How To Eat Healthy and Lose Weight During the New Coronavirus Lockdown
By: Julie Mancuso, B.A., R.H.N, JM Nutrition
In this post:
How to eat healthy at home during the new Coronavirus lockdown
Tips, tricks and strategies to lose weight or avoid gaining weight when at home
These are unprecedented times.
The new coronavirus (Covid-19) has swept across the world leaving people in many countries in some form of lockdown mode. Because we really don’t know how long this ordeal is going to last and for how long many of us will be bound to our homes, we need to do what we can to stay safe and healthy.
I’m not going to touch upon the safety precautions you should take to ensure you and your family keep safe in the face of this pandemic. It’s not my place to comment, other than to offer suggestions on how to boost your immune system through the consumption of certain foods.
What I can offer as a nutritionist, however, is some practical tips aimed at helping you to eat as healthily as possible, while you are at home for prolonged hours over what looks like the coming weeks.
Since most gyms have now closed and fitness classes have been cancelled, healthy eating at home will be especially important for the foreseeable future.
So let’s start.
How to eat healthy and avoid gaining weight: tips, tricks and strategies
1. Beware of health claims
First, don’t fall for labels, cues and claims that are designed to trick you as the consumer.
For example, a heart-healthy sign on the package may lead to the false assumption that the food you are eating is healthy.
Similarly, just because a product is labelled gluten-free, for instance, does not necessarily mean all its ingredients are good for you.
Bottom line: you just can’t go by claims and labels alone.
2. Buying in bulk can be a double-edged sword
In the current uncertain situation, it is common for many people to buy groceries in bulk to stockpile. If you feel you must do so, just be aware that buying many packages, boxes or containers of food can lead to eating more.
The thinking behind this is that if you only have one box in your cupboard at home, you will eat less because you want to save the food and don’t want to run out. If you have three or four boxes, on the other hand, this restraint is often broken.
As a result, it’s important to exercise restraint, particularly at this precarious time.
3. Repackage large packages
When you buy large packages, boxes or containers at the grocery store, repackage them into smaller plastic bags or containers once you get home. This will lead to eating less.
4. Avoid eating directly out of the package
Never eat directly from a package, box or container. Doing so can swiftly lead to the unintentional eating of much more food than is needed to satisfy hunger.
5. Package size ≠ serving size
Furthermore, it’s important to keep in mind that the serving size is not determined by the package size. Frequently, people tend to think (consciously or subconsciously) that because a food is available, it should be finished. This common pitfall results in overeating, and in turn, contributes to unsuspecting weight gain over time.
6. Use clear containers for healthy foods
Don’t put food, especially unhealthy food, (e.g., candy) in clear containers because you’ll fall into the ‘See-Food Trap’. Instead, package healthy food in transparent containers, so when the urge strikes you, you’re reaching for a healthy snack.
7. Use the path of most resistance
The more hassle it is to eat, the less we eat. Conversely, the more accessible and readily available the food, the more we eat.
To make it work for you, leave unhealthy foods and snacks in the back of the cupboard, pantry or refrigerator. At the same time, prep healthy snacks that are within sight and easy to access for all members of the family.
Because we prefer to follow the path of least resistance, we will likely reach for the food that is easiest to get.
At meal time
First things first. Before you sit down at the dinner table, you should be aware of proper portions of food.
Without going in great depth on the subject–something that we do with our clients during counselling sessions–a couple of points are worth mentioning:
- Protein: the size of your protein selection (chicken, beef, fish) should be the size of your hand (100g or 3.5 ounces), on average.
- Carbs: 1 serving of carbs (pasta, rice, potatoes) is about half the size of your clenched fist (½ cup, 114 mL).
- The rest of your plate should comprise vegetables and/or salads.
2. Eat protein at every meal
Eat lean sources of protein at every meal to keep you full for longer, putting you in a better position to be able to refuse unhealthy temptations throughout the day.
3. Use small plates
Replace larger bowls and plates with small ones. You can still get the sensation of finishing the whole plate or bowl without all those extra calories that can sneak up and cause weight gain over time. Allow your mind to be tricked.
Directly related to the previous point: to fight the urge to reach the ‘clean your plate’ target, you can also put less on your plate.
4. Use the half-plate rule
Adopt the half-plate rule for lunches and dinner. That is, half the plate is always vegetables and salads.
5. Seconds are for vegetables
Speaking of rules, make it a rule that when you go for seconds at the dinner table, you go for vegetables or salads only. Rules work–and not just with weight loss, so let them work for you.
6. Don’t eat your favourite food first (unless it’s healthy)
Favourite foods are often higher in calories, sugar, sodium and fat. As such, they should be eaten last.
Instead, fill up on healthier foods first: vegetables and salads, so you will eat less of that favourite, unhealthy food. Over time, this can help to avoid weight gain and contribute to weight loss.
7. Be careful with cheese
Beware, a small chunk of cheese can carry hundreds of calories. Consume in very small amounts if you are looking to lose weight.
8. Substitute some carbs with vegetables
Add steamed vegetables to rice or pasta dishes, and you will consume fewer carbs. The plate of rice or pasta will still look substantial, only with fewer carbs.
9. Add good fats to your meals
Introduce good fats to your meals and snacks: avocado, olive oil, flax seeds, and so on, ideally in place of trans fats. The health benefits are many and varied.
10. Limit the use of condiments
Beware of using too many condiments, bottled dressings and sauces as they contain a great deal of sugar. BBQ sauce is often the biggest culprit here. The cumulative effect of sugar, let alone the extra calories found in these condiments, is enormous.
11. Control quantity or portion size
In other words, give a person one scoop of ice-cream, he or she will eat it and be satisfied. Give him or her two and they’ll eat that too. This pattern continues and often leads to overeating.
Lowering the quantity and decreasing the portion sizes of food is a key component of weight loss.
12. Hit the pause button
During the meal pause eating for 10-20 minutes to see if you’re full. It takes a while for your brain to register that you are, in fact, full. Give it a shot and see how you feel.
13. Eat slowly
Eat slowly to help digestion and to eat less. If you’re the slowest eater at the table and everyone is finished eating, peer pressure will be indirectly exerted on you to finish too.
14. Reprogram your thinking
Try to reprogram your brain. Stop eating when you no longer feel hungry instead of stopping only when you feel full. This approach is ingrained in many cultures around the world, resulting in the establishment of norms that see people eat less food.
15. Clear off the dinner table
When finished lunch or dinner, clear off the table to avoid repeated after-dinner picking and many extra calories. A small tool to help lose weight, but an effective one.
Although I am in no way encouraging people to drink alcohol while at home, I realize that many people do and will continue to do so. The tips found here are for those who drink alcohol and are looking to lose weight or avoid gaining weight when homebound.
1. Type of glass matters
Studies show that if you use short, wide glasses, people tend to drink more than from tall, thin glasses. Use the latter.
2. Enthusiastic drinkers beware
For those who like to imbibe a little more than they should, take a bottle cap from every beer you drink and put it in your pocket. Or, take a pic of each cocktail you drink. Periodically, take a look at where you’re at. Such forced reflection can lead you to stop drinking.
3. Cocktails, wine & more
Beware of cocktails such as Pina Coladas and Margaritas. Each one of these can carry several hundred calories each, not to mention loads of sugar, that can easily sabotage your weight loss goals.
For more specific information on how to select alcohol with one eye on losing weight read: How To Make Healthier Alcohol Selections
Similarly, select wine that is lower in sugar and alcohol content to help you lose weight or avoid gaining it.
How to deal with cravings
Powerful cravings can lead to impulsive decisions to eat unhealthy foods, effectively preventing many people from losing weight, and more often than not, setting the stage for weight gain.
1. Chew gum
Chewing gum has been shown to keep people away from the 4 Cs: chips, cookies, candy and cream (ice-cream).
If you’re stricken with a craving for one of these, chew on a stick or tablet of gum–sugar and aspartame-free, of course.
2. Anticipate & visualize
Anticipate cues that lead to cravings and build skills to respond to them. Rehearse your response before you enter a high-risk situation where you’ll likely face cues.
Elite athletes do this by visualizing scoring goals and planning their moves in advance. Why? Studies show it works.
Mental rehearsal helps solidify your commitment to controlled eating by helping you focus on your intentions and maintain control over your thoughts.
If you manage not to give in to the cues to seek out rewarding, highly palatable foods, new learning takes place in your brain. Instead of responding habitually, you respond defensively.
Behaviour-changing strategies such as this one can be enormously influential in helping you eat healthy and lose weight.
4. Limit exposure
Cut out the foods you feel you cannot resist and don’t expose yourself to situations that promote the cycle of overeating these foods.
Simply put, limit your exposure. If you can’t avoid it completely, limit your exposure to it.
5. Think back
Remember the consequences of the last time you gave in to a certain food. How did you feel after eating an indulgent food? Think back and reflect. Reflection, in and of itself, can be a powerful motivator.
6. Stop thinking about it
In another sense, you should stop thinking about it. The more time you spend thinking about that hard-to-resist food and how good it made you feel the last time, the more power it will have over you, and the greater the chance you will actually indulge. So stop the thought before it takes over.
7. Let negative associations work for you
Condition cues with negative associations. For example, you can say to yourself, “This food carries hundreds of calories I don’t want, contributing to weight gain that will stay with me.”
8. Talk down the urge
Moreover, give yourself a mental pep chat: Eating this food will satisfy me temporarily, I’ll be healthier if I don’t eat this. Giving in to this food will keep me stuck in this cue-urge-reward-habit cycle that will most likely lead to weight gain or my inability to lose weight.
Planning and weight loss
Why is planning so instrumental in helping you to eat healthy and lose weight?
Planned eating allows you to replace chaos with structure. It tells you what is permissible and what is not, taking away the need for you to make decisions about food in vulnerable moments.
In other words, planning does not allow much room for impulsivity. This can guide you past temptation and towards choosing foods that are nutritious.
A few points to keep in mind when creating a meal plan:
- Meals should have enough variety to keep you interested, but enough structure and predictability that you can avoid having your attention directed towards other foods–the unhealthy ones.
- Planned eating requires the choosing of food in appropriate quantities or portions.
- Meal planning will only work for you if it’s built around your personal likes and dislikes.
Other relevant points
- Don’t use the clock to tell you when you should eat. Eat when you feel hungry.
- Personality identification with food is dangerous and can lead to gained weight or the inability to lose weight. For example, some men think it’s masculine and macho to eat great big portions.
- Growing levels of stress in our lives create a need for indulgence and relaxation. Our decision to reach for that unhealthy but highly palatable food may relax us and make us feel good temporarily, but the feel-good factor is short-lived. Giving in to such temporary relief can be harmful in the long run.
- Be mindful that exercise is not a ticket to eating unhealthy. Most people underestimate the calories found in the foods they eat, while grossly overestimating the calories burned by exercise. Eat healthy to lose weight.
Finding a bright side to the current coronavirus situation and its continuing dreadful impact on the human race is virtually impossible. The virus has stormed into our lives, wreaking havoc and interrupting life as we know it.
That said, however, I feel we always need to look at the silver lining of any situation, even this one. If a few positives can be taken away from a nutrition standpoint at least, I feel it’s these:
- We’ll save money by not going out to restaurants.
- We won’t be exposed to the highly palatable, high-sodium, high-fat and high-sugar foods often served at restaurants.
- Cooking at home will put us in control of the ingredients that go into our meals as well as the meal portion sizes.
- We may end up having more time now to prepare our meals and perhaps even batch-cook.
- And perhaps now we will be able to spend more time with our loved ones–and not just at the dinner table.
Danowski, Debbie & Lazaro, Pedro. Why Can’t I Stop Eating. Center City, Hazelden, 2000.
Kessler, David A. The End Of Overeating. Toronto, McLelland and Stewart, 2010.
Wansink, Brian. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. Toronto, Bantam Books, 2007.
Julie Mancuso is a registered nutritionist and owner of JM Nutrition, who has been counselling clients for over 15 years. Julie’s personalized approach has helped thousands reach their health, wellness and nutrition goals.
Julie regularly lends her expertise to a variety of health publications such as Livestrong, Business Insider, Food Network, MyFitnessPal, Toronto Star, Elle Magazine and many more. For more information, see In The Press.
Julie’s blog has been named one of the Top 100 Nutrition Blogs, Websites and Newsletters to Follow in 2020 by Feedspot. So don’t miss out and subscribe to both her newsletter and blog.