Eating better during Covid-19 (and beyond!)

Approximately one million people have told me they have put on a bit of weight during lockdown — sometimes while they’ve been doing more exercise than ever. The proximity to the kitchen, eating three meals a day that you make yourself, the ability to snack on demand… It’s all added up. As for me — I haven’t eaten so well since I was a child at home and had my mum cook for me three times a day.

Lockdown conditions have eroded our ability to compartmentalise between work and leisure — and this includes meals. Anyone else eating over their laptop or in front of the TV more than they ever did?

So I thought I’d write a short post about how to get back on track using my usual mix of science-backed facts and evidence-based mindset work. Because this article is short, each point is vital, so try ticking them off. If you are struggling with a specific aspect, comment below or DM me, I’m super happy to make further recommendations.

The basics — practical

(Apologies — this might feel condescending, but any one of these can make a difference to your weight and all together it’s a potent mix.)

  1. Do some exercise every day — you just need to decide you are going to do and schedule it in. If you are struggling with what to do, ask a couple of friends or message me directly for ideas.
  2. Drink enough water. Herbal teas are great, too.
  3. Sleep properly (nap during the day if you need to). I have noticed that everyone is saying they need more sleep either because of the stress load, or because their sleep is disrupted — so pay extra attention to your sleep needs.
  4. Shop to win. Don’t buy processed food and sweets, just don’t have them in the house. Buy foods that are ingredients, not have ingredients.
  5. Up your consumption of good fats (olive oil, avocado) and fresh vegetables while lowering all bad fats (animal fat, butter, processed seed and vegetable oils). According to new research, your basic guide is extra virgin olive oil for everything — until you need a high smoke point, then your go-to is avocado or coconut oil.
  6. Take a cortisol blocker. Stress has never been more insidious and present in our lives — whether it’s too much contact with some people, not enough with others, losing your job or worrying about making cuts in your company — the stress is real. Cortisol is a stress hormone, produced on demand and has a lot of crappy side effects — weight gain on your stomach and inadequate sleep being just two of them. Take Swansons or Jarrow’s Phosphatidylserine supplement — it actually blocks cortisol — and you may notice you feel and sleep better, I certainly do.
Add salad to every meal — positives help push out the negatives

The basics — mental

  1. Do you believe you can do it? If not, why not? What is stopping you? Did your family emotionally eat, so that’s what you do? Do you use it to get a dopamine hit because you are bored, or under-stimulated?
  2. Are you starting with the premise that anything is possible, and that you can achieve whatever you damn well like? If not, why not? Why shouldn’t you be healthy and awesome and feel great about yourself? Anything getting in your way is fluff that can blow away on the breeze. Once you start to ask yourself these questions, it’s amazing what comes up and how little of it you need to keep.
  3. Remember you can’t tell yourself no. Your mind doesn’t deal in negatives. A quick and childish example of this is “Don’t think about a red bus”. What are you thinking about now? Did your mind pay any attention to the “Don’t”? Whatever you want to achieve, you have to frame it as a positive. So “Eat healthily!” is a way better directive than “Stop eating junk food!” and one that your mind can act on. Saying stop eating junk food only makes you think about it more.

The specifics — practical

  1. ONLY EAT WHEN YOU ARE HUNGRY. It sounds so obvious, but every time you go to eat something, ask yourself, “Am I hungry?”. If you are bored, call someone interesting, open a book, go for a walk — write a list of things you find really interesting, and go to that list next time you want to eat because of boredom. If you eat for comfort, confront your demons, don’t eat them. Is there something else you could do that would make you feel better? Talk to someone, do something that equals empowerment rather than being acted upon, take some time for yourself, write down a time when you acted confidently and got great results and relive it.
  2. Portion sizes, don’t load up your plate — if you have large plates, use smaller ones for serving.
  3. Have healthy food out on the side where you can see (studies show if you have fruit and veg on display you make healthier choices, the idea of healthy food just soaks into your subconscious).

The specifics — mental

  1. Think of yourself as a healthy person. Don’t think of yourself as a <insert insult of choice here> person — because then it’s in your head and your subconscious says “oh right I’m a <insert insult here> person” which means you’ll make that person decisions. Guess what decisions a <insert insult here> person might make regarding portion sizes, what to eat, eating late, and snacking? Think of yourself as the healthy person you are going to be — but in the present tense. Guess what decisions a healthy person makes when it comes to portion size, what to eat, and snacking? Say it in your head or even out loud, “As a healthy person, what would I eat for dinner, and if I need a snack later, what would that snack be?” and you’ll find you make different decisions. After a little while of consciously thinking this, it’ll become more and more internalised.

I promise you, changing your mindset about who you actually are (stop that negative self-talk and stop beating yourself up, and start being the best version of yourself all the time) will radically change your behaviour and thus your results. You can’t change your behaviour if everything is not in sync with how you think about yourself deep down. You can’t want to be a healthy person who makes good choices; you have to BE a healthy person who makes good choices.

Greens beans and eggs and tuna — a powerhouse salad and anything but boring :)

Extra bonus tips

  1. Choose your snacks carefully. If you are a snacker, acknowledge you will want to snack and make sure you have appropriate ones in the house and to take out with you. If you must snack after dinner, make it something like a small number of fresh nuts, a banana, or small portion of lean meat as these will be filling and can help you sleep.
  2. Eat more fibre and take a probiotic, eat kimchi or live yoghurt. It’s filling, healthy and you want that microbiome in good shape for all sorts of reasons.
  3. Only eat whole foods. Processed foods are designed for you to crave them and always to want more. They can easily outmanoeuvre all your good intentions — best just to avoid them as much as you can.
  4. Wholemeal everything. Yes, even pasta! It’s really no different, and you might find you end up preferring the texture, of your sensible and moderate portions ;)
  5. Before each meal, do 30 seconds of something high intensity — like ten burpees. Or press-ups, or hold a plank position for a couple of minutes. Anything to get your heart pumping. Doing this will help speed your metabolism up just before you eat and help your body start burning straight away.
  6. Try intermittent fasting — and that doesn’t mean starving yourself. You could commit to not eating past 8:30 pm until breakfast. Studies show it can be incredibly beneficial and even though there was a recent study that said people who fast eat more at their next meal — further more recent studies show they were still eating less than those that don’t do intermittent fasting. It’s a great way not to do the light grazing thing that you tell yourself doesn’t matter but that all adds up.
  7. Try delaying your gratification and imagine how satisfying it’s going to be once you sit down and eat properly. When lunch or dinner time comes around, it’s tempting to snack beforehand — the warm-up before the main event.
  8. Mindful eating. Experiment with eating your meals with no TV on and no distractions. Take the opportunity to savour your food slowly, thoughtfully, and gratefully. Science has demonstrated this will make your meal more satisfying and help you feel more full. If you are someone who eats breakfast and lunch and maybe even dinner over your laptop, if you can, try taking your meals as actual breaks.

As a wrap, this is as basic and as practical as I can make it, but using these tips can help you make a permanent change and live more healthily rather than diet, under lockdown conditions and beyond. My absolute favourite is the see yourself as a healthy person tweak, and asking yourself “What would a healthy person do right now?”.

The incredible business coach Amanda Davie recommends you look into your neurobiology as well as your diet. She recommends Matt Jones who does consultations but also provides some free resources on his website.

Do reach out if there is a particular point you are struggling with or for recommendations. You can find me on Twitter or comment below.

Thanks to Ally, Joy, Kate and Maria of Digital Leading Ladies for reminding me to add Phosphatidylserine supplement to combat weight gain via cortisol and emphasising the importance of sleep x

Diversity and Inclusion, always. ADHD. Angry about UX. Moved by Art. Wants a Tech Revolution. Questing for Knowledge. Consultant and Coach.