It's so vital to stay nourished and attempts at "healthy" or "clean eating" often lend themselves well to malnutrition. Instead, try practicing self-compassion and self-care. Keep as much of your usual routine as you can (showering, mealtimes, etc.). Use (socially distant) activities such as puzzles, games, gentle movement, streaming or reach out to loved ones.
- If you're tempted to stock your shelves with "immune-boosting" supplements or foods: Although the data clearly show that the ability of certain foods or nutrients to boost your immune system is not real, the placebo effect is. You do not have to dump all your money into expensive products to get the benefits of the placebo effect. Even just a shot of orange juice every morning can be protective if your mind is convinced it will help. Focus on eating enough (as dieting can weaken the immune system), eating nutritious food, getting rest and taking care of your mental health.
- If you're finding your eating habits are completely upended by current food availability: Do not panic! Diet culture will try to tell you that the non-perishables and processed foods you may be leaning on right now are bad. Let me reassure you that your body is wise, resilient and strong and it knows what to do with these foods. I cannot stress this enough: eating enough of anything is superior to trying to restrict your intake to limit these foods. Emotional eating is not only normal but using food to cope can be effective in keeping you afloat when stressors are overwhelming. Give yourself permission to use food for comfort!