What is there to do while you’re stuck at home under quarantine? Binge-watch Netflix and eat, mostly. Ever since the pandemic struck the world, more people are staying in and ordering food for carryout or delivery. What many have found is that they have put on the so-called “Quarantine 15,” or unexpected weight gain that results from a combination of being faced with more time at home, a disruption of normal exercise routines, stress and anxiety and a desire for comfort foods during uncertain times.
When under stress, we turn to those comfort foods. High-fat ice cream eaten right from the carton. Fast-food specials. Greasy potato chips, thick hamburgers with everything, and just about anything that has been deep-fried.
“Comfort food does not have to be unhealthy food,” said Marc Miles, co-owner of Salsa Fresca Mexican Grill, a regional chain with ten locations throughout Connecticut and New York. “While many fast-casual restaurants often have artery-clogging, high-calorie menus full of cheap but unhealthy offerings, this does not always have to be the case. It’s natural that while staying at home you will want more carryout and delivery foods, including all of your favorite comfort foods to help you weather the storm. Now more than ever it’s important for consumers to look after their well-being and find healthier options that include always fresh, never-frozen entrees, low-calorie and low-sodium alternatives and delicious options made without trans fats or fillers.”
Cities and states are only now beginning to re-open, and only on a limited basis – and it is still an open question as to how effective that re-opening may be, and whether there might be a second wave of COVID-19 that may well push us all back into seclusion. As we adapt to this new normal, spend more time at home and observe new rules on social distancing and no contact, staying healthy is paramount. Of course, this means practicing things like wearing personal protective equipment and avoiding crowded gatherings, but it also means paying close attention to diet. “When your day-to-day routines are disrupted, your diet is also disrupted,” said Miles. “That may lead to unexpected weight gain and an over-reliance on unhealthy options. We’re proud to be part of the solution by offering healthy and satisfying menu items which resonate with your need for comfort food, while still offering some of the healthiest menu items available. We also have added several healthy menu items to our online menu, including several meals under 500 calories.”
Staying healthy during these unpredictable and distressing stay-at-home times can be achieved by following a few surprisingly simple dietary rules.
- Prioritize fresh ingredients. The World Health Organization, in its “Food and nutrition tips during self-quarantine” guidelines, recommends prioritizing fresh products. This is not always easy when we’re tempted to stock up on canned goods and non-perishables, but the WHO recommends that you “Use fresh ingredients and those that have a shorter shelf life first.” The organization also notes that frozen fruits and vegetables can be used over a longer period of time, and also have a similar nutrient profile to fresh foods.
- Take advantage of food delivery. The WHO document also recommends that you take advantage of the advanced delivery systems available, especially from restaurants that offer contact-less options. WHO guidance further states that, “Some solutions include ‘contact-less’ options, where no human interaction is required, thus supporting self-quarantine and isolation measures. These should be prioritized, particularly from reliable businesses following strict food hygiene requirements.”
- Keep your stress in check. Stress often leads to over-eating, and there is no disputing that we are living in a stressful time. Simple self-care strategies include staying social, even if it’s with videochats, maintaining your exercise routine, even if it’s something as simple as taking a walk (while practicing social distancing, of course), and acknowledging your need to be comforted. When suffering from stress and anxiety, it’s common to turn to comfort foods – just make sure those comfort foods are available in fresh, healthy and low-calorie options. That huge triple burger with everything may give you some comfort, but it will also give you more pounds around the middle. “Great comfort foods are widely available for delivery,” said Miles. “For example, we have an Aztec Garden Bowl, with roasted vegetables, brown rice, beans, cheese, avocado, cilantro and corn salsa. Comfort food, to be sure – but a healthy option for avoiding that Quarantine 15.”
- Watch portion sizes. American restaurants tend to serve up unnecessarily large portion sizes, but you don’t have to eat everything all at once! Leave the “clean plate club” mentality behind and don’t be afraid to put the leftovers in the freezer and save some for the next day. Splitting that large takeout meal into two smaller meals will help you keep track of your calories, while giving you a chance to enjoy your favorite takeout menu the next day.
- Cut back on processed foods. As recommended by the World Health Organization, fresh fruits and vegetables remain more important than ever during quarantine, but part of quarantine is also trying to keep grocery shopping to a minimum, and that may also mean stocking up on mixes and canned foods. Balance those canned items with a good selection of fresh foods whenever possible, watch the ingredients and don’t forget about nuts and seeds – which are easy to store, and an excellent way to add a healthy ingredient to your daily diet.
Quarantine diet doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite foods, and by keeping your refrigerator stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, and looking for healthy and fresh carryout and delivery options, you can avoid the “Quarantine 15” and stay healthy and fit no matter how long the pandemic may last.
Dan Blacharski is editor-in-chief of TheVivant.com.