Fighting off the ‘COVID nineteen’: Home nutrition and fitness can keep the bulk off during quarantine

Monday, April 6, 2020

You’re heard of the “freshman fifteen.” During a strange time of quarantine, what you don’t want is to gain weight while you wait.

You’re stuck at home, for nobody knows how long. The gym and the pool are closed, yoga class canceled, but the fast food drive-up is sure open. And while binge watching TV, that big old stress-eating bag of chips is calling your name.

There’s another way, says Mandi De La Cruz, family nutrition program assistant for Buena Vista County ISU Extension and Outreach.

First of all, keep moving, she stresses. “Stretching is so important. If you’re home with the kids, exercise with them. Exercise helps to give us energy and relieve stress, which is so important during the time of quarantine,” she explains.

At least 150 minutes of exercise activity per week is recommended - which works out to a half an hour five days a week. “You don’t have to work out for an hour to get benefits. For some people, five or 10 minute segments several times a day is what works - and you would be surprised how much that can help you avoid weight gain. I always encourage people to put music on when they exercise, it makes it that much more pleasant and easy to stick to.”

Like the Tom Cruise underpants slide exercise routine? “Okay but you might want to close the curtains,” she laughs.

Her program, Spend Smart Eat Smart has its own Facebook page that is trying to help, with live home exercise videos as well as nutrition, recipes and stress-busting posts. Like it to see regular new content.

Mandi is also offering free coaching sessions over the internet or over the phone during the quarantine, in English of Spanish, which can be arranged by calling her at 712-299-8478.

“We talk about physical activity, the importance of nutrition, food budgeting, even comparing recipes. Right now, it’s more about how people are doing, and making goals to get through this difficult period.”

How are people holding up?

“Obviously a lot of the people are having a lot more stress because of the situation - the uncertainty, changes in their jobs, even having their children at home. For a lot of the people I work with, life is suddenly more complicated for them.”

And too often, nutrition is going by the wayside and the pounds are starting to pile on.

“I really promote following the recommendations of the My Plate, which has replaced what we used to call the food pyramid,” she said.

The key is that half of a person’s diet should be fruits and vegetables. “If you can just do that, it will avoid wanting to fill yourself up on junk food.”

Whole grain food choices are more filling than refined grains, again helping to fight of snack cravings.

“It’s also a good idea to eat lower-fat proteins like tuna, chicken, fish that’s good for Omega 3’s. There are a lot of plant-based protein sources, especially beans, and they are usually less expensive that other choices too,” Mandi says.

Planning out your meals for a week at a time is a key tip. “Then make a list of what you need before you go to the grocery store, on your phone, or on a piece of paper. And never go to the store when you are hungry - that will save you money too.”

Lists are especially important now - making them and sticking to them means less trips have to be made to the store, helping to maintain social distancing. “You may want to try grocery ordering in advance and pickup too, so you can spend less time in the stores,” says Mandi.

What to make sure you put in your cart? Think colors.

“When it comes to fruits and vegetables, each has different nutritional values. The best thing is to get a variety of colors which means a variety of nutrients. Most people usually don’t get enough dark leafy greens, reds and yellows. Spinach and broccoli has a lot of nutrients and can help the immune system. Many of the fruits are good for antioxidants that are also important to protect yourself and stay healthy.” These include blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, prunes, grapes. And good news - dark chocolate too.

How you cook your food also matters. “Try baking more, instead of frying so many things. Try not to use so much oil and fats,” Mandi says.

She also encourages people to learn to read the nutrition labels, and to avoid foods that are labeled high in saturated fat.

“A lot of people will glance at a label and say a product isn’t bad because it doesn’t look like it has a lot of calories. But look closely at what they consider a serving size. Cereal for example is usually is based on one cup per sitting, but what you actually eat could be three times that number of calories.”

In her classes, she preaches goal-setting. “I always like to suggest one nutrition goal, and one fitness goal, for the week. And your goals should be reasonable, achievable steps - not something so big that it overwhelms you. In a time of stress and uncertainty, this is probably not the time to try to make a huge lifestyle change, but don’t put your goals on the back burner either. Write down your goals each week and put it on your refrigerator where you will always see it.”

Sticking to a schedule is helpful in making progress on those goals. So is getting enough sleep on a regular basis.

Mandi noted with concern that alcohol sales have also shot up during the quarantine - as much as 50 percent, according to one news account.

“That isn’t the best way to cope for a lot of reasons. Not only does too much alcohol come with it’s own problems, it is also a lot of empty calories.”

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