EXETER – Common sense dictates avoiding large gatherings this year due to the risk of spreading COVID-19.
But even small gatherings will likely feature calorie-laden food. Add that to the “quarantine 15” many people have already put on, and it’s a good time to reflect upon healthy lifestyle choices.
“My biggest tip to my patients is to take baby steps, approach lifestyle changes in moderation,” said Dr. Gabrielle Phaneuf, a primary care doctor with CORE Physicians. “Small steps build good habits and are something people can maintain. People who go extreme, like go to KETO and say they are never going to eat another carb in their life are setting themselves up to fail. It never sticks and they often ending going back with even worse habits.”
Phaneuf said there are many reasons people are developing bad eating habits right now. She said COVID is causing people stress and stress eating is common. Many people are working from home and are expected to help with their children’s education. They turn to food because they are overwhelmed, bored and because snacks are readily available in their cupboards.
“It is difficult to stick to a routine right now,” said Phaneuf. “Start in one place and go out from there.”
So, start small. Phaneuf said eat half the serving of ice cream that you usually would. Replace the bag of potato chips with carrots, or almonds. Make each step a part of your daily life and then move forward to another step.
Emily Thompson, a registered dietician, and a certified specialist on obesity and weight management at Wentworth Douglass, said people who find themselves at home more, should develop a new routine, since schedules they are used to following might no longer exist.
“It is important to helping regulate your lifestyle,” said Thompson. “Good sleep hygiene, going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time is healthy. Establish a work routine, a time to start and a time to finish so you are not working at all odd hours of your day. Develop a meal schedule.”
“It’s OK to have treats,” said Phaneuf. “Have a couple of those favorite Christmas cookies, not a pound of cookies. Factor them into your daily life so you can get the craving out of the way without overdoing it. Drink a huge glass of water before a meal or when you get a craving. It can make all the difference.”
Exercise is good for your weight control but is also good for your mental health and well being.
“If you tell me you walk to the mailbox, I’ll tell you to walk a little further, and a little further after that. Turn something into a habit and then it sticks.”
Thompson said staying active is important.
“Find a routine that works for you,” she said. “People who used to go to the gym in the cold weather need to find something else to do. I sometimes do laps in my basement. So, go for a walk at lunchtime. The recommendation for exercise for an adult is 30-60 minutes a day. If you are just starting, work up to that. Don’t try to do it right away or you will give up.”
Avoid fad diets, both experts said.
“I am not an advocate of fad diets,” said Thompson. “No health care provider will advise that. We see a lot of people trying them this time of year and they just do not work. The best diet is the diet you can stick to.”
Thompson said there are ways to identify what is a fad diet.
“If the diet has something to sell you; it’s probably a fad diet,” she said. “They are the ones benefitting from the diet, not you. Are there rigid rules; are those rules sustainable? No, then it is not going to work and is a fad diet. If it promises 10 pounds in 10 days; it’s a fad diet.”
The other big weight gain culprit at this time of year is alcohol consumption, said Thompson.
“Try to limit alcohol,” said Thompson. “If you are going to a small gathering in your bubble, bring something healthy. Prioritize what you eat. Choose a favorite you must have, and modify the other things you eat accordingly. You can have fun and stick to your goals at the same time.”