Adapting to Your New Normal
By Diane Kelbel, RD, CD, CWC, Ascension Wisconsin Employer Solutions
Many of us might have heard of the “Freshman 15” and now “Quarantine 15” has become a popular reference to weight gain during COVID19. In both situations we fall out of our activity and nourishment routines, resulting in a weight change. This causes additional stress with weight management, self-esteem and results in poor lifestyle habits that can impact our health. But, I have some good news. Keep in mind we are creatures of habit and easily adapt to our surroundings. Perhaps, we can take these abilities and put them into healthy practice at this trying time.
Growing up in a family, you established a routine for self-care that was your “normal”. Upon leaving that safe nest after high school, your routine was shaken. This is not the only time this occurs, it may also happen when: moving in with a partner, raising a family, job changes, illness, becoming an empty nester, retirement, losing a spouse and any other abrupt change to your daily schedule. They all have one thing in common, disrupting our routine. For younger college-aged people, they are establishing new habits of self-care for the first time on their own. As they explore and try new things they will eventually establish a routine. For some, this leads to poor-self care and eventual body weight gain. However, if they can adopt healthier habits, exercise more, make smarter choices about food, then they can manage, and reduce that weight gain.
The same holds true for our current “new normal”. Whether you are working at home, overworked at the workplace or without work, we are all experiencing the interruption from the safe routine we are accustomed to. Most of us have had major disruptions before. Look into your past. You have probably made changes in your self-care routine to adjust and you can do so again. Weight change and energy level are simply indicators that self-care has changed. The more confident you become in your ability to adapt, the greater success you will have not only currently, but also in transitioning again when stay at home orders are lifted. If you take care of yourself, the weight will take care of itself and you will feel more energy.
Below are some reminders of ways we can practice good self-care.
Why are you eating?
Your schedule may be different, but your body is telling you when it needs fuel. If you find yourself using it for other reasons it is time to go back to the basics and listen to your body. Every time you think of food, pause and ask, “Am I hungry?”, if so go ahead and choose food that will sustain your energy until your next encounter with food. Signs of physical hunger:
- No specific craving
- Gradual, sensation gets stronger as time elapses
- Stomach pain, hollowness in stomach, growling, burning sensation
- Headache, light headed, difficulty concentrating, irritability, feeling faint
- Several hours after meal
- Goes away when satisfied
If you are not hungry, don’t eat and ask what you may be feeling instead. You’re craving something, but it’s not food.
What is the use of food?
Many of us choose food to feed those cravings, but keep in mind that food is not intended to solely satiate cravings. Food is your fuel source. Food also is used differently by your body. Visualize yourself around a campfire. Does all wood burn the same? No, and neither do foods. Also, think of food this way, picture building a fire. It takes a variety of fuel sources to get that fire stoked which is the same for your body. Associate foods with items you use to build a fire:
- Paper = Simple carbohydrates or highly processed foods; sweets, soda, chips, refined grains, juices, canned fruit, etc.
- Kindling = Complex carbohydrates; whole grains, fruits and vegetable
- Big Log = Primarily proteins sources; nuts, eggs, meat and dairy products
Shop for meals not food
Many times, we go to the store and buy the same foods we have always purchased without considering a plan for use of food. If we buy the “just in case” foods, we will eat them when craving. Those become quick fixes and usually are the least healthy. To set yourself up for success, you might need to try a different method for grocery shopping.
Look at your weekly schedule. Decide before you go to the grocery store what you want to have for meals. Keep it simple by selecting 1-3 entrees with side dishes for each meal and include a healthy snack. The following week think about another set of meals and snacks. After you have done this for 3-4 weeks, you will have created a rotating menu that you can continue to follow when you transition to your next “new normal”. If you become tired of a food, pull it out and try something new the next time you go shopping. When looking in your cart, the goal is to have an intention for each food to be connected to a meal or snack. If you are worried about food spoiling, keep fluid off the fresh fruits and vegetables by placing a paper towel in the bag, or go ahead and purchase frozen vegetables. Based on the seasons they may be more nutrient dense.
Our bodies are meant to move
Why do we exercise? Because it improves our physical and mental health in many ways. How does your body feel? Each day you have the freedom to create a schedule that works best for your body whether you exercise outside vs. inside, following a program online or your own routine, playing with vs. watching the kids, signing up for classes online to hold you accountable, explore new hiking and biking trails or simply commit to walking at sunset or sunrise. First explore to see what you like, then set a routine to see where it will work in your day. Note what you learned about yourself along the way because in the future our schedules, weather and circumstances are going to change, and we will need to adapt once again.
Find nonfood related entertainment
During quarantine, we may be struggling with knowing how to entertain ourselves. In fact, if you are home daily, you may feel a bit like you are on vacation. Along with weekends and entertainment come alcohol and food in our culture. Seek to find ways to entertain yourself without these. Remember, food is meant to be a source of fuel not the focus of our entertainment. Schedule virtual games with friends, pull out those old board games, learn a new game, write letters, call a friend, explore an area in your town as if you were a visitor by learning the history. Find things that balance you. If you are at a computer during the day, perhaps take a break from it. If you are alone all day, you may want to connect with others on the computer for your entertainment.
Take time to work on a sleep routine
We have all heard that we need a specific number of hours of sleep each night. Keep in mind these are recommendations. How many hours do you need to awaken feeling rested and sustain your energy during the day? Start with tracking how many hours of sleep you get per night followed by rating your energy during the day from 1-10, with 1 being very low energy and 10 being highest energy. The goal is to identify how much sleep you need to function at your best. If you are working different hours and can’t get a set amount of sleep a night, you may need to explore the benefits of taking a nap vs grabbing that pick me up. Let your body be the guide.
Our bodies need food for fuel, and water for hydration. You may have had a routine before, but now it is time to create one for your current scenario. Keep in mind, the goal is to drink slowly so that you absorb the water into every part of your body at about a rate of 1-2 cups/hour. Adequate hydration is needed for our brain, joints, digestion, muscles, eyes, skin, etc. If fluids are low you will feel it by experiencing dry skin, eyes and low energy. If you need an external indicator, use your urine color to monitor hydration. The goal is to keep it light yellow. If you are having difficulty drinking enough water try different temperatures, containers, with carbonation or floating fruit in your water for flavor. Keep an open mind and try to simply appreciate being hydrated.
Your best you!
Following these tips can help you navigate any change without adding additional pounds and stress. We are what we do, so following simple steps, building easy to do routines, and not letting changes deter you from healthy activities can lead to a successful transition and make for a more restful and happier life!