How to stay healthy and prevent weight gain during COVID-19 quarantine

Like many of us in the Rochester area, and increasingly across the country, I was told to work from home last month. On my first day working from home, I decided to set up a schedule for myself. I don’t do well with lots of unstructured time, and I thrive on being constantly busy. This quarantine has forced me to slow down, and think of creative ways to fill my day and stay productive. But then came a new concern; how will I prevent myself from eating mindlessly to fill the time during quarantine?

 Heather Carrera, MS, Dr. James’ Functional Nutritionist
Guest Post: Heather Carrera, DCN, MS, CNS.

Functional Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Specialist.

Contact Heather

How to prevent mindless eating

Pre-coronavirus, my eating patterns were pretty well established. I practice intermittent fasting, so I started my workday with tea, ate lunch between 12-1 pm, and had dinner when I came home from the gym around 7:30 pm. Now, with all my structure gone, how would I prevent myself from snacking all day long and putting on unnecessary pounds? I decided to set some ground rules for myself to stay on track with my health goals.

Stick to previous eating schedule

First, I decided to stick to my previous eating schedule. Before, I never felt I had time to make breakfast in the morning, so fasting until noon worked really well for me. I was toying with the idea of making breakfast during the quarantine each morning with all my new-found time, but decided against it when I realized that I wasn’t actually hungry in the morning, and that I wanted to continue my intermittent fasting schedule. I am continuing to start my morning with tea as I jump on my computer at my dining room table to check my work emails. 

I focus only on my meal

I also never snacked before, so I’m not allowing myself to snack now either. I allow myself time at noon to make my lunch, and eat it-away from my computer. It’s easy to fall into the habit of sitting down at the dining room table to eat in front of my computer while I continue to work, but in order for my brain to register what I’m eating, I need to focus only on my meal.

Try eating dinner earlier

The only thing I have changed about my meal schedule is I am eating dinner earlier now. I typically get hungry around 5 pm, even pre-coronavirus, but I was never home to be able to eat that early. I find eating dinner earlier helps me not feel as full when I go to bed, so this is one change I’m welcoming. I’m focusing on non starchy vegetables and protein at dinner, along with healthy fats. I’ve been limiting starches and grains because I simply am not as active as I was when I was going to work each day, and I don’t feel I need to fuel my body in the same way I did before. When I was hitting the gym and lifting heavy weights 4 days per week, I relied more heavily on carbohydrates for energy. I don’t want to over fuel my body now. 

Don’t buy a bunch of new foods and snacks

The second rule I have for myself is don’t buy a bunch of new foods and snacks at the grocery store. At first, I had the mentality that since I’d be home, I needed to buy a ton of novelty items to keep things interesting and not get bored being in quarantine. To some extent I’m still doing this, but I’m limiting it to items that will continue to help serve me in my healthy eating goals. For example, I bought 3 new salad dressings to try out on my salads for lunch, I purchased some new grain-free tortillas to use at dinner, and I tried out some new teas for my mornings. I’m resisting purchasing anything that would encourage me to graze or snack throughout the day. I didn’t snack before, and I don’t want to start now.

Having a bunch of new snacky items in the house would really tempt me to sit down at my computer and snack all day. 

Stay active

My third rule is that I have to stay active. I don’t have the opportunity to walk to my coworker’s office anymore to ask them a question, and I used to have a standing desk at work. Now I’m planted at my dining room table for the day, and sitting down. I wanted to make sure I didn’t fall into the trap of becoming sedentary. I decided to start off each day with a run on my treadmill, and set a goal to take my dogs for a one hour walk each day. This can look different for everyone, but the goal is to make sure you keep moving and get in enough activity to burn off some calories, and keep your motivation, focus and concentration high. Once I get back from my afternoon walk, I feel a renewed sense of purpose, and a significant mood lift.

Staying active also helps keep my appetite at bay-I’m less focused on food when I’m out walking my pups. 

For me, staying busy is key to controlling my appetite. If I have a break in my work day, I’ve been cleaning and organizing the house, trying out new recipes, watching funny Youtube videos, and giving my dogs some exercise. 

Heather’s ground rules to stay on track with health goals during quarantine

  • Slow down, and think of creative ways to fill the day
  • Stick to previous early day eating schedule
  • No snacking
  • Eat meals away from your computer during work hours to allow the brain to register the food and focus on the meal
  • Consider eating dinner earlier so you don’t feel full at bedtime
  • Focus on non starchy vegetables, protein and healthy fats
  • Limit starches and grains because we are simply not as active and don’t need to fuel our body in the same way 
  • Don’t buy a bunch of new foods and snacks
  • Resist purchasing anything that would encourage grazing throughout the day
  • Stay active to keep your motivation, focus and concentration high