We talk a lot about “healthy eating patterns” in nutrition these days. In fact, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes healthy dietary patterns for overall health and wellness, rather than getting overly focused on a single nutrient. The recommendations include the following:
A healthy eating pattern includes:
- A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
- Fruits, especially whole fruits
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
- A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
A healthy eating pattern limits:
- Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium
The Mediterranean diet is another example of a healthy eating pattern that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains; a moderate consumption of reduced fat natural dairy products; and, emphasizes increased consumption of oily fish, legumes, nuts, seeds and extra virgin olive oil. fish, lowfat dairy and olive oil. Numerous studies have demonstrated a beneficial effect on overall wellness and a recent study showing that even a modified intervention proved to be helpful in managing depression.
I’m a strong proponent of these recommendations. I’ve lived out these recommendations and taught my family the importance of eating patterns that include these principles.
But then there are…
Interruptions. They seem to happen a lot, right?? We may even take them for granted as just a part of daily life – and we just keep moving along.
But then there are those interruptions in life – whether good or bad – that throw us for a loop. Those major life changes that might be anything from a marriage, a baby, college, a new job, or job loss, divorce, or an unexpected move. Those are the ones that seem to knock us off our feet – if even for a brief time.
We all endure these life changes and interruptions. Sometimes they feel tolerable while others are downright catastrophic and seemingly impossible to navigate. I think of myself as a rather resilient person, so when major life change(s) happen, I stop and notice! For me, I’ve noticed it’s a crazy a roller-coaster of emotions along with overwhelming chaos that disrupts my well-established “routine” (and I like routine!).
Recently, I recognized that one of the “side-effects” of a life interruption was a change in my eating. Yes! You read that correct, even a dietitian and nutrition nerd can seemingly get thrown off track with eating. I’m by far NOT a perfect eater, but I do practice what I teach and typically follow my good-ole “healthy dietary pattern.” But all that seemed to fall by the wayside when life through me a major curve ball.
I’ll save you the specifics about what happened to my eating, but let’s just say I wasn’t craving fruit and veggies – unless it was red wine or some fried pickles (pickles are actually considered a vegetable – LOL!). Also distressing for me were moments when my motivation to cook was dismal – while having no one to cook for – and a lack of appetite due to my constant state of stress I was experiencing.
Eating Interrupted! I stopped and noticed that not only was my life interrupted – but how do I navigate my interrupted eating pattern? Following are some of my tips – that got me through a tough time. I’m just hopeful that if you are going through something that is interrupting your “healthy eating pattern” these tips may help you too!
5 Tips for Navigating Life – and Eating – Interrupted
1. Stick to your food and eating schedule. Stress can really mess up your appetite! For some, it may trigger more hunger/appetite and for others it may completely shut down your hunger signal. Try to eat something at regular intervals throughout the day – and don’t overthink it or fall for the idea that your food needs to be “Instagram worthy!” For me, I had some “go-to” meals that I knew were nutritious and also “sounded good” so even if I didn’t feel hungry, I knew if I needed to slow down enough to eat something at my regular meal times. A few examples include: oatmeal with peanut butter and honey, a glass of milk and a banana; a simple egg and cheese sandwich with berries; or a frozen entree and some carrots/sugar snap peas with hummus. Easy snacks are string cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, whole grain crackers, banana and berries (quick to wash and eat) – and also my favorite Ghirardelli dark chocolate with cinnamon tea is always a yummy treat.
2. Get to the grocery store or ask someone to do it for you. Simply put – if you want to eat good food, you need to keep good food in your house. For me, that meant I had to keep some of the snack-type foods (chips, cookies, and nuts) that I usually can eat in moderation out of the house for a time being. Why? Because those foods “sounded” a lot better than a meal, and I could easily rely on those foods – which is NOT helpful for managing stress. I chose to keep foods around that I enjoy – but also would satisfy my physical hunger.
3. Cut yourself some slack with food, eating and exercise! I said this before, but I can’t say it enough – your food and meals do not have to be “Instagram worthy” and it won’t kill you to have a burger and fries or your favorite take-out meal. My desire to cook went out the window with the stress and workload of dealing with our life interruption. But, it comes back! Remember, this is just an event or season in life – it’s not a way of life.
4. Get some professional help for the stress. If the emotional stress seems a bit over the top, try to meet with a therapist, psychologist, or counselor for talk therapy and some skills work to manage the stress. If possible, schedule a massage or some relaxing, personal time to re-group and manage the roller-coaster of emotions and physical stress on your body.
5. Be realistic with your goals with food, eating and weight. Dieting is never a good idea, but definitely not helpful during a major life change. Too often, restrictive diets and efforts at weight loss seem like a good idea as a way to “get control” when life feels out of control. Unfortunately, this is really a bad idea! Diets, restrictive eating, and intense exercise are just an added STRESS to the body. For me, I didn’t hesitate to take some time off from the gym and my workouts. I was already extremely active with the events we had going on and found my workouts made me more tired and fatigued – the exact opposite of what they were suppose to do. So, consider what’s most helpful for you. If your workout feels energizing and helpful for managing your stress and life change, then by all means, stick to your workout. But, if you can’t get in to the gym, or feel overwhelmed and fatigued, then give yourself permission to take a break!
Life Happens. But, it doesn’t need to be a life sentence for ill health. Be patient. Ask for help. And, your “normal” will return one day soon!