Nutrition and Healthy Habits During COVID-19
During these last few weeks as COVID-19 has taken center stage, more and more people are wondering how to stay healthy.
Social media and other news outlets have jumped on the opportunity to share ‘immune boosting’ foods, detoxes, and special supplements to fight off COVID-19. It is so understandable that most of us want to look after ourselves and our families during this very strange time. However, it is important to realize that most of what’s floating around is just a bunch of pseudoscience – and may be more harmful than helpful.
I love talking about food and nutrition, but food is just a small piece of the puzzle.
Managing stress and being kind to yourself are larger pieces of the puzzle that cannot be overlooked. If making sure half of your plate is filled with vegetables or running out of your favorite low-sugar yogurt is feeling stressful, it’s probably not helpful. Prolonged stress can impair the body’s ability to fight off infection and lower immunity. Controlling your intake and being inflexible in your food choices is stressful and not immune boosting.
The best way to support your immune system is to eat enough.
Restricting food and calories can impair your ability to fight off illness and infection. Getting enough energy through food is just as important as getting enough vitamins and minerals. Diets, detoxes, and cleanses will decrease your immunity.
Eating a wide variety of foods is the best way to get all the nutrients that you need. Foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc are beneficial to the immune system. Bell peppers, kiwis, and potatoes are rich in vitamin C, while spinach and almonds provide good sources of Vitamin E. You can find zinc in red meat, baked beans and chicken. There are many other foods that contain these micronutrients – this is just a short list to get you started. Keep in mind that frozen and canned foods can be just as nutritious (if not more nutritious) than fresh. Of course, include things like whole grains, protein, and dairy to ensure you’re getting a little of everything.
If you feel out of control with eating right now, please know that this is a normal response to stress and fear for many people. Instead of judging yourself or beating yourself up, allow yourself to explore those feelings and eating behaviors. These behaviors are also a normal response to food scarcity. Ever been on a diet where you restricted during the day and then raided your pantry after dinner? When your body senses restriction (through dieting) or food scarcity (again through dieting or when food is actually scarce) – cravings, binge-eating, and thoughts about food increase. Your body is just trying to take care of you and protect you – its primal instinct is to save you from famine!
One thing you can do is to stock up on food if you are able to. Pantry items, freezer items, canned foods – stock up so your body senses “abundance” rather than scarcity. This might look like frozen broccoli, boxes of pasta, canned tuna, crackers, cookies – let your body know that it’s available. It may be helpful to structure your day a bit to make sure you aren’t going long hours without food. Even though most of our normal activities are cancelled, eating regularly is not. Trying to avoid eating for longer than 4-5 hours may make your body’s primal instincts kick in and cause you to overeat at your next meal.
If you have heightened anxiety around food and ways to “fix” or “change” what you are eating, it’s because what you are really looking for is control. At this moment, there are so many things that feel out of control which can feel uncomfortable and even scary. It’s no surprise that you may be fixating on what you think you can control: your body. Instead of trying to fix your body or control your food, can you sit with this discomfort? Can you bring more awareness to what is going on for you in those moments? Can you ask yourself: What do I really need right now? What is going on here? What am I scared of or anxious about?
No one reading this needs to hear that fruits and vegetables are good for you. No one reading this needs to hear to drink water and limit alcohol. No one reading this believes that eating donuts at every meal will make you feel energized and ready to take on the world. Nutrition is powerful, but not as powerful as the relationship you have with food and your body. No amount of “healthy” eating will make your immune system strong if you’re constantly worried about carbohydrates, calculating calories, or drinking two cups of organic celery juice in the morning.
Of course, if you are struggling right now (totally understandable) or some of this advice is new and different for you, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional for help.
Members can contact a Personal Health Navigator to schedule an appointment with our dietitians. Chat through the member portal or call 646.819.5100.
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