Sustained Wellness during the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Sarah Faigle, R.D.

The COVID- 19 pandemic has changed daily life for millions of people all over the world. Starting in March, many states in the U.S. have been under stay-at-home orders. The pandemic and the increased time at home have noticeably changed the way most people eat. In addition to changing our schedules and habits, the pandemic has left many people operating on different budgets and has decreased access to many food retailers. So, how can people with and without an eating disorder maintain a positive relationship with food during the COVID-19 pandemic? Below are several suggestions:

  • Try implementing a schedule. Working from home or not working at all can lead to a lack of structure. Add to that partners and/or children being at home, and home life may feel like complete chaos. Even though you may not have anywhere to actually “be,” try writing out a daily schedule. Map out chunks of time, punctuated by meals and snacks. Adhering to a schedule can provide a sense of order when our usual time cues no longer exist. A schedule will also pinpoint specific times to eat, helping you to stick to a regular eating pattern. In addition, schedule time for hobbies, relaxation, and other enjoyable activities to manage the inevitable stress and uncertainty experienced by many of us right now (see suggestions #3).
  • Be flexible. Although it is helpful to build in structure by creating and trying to follow a schedule, with the changes in daily life come many sacrifices. While you may know the loss of your favorite coffee shop is not a huge sacrifice, the loss of a favorite food item or experience is a very real loss. Some individuals may be limited by which grocery stores and eateries they have access to, feel comfortable patronizing, or can afford. Some of us are relying on others to do shopping for us and miss the ability to select the items we want. The food limitations placed on us by the pandemic may feel uncomfortable and may be an opportunity to practice flexibility. This could be the time to come up with new recipes. Or it may be a time to save money by stocking up on rice, beans, canned and frozen produce when items are on sale. Although new routines with food can be challenging, they are also great opportunities for creativity and growth.
  • Having a food plan during this time is an important way to maintain wellness, but finding non-food related ways to cope with stress or triggers is equally important. With the pandemic many have lost direct access to preferred sources of leisure such as libraries, gyms, places of worship, and social gatherings. This may be the perfect time to consider new forms of relaxation such as: internet-based yoga, Tai chi, or meditation, gardening (see Rachel Schultz’s blog about benefits she’s experienced with gardening), puzzles, board games, coloring, knitting, scrapbooking, composting, painting, playing music, or simply watching a new show.
  • Reach out to others—OR DON’T.  The new reality of spending more time at home can provide opportunities for family meals and cooking at home, but being at home day after day can be isolating whether you’re a household of one or ten. Interacting only with your immediate household may not provide the social support needed in a time like this. Conversely, for the introverts out there, everyone staying at home may feel overwhelming. It is important for each of us to reflect on our own needs—is it a socially distanced outdoor walk with a friend? An hour in the woods alone? Or an hour in the car alone?

An important part of maintaining health and wellness during this time is regularly taking inventory of one’s needs and behaviors. You may find that you started out strong in March but now are struggling to keep things positive for the long haul. If you notice you need outside help call a friend for meal support or seek out telemedicine with a therapist (Treatment during Physical Distancing). Most importantly, we must remain patient with and kind to ourselves and others as we navigate the unpredictability and limitations placed on us by the pandemic.