Make Healthy Choices During the COVID-19 Crisis

Make Healthy Choices During the COVID-19 Crisis

April 22, 2020

Finding Opportunities to Make Healthy Choices During the COVID-19 Crisis

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is probably the greatest crisis of our lifetime. Hopefully, you and your loved ones are safe, well and can avoid harm. During this crisis, it can be especially challenging to make healthy choices. There is a great deal of anxiety and despair swirling all around every day and it can be tempting to stay glued to the television and internet. This would be a mistake.

If you’re trying to lose weight, keep weight off, or just maintain healthy eating habits, this crisis presents a number of challenges. For bariatric nutrition, the challenges can be even more difficult. However, there are also many opportunities if you look for them. First the challenges:

Healthy Choices: Challenges

  • Many of us are now working from home or are out of work but also at home. Being in your home around the clock presents a bunch of food and eating challenges.
  • Being home means that the refrigerator and the kitchen are only a few feet away.
  • Your daily routine and schedule may be quite different. Without a regular schedule, unplanned eating, and more frequent trips to the kitchen can occur.
  • Without your daily commute to work and being unable to go to the gym or even run around town doing your usual errands, you may be turning into a bit of a couch potato.
  • If you’re not used to working from home, you might be finding it harder to concentrate on work, and maybe wandering around the house and into the kitchen.
  • The crisis is taking an emotional toll on all of us. For those prone to emotional eating, this is a very challenging time.

The challenges are quite clear. What about the opportunities in the midst of this crisis?

Healthy Choices: Opportunities

  • Prior to COVID-19, many people were so busy with their jobs and their daily lives that they did not take the time to make healthier food choices. Others worked so late they ate dinner at 10 pm and were asleep less than an hour later. Now, it’s a little harder to order take-out. Now, you’re not commuting to work and the kids are not participating in after school activities. You may finally have more time to shop, cook, and eat at a more reasonable hour.
  • Most restaurants are closed so you either need to purchase food at the supermarket or have the supermarket deliver food to you. While the “not-so-healthy” stuff is still there, healthier options are available and you can try to make better choices. Now is a perfect time.
  • While you’re in the supermarket or looking at food delivery websites (like Peapod, Amazon Fresh, Instacart, etc.), this could be a great time to experiment with new foods. Some of your old favorites may be out of stock, so now is the perfect time to explore different and potentially healthier alternatives to your old favorites.
  • Become your new chef! If you do have more free time during this crisis, you can crack open some of those cookbooks that are gathering dust on your bookshelf. Alternatively, you can look online for some new and simple recipes to try. There are 1000’s to choose from.
  • You may have more time to exercise. Many gyms are closed but you can still go out for a walk or a bike ride. You may also consider maintaining social relationships by taking a walk with a friend or two while practicing safe social distancing.
  • This crisis presents an opportunity to change your emotional relationship with food. You can use this time to learn and practice alternatives to emotional eating. You’ve probably always known that food doesn’t adequately manage anxiety and other difficult emotions. Now is a great time to explore all of those techniques you’ve read about but never had the time to try out.

Here are some ideas to try to implement in the coming weeks:

All successful behavior change efforts start with a commitment. If you start with the mindset that the COVID-19 crisis and your need to quarantine is going to be a weight gain disaster, then it is going to be a weight gain disaster. How you think is everything. Instead, make a commitment that you are not going to let that happen. Document (in writing or on your device) specifically what you intend to do and what you intend to accomplish. For example: “I will buy fruits and vegetables for my snacks and not crackers and cookies.” “I will go for a walk 30 minutes three times per week.” “I will bring home one new, healthy food item from the supermarket to try out each week.” “I will drink 6 glasses of water per day instead of soda and juice.” Making a documented commitment to specific health behavior changes will greatly increase your chances of success.
If you are working from home, create a schedule for yourself and stick to it! Make sure that your schedule factors in time for meals and snacks. Let’s face it, you’re going to eat. You’re either going to eat on your thoughtful mind’s terms or your impulsive stomach’s terms. If you had a good working and eating routine prior to the crisis, try to maintain it at home. If you didn’t have a routine, think about what your life is going to look like for the next several weeks and create a schedule that incorporates time for breaks, meals and snacks. If you don’t commit to a schedule, you are more likely to wander around the house several times per day….and we all know what room you’ll be visiting most often.

If you are going to the supermarket, make smarter and healthier choices! Make a commitment to using this time for positive change. If you buy potato chips and cookies, you’re going to eat potato chips and cookies. If you buy fruits and vegetables, you’re going to eat fruits and vegetables. You can only eat what you brought into the house. If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to help your family start eating healthier, this is a perfect opportunity to clean it up!

Most restaurants are closed, and the popular advice is to make fewer trips to the supermarket as we all try to keep our social distance. Therefore, it’s a bit harder to eat impulsively and probably less tempting to jump in the car to go buy a chocolate bar at the quickie mart. Instead, make a thoughtful list and shop once a week. Think about meal prepping. What do you need for several healthy breakfasts, lunches, and dinners? Make the best choices possible.

Build a creative shopping cart! Some of your old favorites will be harder to find. Try out other alternatives. Ever wondered what all this talk about quinoa was about? What about riced cauliflower instead of white rice or mashed potatoes? What about low-fat or fat-free alternatives to some of the regular versions of your favorite salad dressings, sauces and other items? You might not even taste the difference between them and you just saved yourself 100’s of calories. Give them a try! We all tend to buy the brands and versions of foods that we’ve been eating since childhood. It’s a habit like everything else, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. You can decide to make changes. Use this time to try healthier and maybe even better tasting options.

Move!! Make the time to exercise a few times per week. Most gyms are closed. If you have exercise equipment at home, take the laundry off of it and give it a whirl. Even without a home gym there’s always the great outdoors. Walking and biking are excellent forms of exercise.

It is more important to work on building the habit of exercising a few times per week than it is to walk a specific number of steps per session or to burn a specific number of calories. Building a habit involves repeating a behavior often enough that it starts to become second nature. Therefore, exercising moderately 3-4 times a week for 20-30 minutes and enjoying yourself in the process is far more effective in building an exercise habit than trying to exercise rigorously 5 times a week for an hour and hating every minute of it. Additionally, you are more likely to continue to exercise long after this crisis ends.

Manage your emotions without going to the kitchen. We are all feeling a higher level of anxiety due to the COVID-19 crisis, but eating doesn’t treat anxiety and it certainly isn’t going to help us get rid of the virus. Instead, use this time to practice mindfulness skills that actually DO help reduce anxiety, allow you to have greater control of your body, and do not cause weight gain. In fact, there is a growing number of studies that demonstrate that mindfulness skills can help reduce compulsive eating. There are several smartphone apps like Headspace or Calm to help you to get started. You can also search for “mindfulness” or “relaxation” techniques on the internet. You will find many different options to choose from. Try a few and find two or three that work for you.

Tune out!! Limit how much time you spend consuming news about the virus. You already know that much of what you’re going to hear isn’t uplifting, and even more importantly, it can be harmful to your physical and mental health. The news is supposed to provide useful information; like learning what the weather will be tomorrow so you can dress appropriately. Unfortunately, the news has evolved into a form of entertainment, but today’s news is not at all entertaining. Many stories seem to focus on how things could get worse! Who needs to hear that?! If you want an update or two per day, that’s fine, but you don’t need to have the television on 24/7. For many, this contributes to emotional eating. What each of us is trying to cope with day to day is difficult enough. Why would you choose to spend extra time being upset?!

Turn off the television and instead, turn on to pleasurable activities friends and loved ones. Thankfully, in 2020 there are so many options to communicate and interact with others that you don’t need to feel alone. You can play board games, do arts and crafts, or play word games with people either face-to-face or on facetime, through videoconferencing, or even just using the good old telephone. Commit to doing things that put a more positive spin on what is definitely a challenging time.


To be sure, there is nothing good about this COVID-19 crisis and the impact it is having on our daily lives. However, it doesn’t have to be a 100% disaster either. Choose to take advantage of the opportunities that being at home can provide.

If you commit to making some changes in your behavior and make the healthy choices that you can, you can stay on track with your weight loss or weight maintenance goals, and possibly come away with healthy habits that provide benefits that last long after this crisis is over. May you all be safe and well during this difficult time.

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warren huberman


Warren L. Huberman, PhD. is a Clinical Psychologist licensed in New York and New Jersey. He is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Grossman NYU School of Medicine and an Affiliate Psychologist at Langone NYU Health and Lenox Hill-Northwell Health. He is a Consulting Psychologist to the NYU Langone Health Weight Management Program. He is author of the book 'Through Thick and Thin: The Emotional Journey of Weight Loss Surgery.'