Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Relationship With Food While Stuck at Home
Snacking isn't a bad thing, as long as you're reaching for the good stuff.
Even on the best of days, it can be hard to avoid unhealthy snacking, eating out of boredom, or forgetting to take a snack or lunch break. But trying to manage your relationship with food while working—and doing pretty much everything—from home? Forget about it.
For me, as a resident of New York City, where everything is still pretty much shut down due to COVID-19, maintaining a healthy relationship with food has been a true pain. I’ve gone through phases where I’ve done pretty well—these usually last a couple of weeks—and then months-long phases where I’ve been, well, less than vigilant. In an attempt to get back on track, I’ve been better about planning out my meals in advance and making myself take walks—or runs, if I feel like it. But it’s been tough.
To learn more about how to find balance and health during stay-at-home measures, I spoke to Kylene Bogden, MS, RD, a registered dietician and advisor for Love Wellness, who shares great snacks to reach for throughout the day and her favorite tips for making food your friend, not your enemy, during such a strange time.
It’s an unprecedented and anxiety-inducing time. With your usual routine out of whack, it’s understandable that your typical eating times and snacking habits may be taking a hit, too. Scheduling both meal and snack times sounds a little strict, but it holds you accountable, gives you something to look forward to, and keeps you well-fueled all day.
“The secret sauce to preventing boredom eating is to eat on a schedule, make sure breakfast includes protein and fat, and avoid going more than four hours between meals and snacks,” Bogden says. “Being under-fueled, and then fueling improperly, are recipes for disaster when it comes to boredom eating.”
If you’re prone to feelings of shame and guilt after indulging in a big snack, sticking to a schedule may relieve some of that food anxiety. It creates several designated times throughout the day when you’re not only “allowed” to eat, but supposed to eat. Let yourself enjoy a hearty snack during these windows and then don’t let yourself go hours without another bite (which will make you ravenous and crave unhealthy choices, cuing up the cycle again). You can even go a step further and plan what to eat—or at least have a few options ready—during each snack break.
Maya Feller, RD, the founder of Maya Feller Nutrition in Brooklyn, N.Y., recommends balanced, nutrient-rich snacks, but also says that taking a break to snack without distractions contributes to a healthier relationship with food.
“I would recommend taking the time to sit away from screens while eating the snack and minimizing eating while walking or while engaged in another activity,” Feller says. That’s right, sit down and take a breather while enjoying your food. That way, snack time becomes a small luxury in itself, associated with positive feelings; as well as a moment to check in with your mood and appetite. Sometimes we don’t realize we’re stress eating because we’re reading the news, or have already gotten full without noticing because we’re buried in emails. Take a pause and give your snack (or meal) its own mindful attention.
One of the best ways to maintain a healthy relationship with food right now is to remember that food is your friend—it just matters what kind of food you’re putting in your body. Stock up on snacks options that are good for you and you’ll never feel bad about snacking again. (Here are some healthy ingredients and meal ideas to look for.)
“The real key is to have a snack that includes quality fat, protein, and fiber,” Bogden says. “Instead of a 100-calorie granola bar, opt for nuts or seeds. Instead of gummy bears, try grass-fed beef jerky, a hard boiled egg, or veggie sticks with guac or hummus. Eating well is only as expensive and complicated as you make it.”
For more snacks, Bogden praises the countless recipes available for energy bites, chia pudding, and blood-sugar-stabilizing smoothies. Breakfast is the time for overnight oats with nut butter or a veggie omelette with avocado toast. Lunch could be a microwavable quinoa packet with a side salad and grilled protein or can of beans from the night before.”
If you feel like you’re doing all of the right things, but can’t seem to shake a constant fight with cravings and control, Bogden suggests looking around your home for products that could be causing cravings. If you’ve already been minding your sugar intake and activity levels with no luck, here are some potential troublemakers to consider: “Are you using chemical laden candles and beauty products? What about non-stick pans? What is the quality of water like in your home?” Bogden asks. “All of these can be endocrine disruptors, thus exacerbating your need to snack on junk.”