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How the Pandemic Shifted Dieting Attitudes

While COVID-19 has been painful for so many of us, there have been some positive changes that occurred with record speed because of this catastrophic global pandemic. Telehealth has changed health care for the better. Hybrid working is a dream come true for folks who were forced to waste precious time commuting daily and emptying their wallets at the gas pump. Families are cooking more meals at home rather than eating out, which research has shown improves the nutritional quality of their meals.

Close up photo of and anonymous African American mother, daughter and son preparing vegetables for lunch at a wooden kitchen table.

(Getty Images)

For many, the devastating and deadly outcome of the pandemic has magnified the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle in the fight against viruses that invaded our homes.

staying healthy

According to the latest International Food Information Council’s 2022 Diet and Health Survey, consumers reported that the top motivator for following a diet was to eat healthier to protect their long-term health and prevent future health issues. Weight loss came in a close second. This is not the only survey to uncover the new importance of overall health to the consumer.

Over 80% of participants in an assessment by the Mayo Clinic also valued health as the ultimate goal of weight-loss efforts above all other aspirations, including physical appearance. This finding follows the trend of post-COVID health and wellness self-care, according to the Mayo Clinic’s press release.

The increased value of health to consumers doesn’t surprise Courtney McCormick, a manager of Clinical Research & Nutrition at Nutrisystem. “We’ve seen this shift in mindset around weight loss start to take place over the past several years, with more people starting to really focus on their health and make it a priority than they did pre-COVID.”

She says that “as a dietitian, I find this really exciting because it has given us a better opportunity to not only deliver an effective program to help people manage their weight, but it has allowed us to add more value into the program by integrating opportunities to teach our customers how to build healthy meals and long-term habits.”

This pandemic has helped folks realize that a healthy diet and lifestyle is better for one’s longevity than the latest fad diet that drastically cuts calories and eliminates specific foods and food groups.

If you’re someone who’s been looking to improve the healthfulness of your diet, here are some of my tips. This advice may even help you shed a few pounds.

Bulk Up Your Breakfast

Your metabolism changes during the day and research suggests that eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner as a pauper may be kinder to your waistline.

Natural circadian rhythms are the 24-hour rhythms in your body that are driven by the master clock in your brain. These rhythms are also in sync with the light and dark cycle of the day. Research has illustrated that these circadian rhythms play a role in the activity of the enzymes and hormones that regulate your metabolism.

Eating the majority of your daily calories later in the day isn’t in lockstep with your body clock, which in turn can cause elevated blood glucose levels and increased storage of body fat.

To get in sync with your circadian rhythms, shift to a healthy breakfast that includes carbohydrates, such as whole grains and fruit, protein and some fat. Rise and shine with a scrambled egg topped with reduced-fat cheese sandwiched between a toasted English muffin along with a piece of fruit. A solid breakfast will fuel your brain and body until lunch, potentially eliminating an unnecessary mid-morning snack.

Go Fishing for a Healthier Lunch

When it comes to better health and longevity, think fish. The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 recommends that adults consume at least two fish meals. Specifically, these fish should be omega-3-rich, fatty fish such as canned tuna, salmon, herring and sardines to increase longevity. Fish is also high in protein and low in heart-unhealthy saturated fat, so eating fish will help you feel satisfied without increasing your risk of heart disease.

Canned varieties of these fish are ready-to-eat, so you can toss them in a lunch-time salad or veggie and grain bowl with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some high-quality balsamic vinegar. Add some olives, beans and cherry tomatoes for a Sicilian-style lunch.

Preload Your Dinner With Potassium-Packed Veggies

Potassium is a mineral that helps lower high blood pressure, and vegetables are potassium powerhouses. Chronic high blood pressure increases risk for heart disease and stroke. Eating a lean veggie appetizer such as a salad or soup prior to dinner has also been shown to help reduce the calories you consume at the meal by more than 10%.

Vegetables are full of fiber and water, so they will fill you up before they fill you out. The less hungry you are when you start your dinner, the more likely that you’ll be able to keep your portions in check and avoid overconsuming.

Eliminate Mindless Night Munching

If you wake up in the morning with little to no appetite, this may be a signal that you are over-snacking in the evening. Turn off the lights in your kitchen at 7 pm and make it a “No Trespassing Zone.” This will allow your body to fast until the next morning so that you’ll be ready to bulk up on your breakfast in accordance with your circadian rhythms.

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