May 4, 2020

Weight Gain During Shelter In Place…Losing the Corona-15

Are you feeling like the days are getting longer, and you are tempted to eat all
day long…even when you aren’t hungry? With “shelter in place”, most of us are
operating/working from our homes where there is constant access to food, and
no imposed schedule in place. You can eat what you want, whenever and
wherever you want. When the anxiety ratchets up, or we’re just plain bored, food
is the natural go-to soother. How do we stop beating ourselves up for the choices
we are making, reel it in, and get control of this situation?
I’ve been busy working with clients during “shelter in place” to help them establish
healthy eating strategies so that they may stay on track with their health goals. I
would like to share with you some of the tricks and tips that can help you get you
back into the driver’s seat and take control of your eating, exercise, sleep, and
stress management behaviors. If you’ve been asking yourself, “what rules and
schedules should I follow in order to avoid “the Corona-15”…this one’s for you!


Create a schedule for yourself

Scheduling breakfast, lunch and dinner is the first step. Scheduling meals is
highly effective in regulating portions, calories, cravings and hunger. Eating on a
schedule may feel like an unnecessary chore when the time crunch is virtually
non-existent with “shelter in place”…but, in our “normal lives” most of us rely and
thrive on schedules because they keep us on track with our tasks and goals.
Schedules offer structure and order, and they allow us to control what we can
control, which helps reduce anxiety, regulate behavior, build confidence, and
solidify habits.
When we aren’t eating on a schedule, and go too long without eating, we get
hangry and eat too much too quickly. I can absolutely speak to this…when my
hunger is a 5 out of 5, my eyes become bigger than my stomach and I
overeat….who is with me here?
Eating on a schedule can help regulate blood sugar levels. When blood sugars
are stabilized, we experience fewer craving, and we are less vulnerable to stress
eating… blood sugar stabilization is further enhanced when high fiber, whole
healthy foods are chosen over highly refined and processed foods.


Scheduling your day. Include work, chores, meals, meditation, exercise, bedtime,
etc. When you fill in your schedule, make sure to include prepping and packing
meals and snacks until it becomes your new normal. Get specific with the time of
day this will take place. This way it’s much more likely to happen.

Establish “No Food Zones” in your home

Avoid eating at your workstation. This will help you avoid unplanned grazing and
overeating. When we graze mindlessly throughout the day, we aren’t paying
attention to the quantity of food we are consuming, our level of hunger or
fullness, which can lead to overeating.
Eating while working doesn’t mix! When your mind is focused on work, you aren’t
paying attention to what your belly is saying. An action as simple as stepping
away from your work area, and eating at the table can help you take back
Another highly effective tip is to adopt a “no screen time while eating” rule.
Uncoupling these two activities can help mitigate the mindless munchies
(remember Pavlov’s dog from psychology class?) This shift will create
neuroplasticity and create new pathways in the brain so that you can say
goodbye to unhealthy snacking habits. It will help make it so that every time you
watch TV, you’re not triggered to eat. If this is too big a challenge, and you just
can’t give up your snack while binging watching your favorite television show, be
mindful about the snack portion. Take control and measure it out into snack-like
portions (120-ish calories).

Practice the 90/10 rule

Do I ever get to splurge, or do I always need to be eating perfectly?
Make 90% of your food choices healthy, and 10% can be spent on less healthy
options. When you eat that 10%, plan for it, enjoy it, and don’t feel guilty about it.
Be thoughtful of how you’re going to spend that 10%…you deserve it!
If you struggle with portions, try eating on salad plates instead of dinner
plates…this will basically create an optical illusion that tells the brain you are
getting more food, which leads to increased feeling of satisfaction.


Managing time and planning ahead for success

A great quote to consider….“have a plan or plan to fail”. You may have the best of
intentions of cooking yourself a healthy dinner, but if you wait until you are
starving, it’s almost inevitable that you will cave, and choose the quick, easy, and
less healthy option. If you are already clear on what foods you need to include to
achieve your health goals, create your grocery list, plan and schedule your
grocery shopping and meal prep. If you’re unsure about healthy food decisions…I
can definitely help with that. When creating your grocery list, get specific with the
amount of food you need to purchase. If you are new to meal prep and batch
cooking, there is definitely a learning curve here. You will figure it out with
When scheduling your shopping and meal prep, I suggest including a start and
end time in your day planner. Do not overbook yourself on any given day. Make
sure you schedule in a little “cushion time” between tasks as most underestimate
the amount of time it takes to get our chores done, and overestimate the number
of tasks we can complete.
Do not grocery shop when hungry, and do not buy foods that don’t support your
health goals….if it isn’t there, you can’t eat it.

Check in with your hunger

Is your belly telling you that it’s hungry or that it’s just bored?
Rate your hunger from 1 (not hungry) – 5 (starving). A rating of 1 or 2 indicates you
are probably just bored or stressed. If that is the case, replace the snack with an
activity…going for a walk, reading a book, talking to a friend, folding your laundry,
or fix yourself a cup of hot tea. The key is recognizing the cue to eat, pausing,
thinking and deciding if that feeling is true hunger or not (easier said than done, I
know! This trick takes practice).

KISS (Keep it simple stupid)

Did you know that the fewer food related decisions you have to make throughout
the day will increase the amount of willpower you have?
I encourage my clients to automate many of their food related decisions. Choose
5 simple and healthy recipes you love…cook them, enjoy them, and repeat.
If cooking feels like a chore, simplify the process. There is no need to create more
stress for yourself by planning and preparing elaborate meals during your busy
work/school week…even if you are working and schooling from home. If creating
in the kitchen elicits a creative dopamine high…then don’t let me stop you. But,
most of us can benefit from adopting a “eat to live” mentality during the work
week when. Hopefully, mindset shift will take the pressure off of having to create
culinary masterpieces while you are scrambling to work, homeschool, clean, etc.
Also, if you are Lukewarm about leftovers…learn to love them. They not only
provide you with healthy meal options, they also save time in preparation and

Eat your veggies

Do you eat 4-5 servings of veggies a day?
Include non starchy vegetables with every lunch and dinner, and breakfast if you
can. Eat them raw, cooked or blended. If you dislike vegetables…change your
mindset and eat them anyway! Try changing up the cooking method and
experimenting with different seasonings and sauces. Try to consume at least 4
cups a day. Pre washing and chopping is a must! Do not hide your vegetables in
the lower veggie drawers of your fridge. Instead store them front and center in
glass containers. This will increase the chances of you eating them.

Homework for fast eaters and over eaters:

When mealtime rolls around, plate and eat your vegetable or salad serving first.
This will fill your belly with high fiber, low calorie foods so that you are able to
better control portions of higher calorie foods with dinner. It will also force you to
slow down the pace of your meal so that your belly and mind communicate the
fact that you’re full, resulting in consuming fewer calories.


Are you sleeping like a baby or barely sleeping?
There is no doubt your sleep has been affected during this pandemic because of
the increased levels of stress and/or staying up later than normal due to
changes in your work schedule. Eight hours of sleep per night is the gold
standard, and anything less than this can cause hormonal shifts that lead to
increased hunger, cravings, weight gain, decreased mental clarity, and increased
anxiety/depression. Do not skimp on your beauty sleep! Harness the benefits of
bedtime rituals to keep you on track with your health goals…especially when
emotions and stress levels are heightened during the Corona pandemic.

Homework for better sleep:

First, establish a bedtime, and make a commitment to yourself to be in bed 8
hours before you need to get up in the morning. If you struggle with falling
asleep, I highly recommend avoiding screen time 2 hours before your established
bedtime, taking a hot shower or bath, drinking sleepytime herbal tea, reading a
book or meditating before bed. Your new bedtime routine will train your body to
know when it needs slow down, and prepare for a restful night’s sleep.


Who’s struggling to get consistency with workouts?
Exercise will help improve sleep, manage stress, and of course, burn calories.
Dust off the old exercise equipment, and put it to use. If you struggle with getting
motivated to exercise, couple it with something you love…your favorite TV show,
music or podcast, or a book on tape.
If you are looking for exercise ideas, ask Google for help…there are a ton of HIIT
workouts, resistance training circuits, spin, yoga, and Pilates classes available
online, for free…so take advantage of it!
If you are still struggling to get motivated with your fitness, try scheduling a
virtual workout date with a friend. The accountability will help keep you on track
with your fitness goals.

Manage stress

If you say the Corona pandemic hasn’t caused you stress, you are either lying or
living under a rock (OR have incredibly skilled healthy lifestyle techniques
scheduled into your day). Most of us are feeling the stress of this pandemic, and
here’s the rub…chronic stress leads to increased levels of cortisol and ghrelin,
which are the irritating hormones that sabotage all of our good hard work by
stimulating hunger, cravings and weight gain. We can only control what we can
control, right? So how do we stop the stress of the uncontrollable from hijacking
our thoughts and behaviors?


Try guided relaxation, meditation, deep breathing techniques, gratitude
practices, and time management. Take advantage of online resources and apps,
like “Covid Coach”, “Headspace”, “Insight Timer” and “Calm” to help calm the toxic
thoughts and feelings. Make sure to schedule these stress management
activities, and show up for yourself! Take note of how you feel after participating
in these exercises. Recognizing the positive outcomes these activities have on
your psyche will help solidly these practices into healthy habits.
Maintaining healthy lifestyle practices can be challenging when we are bored,
stressed, anxious, lonely, and frustrated …and even more difficult when we haven’t
created a schedule for ourselves. I hope you found this information helpful, and
motivates you to use some of these tips and tricks. Prioritizing healthy eating,
exercise, stress management, and sleep practices during“shelter in place” can
provide you with an opportunity to take back control, and establish habits that
can benefit you the rest of your life. If you have any questions on how to set
yourself up for healthy lifestyle practices, I would love to chat and help.
In health,
Lisa Dawes, MS, RDN, CDE

January 1, 2017

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