Our Physical Health during the Pandemic

By Viviana Villalobos, LPC

March 2020 will be remembered as the month when the world shut down due to a global pandemic that stopped all that was known as “normal.” We all developed our own coping mechanisms for the sudden, and then ongoing, restrictions placed on our everyday lives that were all put into place for our safety and basic survival. Many found a renewed enthusiasm for cooking and baking, especially for comfort foods and yummy sourdough bread. Some used this new found time to catch up on much needed sleep and spending more time with family. Others discovered an affinity for exercising and exploring new hobbies. Regardless of how we spent our lockdown time, many of us were also faced with reconciling our Covid-19 anxiety and its’ common consequences: the development of unhealthy eating habits, weight gain, and decreased physical activity.

As the world begins to gradually open up again, many of us are navigating the effects of unhealthy nutritional choices on our children as well. Prior to the pandemic, research showed that childhood obesity rates from more affluent households were falling. In an analysis of more than 500,000 visits to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Care Network, researchers found that the prevalence rate of pediatric obesity increased from 13.7% pre-pandemic to 15.4% during the pandemic. Children, as well as adults, decreased their overall physical activity during the lockdown period as restrictions forced many to transition their work and school days to a virtual format.

For those of us wanting to make more nutritionally healthy choices, the most important step is to have self-compassion. We must be mindful that creating new habits takes time, and remember this as we venture to taste new recipes or try new vegetables, as these can be intimidating tasks.  Below are some steps that we can take as we embark on making healthier choices:

  • Emphasize health, not a number on a scale. Try to focus on changing unhealthy habits and incorporating new ones that will help you feel better overall. Consider meeting with a nutritionist to shift your focus away from the scale and more on the power that you have to make a change. Fun Fact: ShopRite has registered dieticians on staff that can meet with you (probably virtually and free!) to help you discover healthy options.
  • Stay Hydrated. Make sure you are drinking enough water every day, especially during the summer. Consider using reminders that will remind you to drink some water, especially while at work. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up at work or in an activity that you can forget to drink water or even eat.
  • Establish new movement routines. If you are still working from home you may want to set up a walking routine or create a schedule that allows you to get up and move throughout the day. Physical activity can be different types of movement like walking and yoga, instead of the traditional exercise routine at the gym. Sometimes making small changes has the most impact. So, the next time you drive to your local grocery store try to find the spot furthest away, more steps and movement. (Please check with your primary care provider before beginning any new health routine.)
  • Make it a family affair. If you are living with family, make it a family challenge to come up with healthy recipes, snacks or even stepping challenges. Having other people hold you accountable helps to ensure that you are sticking to your goals. If you have children, make sure that they are part of this process to make it fun for them.
  • Eat everything in moderation. Depriving yourself from foods you enjoy will only lead to future binges. Learning to eat in moderation will help you to develop a healthy relationship with all foods.
  • Go as fast as you want to, but as slow as you need to. It’s not a race. If you begin this journey, listen to your body and give yourself time to learn and enjoy all new foods.
  • Acknowledge when you are stress snacking. Take time to acknowledge your cravings and ask yourself if you are hungry or just passing the time. Consider drinking some water and reassessing how hungry you really are.
  • Follow up on all wellness care visits. Make sure to follow up with your primary care physician and get your annual physical exam. The same goes for dental visits and annual eye exams.
  • Sleep. Most importantly, make sure you are getting enough sleep every night. If you find that you are having difficulty sleeping, consider talking with a doctor to explore what you can do to ensure you are getting a good night’s sleep.

Given the adjustments we have had to endure over the last year, it may seem daunting to try and change our routines again. However, we can remind ourselves that routines are meant to be flexible. Just as our daily schedules were disrupted months ago, we have the power to change them back!