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  • Anne Nisenzon, PhD

Coping through COVID-19, Part Two: Diet and Exercise

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

Another health behavior that can easily fall apart after over a month of quarantine is diet and exercise. After all, the gyms are closed, rainy spring days keep us inside, and there are lines around the block at some grocery stores! Eating well and physical activity are not just about preventing weight gain. It’s about helping our bodies have the strength and nourishment they need to cope with all the stress we’ve been through lately. The body and mind are connected and are always in communication—being kind to your body can help you keep a steady, strong mind when things get tough. Here are a few suggestions to prioritize a healthy diet and movement, even in our current circumstances:

1) Use what you have

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what you don’t have right now, rather than what you do have. Thinking about your old routines and how much has changed can get you stuck in the past or worrying about what the future may hold. We may put off exercising or healthy eating until “things go back to normal,” whenever or whatever that may be. This mindset keeps us from living in the present and using what we have to support our physical health.

Right now, exercise may look like signing up for a yoga class online, lifting a couple cans of tomatoes in your kitchen, or just dancing around to your favorite playlist! While it is not necessary to join any online exercise platforms, there are plenty that are offering free extended trials to get people moving now:

If fresh produce is difficult to find at this time, don’t be afraid to try frozen or canned alternatives. Overall, we can more comfortably adjust when we choose to live in the present rather than putting our lives (and our health) on hold until we can get back to “normal” again.

2) Smart quarantine snacking

Don’t worry, I'm not going to suggest that you cut out the snacks while stuck in quarantine—that would be cruel! However, planning out snacks can help ensure that your food lasts longer (thereby minimizing return trips to the grocery store) and keep you satisfied without over-eating.

Breaking down large bags of shelf-stable snacks (e.g., pretzels, chips, popcorn) into single-serving sizes is truly worth the extra time up front to prevent mindlessly eating 6 or more servings in one sitting. You can also cut up fresh fruits and veggies (think baggies of baby carrots or apple slices) for an easy healthy ready-to-go snack. Preparing your grocery list ahead of time can get you in and out of the store in record time and can help minimize impulsive, craving-based purchases.

Most importantly, try to listen to your body rather than your thoughts when snacking. Thoughts can be driven by stress and emotions, which in turn can make us rely on food for comfort. By tuning into our bodies and hunger signals, we can more clearly understand our snacking habits and make mindful, health-based choices in the moment.

3) Self-compassion when healthy plans don’t go smoothly

Even in the most perfect circumstances, we are imperfect beings. We will have tough moments in which exercise or healthy eating feels nearly impossible. It is especially important to be kind to ourselves in these moments, rather than piling guilt and shame on top of suffering. Allow yourself room to make mistakes with any eating or exercise plan that you may undertake in the next few weeks or months. Coping with a pandemic is a new experience for almost all of us and will require time, patience, and perseverance to find new ways of managing our health and well-being.

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