Maintaining Good Nutritional Habits During Stressful Times

In the first episode of the Modern Career podcast, we focused on 10 important factors that are essential to building our resilience as we are actively engaged in our work lives and especially when times are challenging.

David Giannini is a personal trainer and nutrition coach based in Los Angeles, and joined us on Episode 1 to discuss physical resiliency. In the post below, David shares additional information and strategies for maintaining our nutritional goals through especially stressful times.

Good Nutrition

While I think all ten factors of resilience matter, I think one of the most challenging aspects of working from home is keeping up with good nutritional habits.

I have a client who reached out to me at the beginning of quarantine, worried about how much more she was eating now that she was home alone all day. She had never worked from home before and was used to spending 8-10 hours of her day away from her home, eating a few moderately portioned meals and a healthy snack in her office to get her through the day.

She, like so many other people working from home right now, was afraid that all her progress in the gym and time she had spent adjusting her eating habits would go completely out the window. Both the amount and quality of what she’s eating has changed now that she’s spending more time at home, working in close proximity to her kitchen. She now has full access to all the food in her pantry even during “office hours” and often finds herself idly snacking throughout the day.

Whether it’s anxiety or boredom, our emotional state is closely connected to our eating habits. Eating food releases endorphins, allowing the body to feel temporary sensations of pleasure or relief. However, when we engage in emotional eating, we are often left feeling guilty or dissatisfied, leaving us susceptible to additional cravings and binge eating. Unfortunately, this can become a vicious cycle.

Checking-In With Yourself

Scrambling for solutions, my client asked if she needed to throw out all of her excess food, keeping only the essentials for cooking meals for a few days. Of course not! Much like the initial sessions we had together, I encouraged her to keep an incredibly detailed food journal, documenting times, portions and the nutritional value of the food she was eating. During this time especially, I asked that she pay close attention to the events and feelings she experiences leading up to, during and after her snack cravings.

When we can identify the triggers that prompt us to take any action, we are able to recognize similar situations or emotions and come up with strategies to accept or change the actions that arise from them. One example of a trigger that stuck out to my client was a recent virtual meeting she had with her boss. During this meeting, they talked about not knowing when they may be able to return to the office, which ultimately caused her to stress-eat. 

Redirect For Increased Resilience

In light of this tremendous amount of uncertainty, I encouraged my client to be kind to herself. We’re all susceptible to slipping away from our good habits, particularly in times of stress. I reminded her that while an awareness of these behaviors is key to making any changes, her willingness to do something about it is what puts her at an advantage.

After she was able to identify the root causes of her emotional eating, I encouraged her to come up with a list of alternative actions she might take instead of immediately reaching for a snack. These can be really simple options like:

  1. Stretching for 5-10 mins
  2. Drinking a glass of water
  3. Reading a book for 5-10 mins
  4. Taking a walk outside
  5. Checking in with a friend via text or phone call

The key to an alternative action is choosing something that breaks up the sensation of the craving and actually eating. Often what people like my client will find is that this separation can help alleviate the sensation of hunger while simultaneously using your time productively. When we choose behaviors that contribute to our overall health, they not only deter us from the behaviors we’re trying to avoid but push us closer to achieving our original goals.

It’s helpful to have your list of substitute habits written down and readily visible in the places that cravings are most likely to strike. That way, every time you find yourself wandering over to the pantry, you’re faced with a physical list of healthy alternatives before reaching for that bag of potato chips. And while it may take a little more time on your part, it’s worth tracking the number of times and how effective you find your alternatives to be. 

Initially, we might find that we are struck by cravings three times in a day. Of those three times we engaged in one or two of the healthier alternatives and didn’t snack at all, but on the third time we cave and go ahead and snack anyway or decide we can indulge at dinner because we were pretty good the rest of the day. That’s okay! Changing our eating habits takes time and practice. Keeping a written log allows us to celebrate our victories, no matter how small they may seem, and make any adjustments to set ourselves up for success in the future.   

More Resilient

Just like my client, we’re all adapting to the unforeseen circumstances of our current pandemic. While it may seem easier to put all the healthy habits we work so hard to develop on hold, we have the option to invest in productive behaviors that leave us feeling stronger, not only through the end of our period of isolation, but once we return to whatever lies ahead. 

While we may feel as though we aren’t as productive or healthy during this time as we normally are, it’s important to take a step back and recognize that these truly are unprecedented times. Continuing to adapt and develop new strategies to keep up with our goals through whatever challenges our lives or careers throw our way is the absolute best thing we can do and is key to building and maintaining our resilience.

David Giannini
David Giannini

David is a personal fitness and nutrition coach and trainer at Equinox in LA. He is certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine with specializations in Corrective Exercise and Nutrition. He has a background in teaching martial arts and yoga which he uses to promote functional movement and sustained strength. David has a BFA from DePaul University.

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