What has your eating looked like lately? How about your exercise routine? Your social life and emotional health?

Everyone’s stress level has been higher than usual this year. That makes maintaining healthy lifestyle habits more challenging. It’s easier to grab a junky snack or have a drink at the end of the day, rather than deal with your stress. With the holiday season upon us, it may be difficult to accept that your typical celebrations are not going to happen this year. You’ll have to celebrate differently.

Lifestyle Behaviors Amid a Pandemic

A recent study published in Obesity, took a look at how COVID-19 stay-at-home orders are impacting health behaviors in adults. The Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, surveyed over 7700 adults across the globe, including people from 50 different countries and every state in America. One third of the group were normal weight, 1/3  were overweight, and 1/3 were diagnosed as clinically obese. The good news – healthy eating scores and cooking at home scores increased. The  bad news: researchers found that most people became more sedentary, and caved to their food cravings. A decline in other healthy behaviors during the pandemic was fairly common, regardless of geography.

Those unhealthy behaviors resulted in 27% of this group gaining weight. Anxiety was also reported to be higher, and the magnitude of increase was significantly greater in people with obesity.

Behavior Change is a Challenge

The COVID-19 Pandemic has rocked the routines of people all over the world. It’s taken it’s toll on your everyday life. I’ve been guilty of sending you messages about healthy eating and exercise habits through the year, because, hey, it’s what I do.  Of course, in light of current virus risks, it is a good idea to be mindful of your health habits. That’s easier said than done.

While you may have distracted yourself in the kitchen with bread-baking & new recipes, it's a struggle to maintain healthy eating habits & exercise routines. It's a challenge in normal times, & these aren't normal times. Click To Tweet

I completely understand and sympathize with the daily struggles of eating well and staying active. I do. As do many of my colleagues.

In many cases, the stress you may be experiencing is unavoidable. Taking some time to look at your schedule, and fit in some stress reduction tools will help (deep breathing, a coffee break, exercise, stretching – you’ll learn more about stress reduction in our new book). You’ll be amazed at how just stopping, and taking a 1 minute deep-breathing session can make you physically feel a little better.

All New Habits Require a Plan

I’ve been offering food, diet and nutrition advice for more than 30 years. What I’ve told people over and over, is that you have to continually set new goals. That’s the hard part.

You may have a great routine going, and then, something in your life changes. You move to a new city, switch from being a student to a full time worker, get married, switch jobs, have children, get an illness, break a bone, have surgery, lose a loved one or pet – all sorts of things that interfere with your daily routine. Unfortunately, the it’s unlikely that the first half of the new year will look much different than the last 6 months.

Forget about New Years Resolutions. Living well is a daily challenge. You want to be kind to yourself. The goal is progress, not perfection. Click To Tweet

Stay Flexible

The key to wellness, in my opinion, is being flexible. This flexibility encourages you to lighten up on yourself, and realize perfection is an impossible goal when it comes to eating and exercise habits. My colleagues agree, and shared what their challenges and strategies have been.

  • Be flexible and clearly end the day. “I try to follow a schedule during the week that allows me time to fit in some daily movement in between class and work schedules”, says Brynn McDowell,  The Domestic Dietitian and author of The Mediterranean diet Made Easy cookbook. She remains flexible on some days, because sometimes her plans just don’t work. Her routine changed drastically from pre-pandemic, as she went from working at home to working from home with a 5 and 7 year old who are doing school entirely online. She’s finding it challenging to juggle all the tasks and separate “work” time from “home” time. Brynn lights a candle at 5pm every night and purposely powers down her laptop to signal that the work day is over. I love this idea!
  • Go for “semi-homemade. I’ve always been a scratch cook, but given the chaos of 2020, I’ve started to rely more on canned and frozen produce to make meals and snacks, as well as cooking “semi homemade” meals utilizing things like jarred marinara, frozen veggie pasta and canned fish” says Chef Julie Andrews,  MS, RDN, CD, FAND, Dietitian at The Gourmet RDWhile she feels fortunate to be able to work from home, this year presented new challenges. Her husband also started working from home, and they had their first child. Healthy eating is difficult while caring for a new baby but Julie feels it’s also nice to be home and cooking our meals most of the time. (silver lining!). She also relies on some healthy packaged snacks like protein bars and yogurt. She’s made a daily outdoor walk a normal part of her family’s routine, even now that it’s chilly. “We get out for a walk almost every day, even now that it’s chilly! It gets us some fresh air time and our baby gets to explore the outdoors.”

Sit Less and Schedule Your Fitness Plan

Scheduling exercise goals clearly helps ensure you include it in your day. I find that if I exercise first thing in the morning, it happens. When I plan to exercise during my lunch break or in the afternoon, other things interfere. Here are what my colleagues say:

  • Plan meals. Dietitian, wellness instructor and the FOOD + MOVEMENT®️ Dietitian, Mandy Enright has always worked from home. However, she’s found that now that she’s reconfigured her schedule to suit her clients (who are also mostly working from home) it’s sometimes a challenge to eat right. “As a worksite wellness dietitian, my work hours have suddenly increased beyond the typically lunch & learn time frame. I’ve found that if I don’t plan out my lunch & dinner, and block the time in my calendar, those things can fall by the wayside”.
  • Sit Less. Mandy also admits to how challenging it is to sit less. “The sitting has gotten out of control. I make sure to wear a headset/earbuds and deliver presentations standing. I’ve even stood on a BOSU® ball during a few presentations to give my core some work too!” Mandy says she really has to be very intentional with her own fitness. “If a yoga class is live I’m better able to manage my time and make it a priority to attend class, but if I’m going to follow along with a class recording then I need to make sure I block out time in my calendar to do it.” Registered dietitian Bridget Swinney agrees. Too much sitting lowers our metabolism, so you may not need as many calories as you needed when you were more active. “I’ve had to really watch portion sizes and schedule in my daily walks since the gym was closed”, says Bridget.  Like most people who started working from home, she found herself sitting many more hours in the day than previously. Her tip: Start walking and talking. “When I call clients I just start walking around the house instead of just sitting. This seems like a no-brainer, but I had to really remind myself to do it.” 
  • Schedule exercise. Like Bridget, Jackie Durand, RD, CDN and owner of JDNutrition LLC, adds exercise breaks into her schedule. “I started blocking out a mandatory lunch and exercise breaks and try my best not to schedule clients into that time”. When you block time into your calendar for doing a workout or taking a jog, you’ll prioritize it.

Pick up a hobby

  • Try something new. Bri Bell, RD and owner of the Frugal Minimalist Kitchen works from a home office. As a millennial, she says the pandemic hasn’t affected her work routine too much. She’s actually found that her routine has been strengthened during the pandemic. She prefers to work in the morning then go for a walk in the early afternoon when the parks and paths are less busy.  “I’ve also been experimenting with growing some food indoors. My latest project has been to try regrowing celery from the stump!”
  • Sign up for a class. Liz Weiss, MS, RDN, owner of Liz’s Healthy Table and podcaster, signed up for a cooking Masterclass. She finds the activity and new ideas feed her creativity, giving her a boost. She also decided to pay for an online yoga class to stay committed. “If I pay for it, I’ll commit.”

Find Your Own Inspiration

It’s a challenge to maintain healthy lifestyle habits, even for health and fitness professionals. I hope you’re inspired by these thoughts and ideas. Remember small wins are still wins! Just do your best to plan some new healthy habits into your life.

How have you maintained healthy habits this year? Share your tips in the comments.


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