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How To Eat Healthy During Quarantine Without Restricting Yourself

The era of COVID-19 has brought along many struggles that many of us were previously unfamiliar with. Watching the news, going without seeing loved ones, and working from home have placed new and difficult stressors on everyone. This increase in stress has led to something that many of us are all too familiar with: stress eating. We often hear this term tossed around without actually understanding how stress eating manifests itself. When one is in a state of stress for a prolonged period, the adrenal glands begin to flood one’s body with all sorts of different hormones. One such hormone, cortisol, is to blame for the manifestation of stress eating. Cortisol essentially increases our appetite by increasing our motivation.1 We are at the point in quarantine where we are starting to see the results of our stress eating. Many people have the instinct that they need to restrict their diets to become healthier. Studies show that restricting your diet only increases your stress levels, which in turn increases your stress eating habits.2 If we can’t simply restrict the foods that we eat, how are we supposed to maintain a healthy diet during quarantine? Luckily, there are several ways to improve your diet, without restricting yourself.

Don’t Deprive Yourself of Snacking, Find Healthier Options Instead

In the weeks leading up to finals, I often find myself falling victim to mindless snacking. The extra stress makes me crave all types of food. I have always had a weakness for sugar. During my most stressful times, I seek comfort in some sort of sweet snack. We all have our weaknesses when it comes to food cravings. Whether your weakness is sugar or something else entirely, we all know the struggle. So how do we satisfy these cravings without grossly overloading on unhealthy foods? The solution is finding snacks that are healthier for you, yet satisfy those unhealthy cravings for things such as sugar and salt. 

    Craving sugar is often linked to our lifestyles. I am not writing this article to suggest how to stop these cravings at the source, but rather how to keep them in check. I fight my sugar cravings by finding foods that are rich in natural sugars as opposed to added sugars. Mainly, these food items consist of different types of fruits. One of my favorites is bananas. They are probably the cheapest fruit you can find, yet they pack that sweet taste that many of us crave. Another excellent substitute is strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries. If you aren’t a fan of plain fruit, you can add small amounts of chocolate, honey, or ice cream. Mixing your favorite cravings with more healthy food items allows you to both reduce the amount of added sugar you would normally consume and provides you with nutrients that you may not be getting enough of. 

    Cravings for salt are also all too real. If you find yourself craving those deliciously salty and crunchy potato chips, there are other ways to satisfy this craving. One of my personal favorite snacks are lightly salted almonds, peanuts, or cashews. These snacks fill you up extremely quickly and provide you healthy fats, fiber, and protein.3 If money is a concern when you are purchasing snacks, peanuts tend to be the cheapest nut available. For those whose diets don’t include nuts, try lightly salted popcorn. If you are not a fan of any of these alternatives, there are still ways to reduce your salt intake when you are indulging. Try to purchase low sodium alternatives to your favorite snacks. Low sodium chips often taste identical to their sodium-filled counterparts, and your body will thank you for the change.

Eating a Whole Bag of Chips in One Sitting? How to Stop Mindless Snacking

    Can I demolish an entire bag of Doritos in one sitting? Yes. Does my body thank me for it? Not at all. If you can also relate to laying in bed with the worst stomach ache, swearing that you’ll never eat that many Doritos in one sitting again, I have a solution to your pain! It’s a simple trick, but it works for me without fail. Avoid grabbing an entire bag of snacks when you go to study. Instead, fill a small bowl with your guilty pleasure snack. A bowl will be more than enough to fill you up and satisfy your craving. When you finish the bowl, your brain takes a moment to realize that you are full. If you have access to the entire bag, you won’t realize that you are full until that entire bag is gone. Another reason that this trick works for me is that I am often too lazy to get up and refill my bowl of snacks. Walking all the way to the kitchen is just too far sometimes.

Time an Issue? There are Healthy ‘Fast Foods’

    With our packed online course schedules, finding time to eat lunch can be nearly impossible. Something about eating a salad, sandwich, or anything similar on Zoom just feels wrong. In our free time during the day, we are often rushing to get assignments done, not focusing on making ourselves a healthy lunch. Unfortunately, the foods that are the fastest to prepare are often not too healthy. Looking at you, pizza rolls. So how can we find time to make a nutritious meal with our busy schedules? The answer is meal prepping, but not in the traditional sense. Hearing the term ‘meal prepping’ probably makes you think of spending an entire day on the weekend placing portions into Tupperware  for your lunches throughout the coming week. If this works for you, great! I personally find this method of meal prepping to be overwhelming, and frankly, I don’t have the time for it. So how exactly do I meal prep? I typically have more time in the evenings and like to make a delicious and healthy dinner. If I’m already cooking during this time, why not meal prep too? I always make large portions of dinner to ensure that I will have several portions of leftovers. This typically will only add about ten minutes to  my time spent cooking, which is attributed to the prep of vegetables and protein. Due to this, I always have a healthy meal available for me to eat for lunch the next day. All it takes is 60 seconds in the microwave and I have a quality meal all ready for me.

Find Yourself with Extra Time? Get Passionate About Nutritious Cooking

On the other side of the spectrum, some of you may find yourself with extra time on your hands. The time that you used to spend out with friends socializing is now spent lounging around the house and flipping through Netflix. If you’re finding yourself suffering from boredom, you have the perfect opportunity to get passionate about cooking. If you used to be one of those people who never learned to cook because you didn’t have the time, this is the perfect opportunity! Being passionate about cooking makes it so much easier to eat healthily . If you can foster a love for cooking, eating healthy becomes astronomically easier. You know exactly what is going into your meals and can adjust it to your needs. I find that cooking can be a huge stress reliever, meaning that your incessant cravings may be reduced as well.

Most Importantly, Don't Deprive Yourself!

We are all at difficult points in our lives right now. Don’t jeopardize your mental and emotional health simply because you are worried about gaining weight. If you have had a rough day and want that bowl of ice cream, do it! Everyone is struggling with overindulging right now and you are not alone. If you decide that you do want to make a change in your diet, just make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons.

I am currently a second year biology major with a concentration in pre-medical studies at the University of Maine. I am extremely passionate about women's health, as a plan to become an OB/GYN. In my free time I love to cook, paint, watch movies, and read.
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