Shifting Your Nutrition, Fitness Expectations During Shelter in Place

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With all the factors of the COVID-19 outbreak taken into consideration, simply maintaining your current body weight and level of health and fitness is a win worth celebrating.

We find ourselves faced with a unique opportunity right now.

The spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has forced us away from the luxury of our favorite gyms, yoga and cycling studios, plopping us into our home offices, kitchen tables, and living room couches. Some of us are mere steps away from the kitchen, with the space between the fridge and workstation the only steps some people take all day.

Depending on where you live, food may need to be rationed or you might feel overwhelmed by the amount of Cheetos you’ve managed to store in your pantry. This new “normal” certainly has caused disruption in our day-to-day routines. This shift away from our comfortable habits has caused friction in almost every aspect of our daily lives. For most people, any type of change is inherently uncomfortable, but a change this drastic has caused significant upheaval in many people’s lives.

So, what can we do about it? We believe you may actually have an opportunity to create comfort by focusing on what you can control. We’d like to propose that now is a great time to focus on maintaining your current weight. This means you may want to consider putting your weight loss goals temporarily on hold and focusing instead on doing what’s necessary to stop additional weight gain.

To achieve a weight loss goal, we often advocate for periods of maintenance throughout the year anyway. Why? In our experience, fat loss (dieting) phases are usually accompanied with a lack of motivation, longer periods of weight loss plateaus (more on plateaus further down), and the development of unhealthy emotional relationships with food.

Instead of chronic dieting, we advocate for a more sustainable approach that includes planned breaks periodically throughout the year to allow you to practice the skills necessary to maintain progress. Yes, maintaining is a skill that requires just as much practice, focus, and discipline.

Don’t have a weight loss goal right now? If not, the suggestions and information we’re presenting also applies to those of you who may just be looking for ways to keep the extra pounds away during shelter in place.

We usually recommend planning for these maintenance periods around enjoyable events, such as vacations or holidays like Thanksgiving; but truthfully, maintenance periods can be put into practice any time.

And it would seem as though right now is a great opportunity to practice, minus the “enjoyable vacation” part. The goal of simply maintaining your body weight helps remove unnecessary pressure to be perfect during this imperfect time.

Instead, we focus on the factors within your control, such as your eating habits, level of activity, and stress management. We hope you begin to see these practices as skills that contribute to the goal of maintaining your current body weight.

Maintaining (not gaining or regaining weight) can require just as much effort as what goes into weight loss. Unfortunately, mainstream media has put a damper on this concept, as many people now believe that maintaining means they’ve hit a plateau and they must be doing something wrong.

In our experience, plateaus are completely normal and we expect to see them on a fairly regular basis. Understanding that maintaining weight loss is an expected part of the journey can help reset your expectations and make your life much less stressful.

This isn’t to say that we are discouraging weight loss or muscle gain, but we believe that with all the factors of the COVID-19 outbreak taken into consideration, simply maintaining your current body weight and level of health and fitness is a win worth celebrating right now.

So, what does practicing maintenance look like? What do we believe you should be focusing on right now?

Control the controllable factors, which may look different from person to person, so it’s important to identify what truly is in your control.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Daily movement. If your city/town allows for walks, do your best to get outside and get some steps in. You don’t have to hit 10,000 steps in a single outing. Break it into smaller, more manageable pieces throughout the day. If 10,000 steps are too ambitious, start with 5000 and do what you can. Some steps are better than none. The same goes for exercise. If you are used to a 60 minute group class, you don’t have to expect the same level of intensity from your at-home workout. A goal of completing 50 pushups and 50 air squats throughout the entire day can be enough to maintain your current level of fitness and keep those extra pounds from sneaking up on you.

  • Eat your colors. When creating your meals, challenge yourself to put as many different colors on your plate as possible. You can start small with 1-2 colors and see if you can build up to 3-5. This will help ensure you are getting a wide variety of micronutrients from fruits and vegetables. Colorful foods tend to be high in volume—which helps you feel full/satiated—and low in caloric density. Get creative with your colors and don’t be afraid to mix it up with fresh and frozen produce depending on what’s available in your area. Creative colors include purple and red options such as potatoes, cabbage, peppers, and beets. Greens should be fairly easy to find and pair well with orange and yellow colors, such as onion or pineapple.

  • Develop a healthy nighttime and sleep routine. The benefits of adults getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep have been greatly reported over the past decade. Those who used to burn the candle at both ends are coming to realize the importance of getting some serious shut eye and are feeling the physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits of getting quality sleep. Working from home should provide you with an opportunity to practice a nighttime routine that sets you up for achieving better quality sleep. Do you have a habit of staying up late working, watching TV (especially the news), taking your iPad to bed, or scrolling through your phone? Now is the time to practice changing that habit in favor of turning the lights down earlier, reading a book, and keeping electronics out of your bedroom.

  • Take the 80/20 approach. We advocate for a healthy, balanced, sustainable approach to nutrition and fitness. Regardless of how motivated or unmotivated you are right now, following this approach should help you keep your current state of health or slightly improve it. Your diet doesn’t need to be perfect right now, but you do have the ability to make good choices a majority of the time. Making good choices includes watching your portion sizes, prioritizing fruits and vegetables, and hydrating. If you can do this for 80% of your meals throughout the week, you can allow for the remaining 20% to come from some fun treats, such as takeout or delivery, a glass of wine, or a dessert. Remember, a glass of wine every day is not an occasional treat. We recommend keeping the structure of your weeks consistent. Save your treats for the weekends, as it will give you something to look forward to and help keep them feeling like weekends.

Balance and moderation are essential elements to the sustainability of any successful health plan. It’s entirely possible to feel good and enjoy the treats in moderation when you spend the majority of your time practicing the healthy choices and habits we’ve outlined. Remove the pressure to be perfect and focus on accumulating small daily wins.

Consider reframing your perspective this month and taking advantage of the opportunities you have in front of you.

Beyond The Box Nutrition is a female-owned nutrition coaching service. Co-founders Gwen Holten and Sheena Lawrick, along with their 4 employees, aim to educate, inspire, and empower others to create healthy, sustainable, nutrition and lifestyle habits so people can live their best lives. Beyond The Box Nutrition offers individual, remote, and group nutrition coaching programs.