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If you have ever taken one of my courses, or you have been following me for some time, you have heard me speak of Gretchen Rubin’s work on habits.
She is an author and researcher who has written multiple books on habits, including The Four Tendencies and Better Than Before. Two other authors who have written books on the topic of habits that I have enjoyed include Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit and James Clear, author of Atomic Habits.
Although all the authors speak about habits in a slightly different way, their messages are all the same. Our life is exactly what it is because of the habits we routinely follow every day.
As this is being written (April 2020, during the COVID pandemic), I think we can all agree that our version of “everyday” has changed drastically over the last few weeks. Many of us are facing a new reality and we don’t really know for how long this new reality is going to last. It’s no surprise our old ways and routines have been kicked to the curb! To top if off, the question many of us are asking ourself is ‘will things ever go back to the way they once were?’
I bring this up because I am seeing all sorts of memes like this one on social media…
Cute cat, but you guys...NO! Seriously, a lot of damage can be done in 30+ days of a shelter in place if you don’t have a plan. I know this time is temporary, but it can either help our health, or hurt our health, and the choice is ours! I know many people don’t have as much control over the foods that are in their houses as they would like (either someone else is buying food for us, or what they want isn’t readily available to them at the store), and add in that gyms are closed around the world, but a plan for this time is necessary to come out of this healthy and well!
So instead of just letting yourself go completely for 30+ days (which is a strategy you can use, but I don’t recommend), let’s look at how we can approach our new temporary situation, specifically around food, that can help us be better than before.
In Gretchen's work, she speaks of ideal times in life to make habit changes. Just take this quote from her book Better Than Before:
‘Any beginning presents an important opportunity for habit formation, because a beginning allows two powerful elements to combine: novelty and habit. The novelty of a new start wipes out our previous habits, and that absence allows new habits to crowd in.’
What she is telling us is that we are in an ideal time for habit changes now. A few weeks ago, many of us experienced a change in what was our normal day-to-day living. For some of us it felt like a complete transformation, and for others, a small inconvenience. If you felt that, you were presented with an opportunity to create new habits.
In a few weeks when life starts to return to ‘normal’ (whatever that will look like) we will have yet another opportunity to create new habits. Are you ready?
It’s moments like these that Gretchen calls the power of a ‘Clean Slate.’ If you have ever set a New Years resolution, then you have used the strategy of a ‘clean slate.’ If you have ever started a new job or moved into a new house, you have experienced a ‘clean slate.’ If you have ever ended or started a new relationship with someone important, you have experienced a ‘clean slate.’ These are opportunities for a fresh start. These opportunities for a clean slate can come as a surprise. But today, we can take advantage of the fact that we know that this COVID-19 situation is temporary and things will return to a new normal soon. So we have two chances to set ourselves up for success. Now, and again in a few weeks.
Let’s talk about how both can look from a nutrition perspective.
First, before we discuss the here and now, I encourage you to reflect on what your life was life before COVID-19. Ask yourself these questions:
-Did you love your life? Are you excited to go back to it exactly as it was before?
-Were you happy with your routines around your diet? Did you prepare healthy meals at home? Did you eat because you were actually hungry, not because you were bored or sad? Was the majority of the food you put into your body nutrient dense whole food?
-Were you happy with your routines around your movement? Did you exercise enough each day, but not too much? Did you have a great routine around stretching and mobility? Did you have enough recovery time in your schedule?
The answers to these questions can help you decide how to tackle the “right now”, and what to do once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
For most people, my recommendation during the pandemic is to minimize damages. So many people have temporarily lost their gym, have had a minor or major change to their work environment, have been given extra responsibilities of things like homeschooling or caring for a loved one, and from a dietary perspective, are having a hard time eating the same way they did before. I’m not talking about from an emotional perspective, but from an actual physical perspective. If you are truly minimizing your time going into public, that means access to fresh fruits and vegetables will be limited, unless you are growing them yourself. That’s why I am recommending to my clients to let go of ideals and go with the flow! That doesn’t mean we can or should be eating whatever we want whenever we want it, but to be more relaxed on whatever diet you might have been following before all of this started. To help manage the current situation and set yourself up for a smooth re-entry post COVID, here are my tips:
That’s right, actually write out your menu for the week. I know you might be home and can make a last second call about what sounds good for lunch, but generally speaking, those last second choices aren’t always the best choices. My recommendation is to pick a day to plan (most of my clients find Sunday is a great day for this), and start off by eating a good balanced meal. With a full belly, sit down with your calendar and plan out your meals for the rest of the week. If you have a great recipe book, or some boards on Pinterest saved, reference those for inspiration. Keep in mind that fresh vegetables will be limited as the end of the week approaches. So plan for your fresh salads and vegetable dishes to be earlier in the week, and save the dishes that are made up of heartier vegetables for later in the week. If you have access to frozen vegetables, plan for these later in the week too!
I know you might be home, but cooking a meal for yourself 3x per day is exhausting and really time consuming! If you absolutely love to be in the kitchen, and you have a lot of time on your hands, this might be a viable option. But if not, I highly recommend you food prep 1-2 days per week so you have grab-and-go meals in the fridge. Reheating when it’s time is simple and fast. And decision making, gone! You made the choice on your food prep day, so save that brain space for something else today!
WHEN PLANNING AND SHOPPING FOR INGREDIENTS, LOOK FOR NUTRIENT DENSE INGREDIENTS THAT LAST A LONG TIME IN THE PANTRY AND FRIDGE
If you are like me, you prefer FRESH! I generally avoid canned fruits and vegetables, and even choose fresh over frozen most of the time. But we are in a unique time that calls for some flexibility! If you are following general recommendations to minimize public exposure, you are hopefully making 1 (or less) trips to the grocery store each week. That means you need to pick foods that are going to last! Look for recipes that include foods like:
-onions and garlic
-dried legumes (homemade hummus anyone?)
-frozen fruits and vegetables such as peas, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower (look for it riced!), organic corn and berries.
If you don’t know how to use any of these items, turn to the almighty Google! I typically use Pinterest and use the search terms “Paleo _______ recipe.” For example, if I want to use my acorn squash, I will search for “paleo acorn squash recipe.” In fact, I just did this search for you and found this caramelized onion, apple, and sausage stuffed acorn squash recipe...YES PLEASE! These search terms will eliminate most recipes with dairy and gluten (two foods my body doesn’t love) and has generally given me great results. If Pinterest isn’t your thing, you can use the same approach in a Google search!
Eventually, things will progress into our new normal. I doubt it will look exactly like our old normal before COVID-19, but no matter how it looks, we have this golden opportunity to establish NEW habits! Do you want to be someone who meditates daily? You can do that. Do you want to be someone who arrives at the gym 15 minutes early so you can do some extra mobility? That can be you! Do you want to be the person whose coworkers are jealous about their lunches? Go for it!
Here lies the problem. We humans are creatures of habit. If we are not ready, and have not made plans to create NEW habits, we will easily fall into old habits as soon as things go back to ‘normal.’ If you want that, great. If you reflect on your answers to the questions I asked earlier and you are excited to make some changes, then you must plan for them now. In Better Than Before, Gretchen encourages her readers to start how they want to continue. When your shelter in place is up and you can return back to your new normal, you have to be disciplined enough from the very start to act the way you want to act for the future. In other words, if you want to be the person who packs a lunch for work each day, you have to start planning to either make dinners large enough to have leftovers, or pack your lunch the night before. Don’t get caught up in the business of getting back to work and think you can start this a few weeks into your new routine. Your work is going to be as busy in 3 months as is it when you return. Start your new habit from the very beginning! This won’t be easy. You will have to be disciplined. But with some pre-planning, it’s completely possible.
There are so many possibilities to new habits you can create when the shelter in place is lifted. What are you most excited about?
If you want to get back on track with meal planning and food prep NOW, download this FREE meal planning guide. This guide will help you plan out an entire week's worth of meals, a shopping list by the different grocery departments, and even includes a list of foods that last for weeks in the fridge and pantry!
And stay tuned for more tips on creating healthy habits during and after COVID in the coming weeks!
Tiana Rockwell is a certified nutritional therapist, avid endurance athlete and dark chocolate lover. She believes that by eating REAL food, we can balance our body and reach optimal health and wellness!