With social distancing the norm now (not to mention isolation and self-quarantining), my household—and undoubtedly yours, too—has had to readjust in lots of ways. Primary among these are our individual schedules. As someone who has worked from home part-time for the last 20 years, my adjustments have been more minor than my college-aged daughter’s or my husband’s. Yet even for me, the altered patterns of each day’s meals and gym time (or lack of gym time), for example, have caused some ripples in my behavior. While it’s true that every one of us is experiencing this home-bound lifestyle in our own unique way, there are likely some challenges we share, too. Here are a few tips that might help all of us retain, regain or even begin some healthy habits while we remain sheltered at home.
Keep a consistent sleep schedule.
Having the luxury of a little more schedule flexibility has allowed me to sleep in a little bit later each day. This has been wonderful, but it has also resulted in me working later at night and therefore going to bed later than usual. Has this happened to you, too? Working later and being awake late at night then causes me to feel the need for a snack at 9:30 or 10 pm.—something totally unheard of for me until just recently. We are creatures of habit, and when habits around sleep, eating, and exercise get messed up, things can feel like they are spiraling out of control.
It’s been known for some time that people who work varying shifts at their job suffer from what’s called “circadian misalignment,” which basically means that body processes are thrown off by constantly changing sleeping schedules. New science backs that up and goes a step further, showing that, among a multi-ethnic group of over 300 middle-aged women, even slightly altered bedtimes (of about an hour to 1 ½ hours) measured over about two weeks time, impacted certain aspects metabolic health. What’s more, the same study found that greater bedtime delay was associated with increased weight for height (measured by BMI, Body Mass Index). In my case that part is not much of a mystery—the later I stay up, the more likely I am to eat. However, the science hints that there may be more involved than that, such as hormone alterations and the body’s responses to extended light exposure.
Break up sitting time with movement.
Long periods spent sitting are not only uncomfortable, but have also been shown to be unhealthy. Epidemiological research (looking at patterns of behavior and health risks in populations) indicates an association between increased time spent sitting and greater rates of metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as all-cause mortality. One small clinical study found extended sitting was associated with higher markers for cardiometabolic risk, such as post-meal blood glucose response, while the opposite was found when frequent breaks were taken during sedentary time (2-minute walking breaks every 20 minutes of sitting). Interestingly, in another study, simply standing up for 2 minutes after every 20 minutes of sitting was not shown to improve the glycemic response. So the key seems to be getting in some light to moderate movement as an “interrupter” during extended sitting sessions.
Shoot for a 5-minute break after every 30 minutes of sitting. If that isn’t workable for your work schedule, perhaps a 10 minute break after 45 minutes of work would suit you better. Letting a full hour go by without moving is what you’re trying to avoid—and the more movement you can get in, the better. Some people rely on devices to remind them to get up and move around, such as a timer app or a reminder on a smart watch or other worn tracking device. You can also build activity into your sedentary time by making a little list of things you need to do around the house each day and then setting an alarm on your phone before sitting down to get some work done. My list would include everyday things like:
- putting in a load of laundry (have to go down two sets of stairs from my home office to do this)
- transferring that laundry to the dryer (another trip down and up the sets of stairs)
- loading the dishwasher or hand washing a few dishes
- taking the dog outside
- taking out trash or recycling
- getting the mail and sorting through it
- refilling my water bottle
- wiping down the bathroom or kitchen
It doesn’t need to be anything huge, nor does it have to be real “exercise,” just something to get you up and walking around for a few minutes.
Prioritize real meals over snacks.
I’ve found that sometimes when I have lots of home time with my family, it starts to feel like a big vacation and our food choices reflect more of a “holiday” situation. Don’t get me wrong, we should still try to find the fun and joy of being home together for an extended time, but at some point your food choices need to start looking more like regular nourishing meals instead of a non-stop snack fest. Snacking your way through your day seems fun (and is easy), until it doesn’t feel good physically. You’ll start to crave a good salad, some vegetables, and some protein that isn’t trail mix (and I love trail mix).
Your body needs nutrients, not just calories. Plus, you will feel fuller for longer (and therefore less likely to reach for chips and cookies) when you eat actual meals. Right now I’m wishing for a simple roast chicken with some veggies on the side—nothing fancy, just homey, tasty and not stressful to prepare. This roast chicken recipe calls for fresh rosemary, but you can certainly use a little bit of crushed, dried rosemary.
You get the idea, lots of things can be simplified or altered depending on what you have at home. Find your way back to some nutritious basics and pantry staples with the Guiding Stars website, which features more than 1,200 easy, healthy recipes—many of which use basic ingredients you’re likely to have available. Here are a few general ideas for getting back to real meals:
- Use your slow cooker! The food basically cooks itself while you work or have family free time at home.
- Cook up that bag of dried beans you have in the cupboard. You can freeze the cooked beans in convenient portions or use them right away in a multitude of recipes.
- Get creative with canned and frozen foods. They are nutritious and highly versatile. Here are a couple of recipes to try, or simply use the “Search Guiding Stars” box at the top right of the website page, check “only search recipes” and plug in the name of what you have on hand.