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5 Tips to Building Healthy Habits in Stressful Times

It's been quite the year and many of us have been forced to go into hibernation. With stressful times comes the need for survival strategies. We all have personal tool boxes that help us cope with difficult times. Some of these tools are healthy and others... are not. For example, stress eating. Don't worry, you're not alone! Everyone feels this way sometimes. Don't feel guilty or ashamed of having moments that are not productive towards your health goals. It's okay, but don't let it stop you from moving closer to your goals. Every moment is a new beginning and a new chance.

I have lots of strategies to get through stress. I thought I'd share a few easy, actionable tips for you to try out.

1. Food First - Most of my clients tend to go to one end of the spectrum - eating more or eating less during stressful situations. Either of these can create an issue if it persists over a longer period of time. Usually, we overeat foods that contain high sodium/sugar or ultra-processed foods that offer less of our essential nutrition requirements (micronutrients - vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids). These also tend to be higher in calories. We're all aware of the good ol' Canada's Food Guide, but it's not something we have on our minds all day. You could write a sticky note and place it on your fridge or set a daily reminder to pop up your phone to remind you of healthy eating habits, even when our minds are busy with other stresses.

Nutrition Bite #1: If you feel like you're getting off-course with your healthy eating, try setting one of these goals:

  • Make one home-cooked meal from scratch that day (or aim for a certain number a week).

  • Eat one bowl of berries paired with plain yogurt (use maple syrup to add flavour if you want a bit of extra sweetness).

  • Eat cucumber slices (or pepper slices, carrot sticks, etc) with each snack or meal.

2. Say Goodbye to Grazing - Most people can get distracted and be off their regular schedule in times of distress. This includes mealtime and menu plans. Sometimes we need an easy, accessible distraction which usually equates to diving into a cupboard for a quick snack. Whether it be a handful of chips, chocolate, or candy... these snacks are satisfying in the moment, but don't help keep our bodies resilient to the current stress. These foods just don't contain enough vitamins and minerals to fuel our bodies.

Nutrition Bite #2: If you're bored, you can use certain healthier options to distract or refocus (I teach these more in-depth in Craving Change Workshops):

  • Drink water first, and wait to see if you're still hungry. We often confuse thirst and hunger.

  • Keep fresh fruit out on the kitchen counter or near the place you get stressed (office desk, front door). Showcase healthier options so you don't even get to the cupboard!

  • Reduce the purchase of less nutrient-dense foods. If it's not in the house, it's way less likely for you to go out to find it.

3. Dance in the Kitchen - Cooking can be boring if you're in a rut, and who wants to "slave over a stove" when you're stressed? Motivating yourself to make a healthier choice when you're feeling frazzled is very difficult - so change your tune! if the soundtrack in your head is bugging you, change the station. Add music that you love or energizes you into a better mood, and pair it with a task that you need motivation for. How many of you need music in the car on a long drive or at the gym or on a walk? I know I do! Start cooking and make it a fun event with dancing while you move from stove to fridge to sink.

Nutrition Bite #3: Making your home into a fun environment can be done in so many ways. Here are a few things you can do to bring out moments of happy while eating or cooking:

  • Put on your favourite radio station or ask google/Alexa for a playlist.

  • Ask a friend to cook with you and make it an event. Can't get together? Use Zoom!

  • Watch a Zumba or dance video on YouTube while cooking.

  • Set the table with your favourite dishes BEFORE you start cooking, so you can focus on the end goal and make it into a special occasion.

4. Get Going - Do you feel like making healthy choices is difficult at home? Get out and leave the distractions behind. Find another task to do that gives you some peace, rest and restoration. Bonus points if it's an exercise of some kind.

Nutrition Bite #4: Try these relaxing alternatives to staying home all day.

  • A walk in nature will help turn any day around. Live in a big city? Find a park, enjoy the sights of the metropolis, or discover a local museum or attraction.

  • Try getting out with a bottle of water (Bonus: Use 2 to have in each hand, or switch to use as a small weight as you walk). Hydration also helps to keep our brains and bodies in a healthy and resilient state.

  • Find a hobby that keeps your mind and hands busy - Learn to paint or do pottery, play piano or guitar, try gardening (Keep Reading!).

5. Get Growing - Having a healthy relationship with food is important, so start at the very beginning - growing food! Yes, gardening is a healthy exercise that also produces healthy options to eat. If you're new to gardening, start with a few plants that are easy to manage (stay tuned for a future blog post on beginner veggie gardens)!

Nutrition Bite #5: Starting a garden is easy, no matter where you live. You don't need a huge farmer's field to make your own food! Here are some easy tips to get you growing with more confidence today:

  • New at gardening? Start with a few small pots. You can easily grow and plant basil (use in pesto, pasta sauce, salads), cilantro (use in salsas and Mexican dishes) and chives (use as an alternative to onions and garlic, add to salads).

  • No backyard? Use a windowsill at home, work or your dorm - you really just need some sun. Have a patio? You can make container gardens including tomatoes, leaf lettuce, herbs, strawberries, carrots and more.

  • Community gardens are available to rent affordably in some cities if you prefer to have an escape and a larger plot. It's also a great way to meet others and get outside during the spring, summer and fall.

Stress is a natural part of our lives, but we need healthy strategies to get through the tough tunnels. Start with one thing to help shift your day and remind yourself often (phone, sticky notes, partner/friend, journal). Once it becomes a habit, try another idea until you have a running list of Stress Strategies that work for you. These will change as time goes on and as days pass. You weren’t who you were 5 years ago! Even if you tried one of the strategies I’ve mentioned and it didn’t work before, it might fit into your life today.

If you’ve tried any of these or have your own tips to share, leave a comment! I’d love to hear about how quarantine has treated you and made a difference in your relationship with nutrition.

If you are going through a stressful time, be sure to talk to medical professionals (Dr, counselor, etc.) and get support from friends, family and employers too.


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