13 May, 2020
Nutrition in Isolation
Approximate reading time: 5 minutes
A lot of Dietetic patients that I have been supporting – face-to-face in Moonee or Ponds or online – have had some very similar issues crop up due to COVID-19 and the way in which this has changed our day-to-day life and in turn, how it has affected our nutrition and eating behaviours.
I have compiled a little list of some common issues that have been occurring in most of my patients, whether they have intolerances or chronic conditions - or not - and a few tips and tricks while life is a bit upside down.
1. Inconsistent or fluctuating mealtimes
Working from home has brought on a huge array of barriers and issues for all of us. Whether it be finding the right place to work, the desk arrangement or having kids running around as they are at home remote-learning, it can be hectic! Structured mealtimes can sometimes take a backseat, with people skipping meals, eating at their desk, snacking and grazing without eating proper meals, or completely forgetting to eat entirely!
Even if you’re not working from home, life has shifted so significantly that it is quite normal to experience a loss of appetite, an increased appetite, or finding that whatever was “normal” doesn’t feel the same.
- Set a few alarms or reminders on your phone for meal times, such as “12:30pm – lunch break”. If you have a work calendar, schedule it in so your colleagues know you are away from your desk.
- Sit away from your work desk for lunch or snacks if possible. Get outside if the weather is good, or to another table. Separating work from mealtimes can assist with proper digestion, promoting mindful eating techniques and ensuring our body’s hunger and fullness signals are listened to properly. If we are distracted by work, we may not be responding correctly to our body’s cues.
- Scheduling in set meal times throughout the day ensures our bodies will still receive the necessary nutrients for energy, brain function and muscle maintenance.
2. Stress eating and drinking
Another issue that is very normal during times of high stress is stress eating, which is also known as emotional eating (and drinking). After a stressful day at work, you may feel having one or two glasses of wine or snack foods such as chocolate, chips or sweets. This can very easily turn into every night of the week, and increase in serving size as well. Giving yourself a “treat” every now and then is absolutely okay, but it is important to know when this has become a crutch, or something you rely on to get through.
- Brainstorm some other strategies for relaxing techniques, such as having a bath once or twice a week, going for a walk after work to separate work time and home time (especially when working from home), having a cup of tea after dinner or setting up a Zoom chat to friends and family.
- Allow yourself treats, but pick some times and stick to them. Friday night after work may be the right time for a wine, so stick to Fridays and avoid drinking throughout the week.
- Portion out your treats and same as above, stick to a few nights a week. If you go into work on Mondays and Wednesdays, maybe these are the nights you have some chocolate after dinner. Ensuring moderation is key.
3. A spike in gastrointestinal issues such as cramping, bowel changes and indigestion
A very common symptom of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are gut responses such as pain, bloating, excessive wind, constipation and/or diarrhoea. This normally occurs with patients that have specific food intolerances, such as with high FODMAP foods (I will be writing a blog post about this soon!). However, due to experiencing moments of high stress, with work-life changes, restrictions and isolation, it has been very apparent that a lot of patients’ symptoms have started to impact their life again, even if their diet has not changed at all.
The body has an incredible connection called the gut-brain axis, which involves millions of neurons connecting our gastrointestinal system to our brain. Signals go back and forth all the time, but in periods of high stress and anxiety, these signals can be muddled up, be sent too often, or not often enough. It’s kind of like a huge traffic jam of signals as our anxiety can affect the way our gut digests our food.
- Take time to eat meals slowly, chewing every mouthful well. This can prevent the ingestion of air whilst eating, which can cause indigestion, bloating and gas.
- Separate drinking fluids from mealtimes. Same as above, having too many fluids and food going through at once can increase the likelihood of these gastrointestinal symptoms.
- If feeling bloated after a meal, head out for a walk. Walking can assist in digestion and the breakdown of food.
- If you are a patient who has IBS or have experienced symptoms with trigger foods in the past, it may be a time to lower your intake of these foods temporarily to assist with any issues. This should be done by consulting a health professional such as your doctor or an Accredited Practising Dietitian, who can support you with these changes whilst ensuring an optimal, nutritious diet.
4. Don’t be too hard on yourself
There is sometimes pressure to be dealing with what is going on at the moment perfectly. It is okay to experience some bumps along the way; we don’t always have to be thriving! I myself have had to schedule in some alone time, have made sure to go for a walk every day to get out of the house, and to call my friends daily to check in. There is really no right or wrong way to be coping with this, but it is important to put your health and wellbeing as a priority.
Fortunately, with restrictions slowly lifting for us all around the state, we can start to get back to some of our favourite activities and see our friends and family. However, adjusting to yet another phase of this can be quite daunting. At Body and Brain Centre, we are here to assist with any nutrition support you require, whether it be structure around mealtimes, eating behaviours, nutrition goals, recipes and meal ideas, along with our ongoing support for patients with chronic health conditions.