For those of us who have lost track of time, spring has officially sprung and April is the start of, what we hope to be, a brighter, warmer few months. As the world’s focus has shifted to the obvious and unprecedented pandemic that is COVID-19, previous goals have been put on hold and new challenges come up around what it means to stay healthy while in self-isolation. So, for those who feel they are starting from scratch with their health and wellness routine, take a moment to consider the following strategies as you re-gig your priorities.
Now more than ever, take care of your gut
The body is a fascinating thing, if we give it the true credit it deserves. In times like these, where we are essentially in ‘fight or flight’ mode at all times, the systems of the body are in constant communication to try and remain in balance. Your digestive system is usually one of the places we experience stress. The nervous butterflies you feel before a big presentation, or the urge to use the washroom in a high stress situation are two examples of the gut-brain connection. Stress and anxiety can result in a cascade of reactions within the body that alter the digestive tract in a number of ways. When this cascade becomes chronic, it can result in inflammation that shows up in a number of ways including: bloating, gas, abdominal pain, acid reflux, constipation or diarrhea (aka the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS). To make things more complicated/fascinating, the gut-brain connection goes two ways. Just as the brain can influence digestion, digestion has an effect on the brain. Meaning, if digestive distress goes unmanaged, this can influence the brain and potentially increase risk of anxiety and depression.
So, where to start? Grab a roll of toilet paper, and get comfy while you read these…(kidding, sort of).
- Get to know your bowels – In other words, now is a good time to start paying attention to your poop! Notice how often you have a bowel movement each day, the consistency, the ease, and even the colour/texture. Your poop is the best insight into your gut health, so now that we have a little more time on our hands…might as well get acquainted.
- Track digestion with diet – Stress can impact the lining of your digestive tract as well as the balance of good/bad bacteria in the gut, which may result in discomfort when consuming certain foods. If you’re experiencing constipation, diarrhea or looser stools, or any abdominal discomfort that has become more prevalent over the past 3-4 weeks, begin to take note of what you eat and your digestion to see if you can determine any triggers or foods that worsen your symptoms.
- Consider a probiotic supplement –A large percentage of the cells and tissue that make up the immune system are found in the gut (70% to be more specific!), therefore taking care of your digestive system is a must at all times, especially now. Probiotics may be useful in supporting the balance of bacteria in your gut, which can aid in ensuring your gut stays happy and healthy. And the plot has thickened recently, as research suggests that probiotics may also be helpful for supporting mood and lowering stress and anxiety. Before starting a probiotic supplement, speak to a dietitian or Naturopathic Doctor to discuss whether a supplement is right for you, and what to look for when choosing the right probiotic supplement.
Simplify your nutrition and fitness routine
Raise your hand if this is the first time you actually thought about nutrition and fitness since self-isolation began. (I’m raising mine). I think we can all agree that a lot has happened in the last month, and it has impacted every aspect of our lives. If food and fitness have not been top of mind as you navigate this new normal, it is OKAY. As humans, we process information in vastly different ways. You will begin to find a rhythm again, and the best advice I can give in this moment to help you find it, is to simplify your food and fitness routine…dramatically.
- Start with your schedule – Before you start getting down on yourself about the persistent snacking and mindless eating, take a look at your daily schedule. Acknowledge that it probably looks nothing like it did a month ago, and begin to think about how you can make these long days at home feel a little bit more structured. Write it down, create a daily schedule in a notebook, or better yet – get creative and make a weekly schedule with water colours or markers (or whatever is left on Amazon). Setting intentions for routine can help prepare you for a more structured day – and from there, you can begin to think about where food and fitness will fit in.
- Focus on whole foods – That’s it. That’s all. If that means two boiled eggs, an apple, and some almond butter for breakfast, guess what? That’s GREAT. If the Instagram and Facebook “Cooking in Quarantine” videos are overwhelming for you, turn them off, turn your slow cooker on and you’re good to go. Now is the best time to get back to basics, and create simple dishes, that keep well for leftovers and include whole, unprocessed ingredients that can nourish your body at a time where it needs it the most. Here are a few examples:
- Slow-cooker chilli
- Buddha bowl with ground turkey or chicken, brown rice, roasted vegetables and chickpeas
- Taco salad
- Tomato soup and grilled cheese
- Spinach and feta omelette
- Forget fitness, think movement – If jumping into an online workout feels like too much for you in this moment, guess what? A) Join the club; and B) It may feel right another day, so let it be. Your body will be grateful for any kind of movement that allows your blood to flow, and heart to pump, so start there. A simple walk around the block while you FaceTime a friend, a few yoga flows in the morning before you sit down for work, a 10-minute break to stretch and walk around the house or apartment a few times a day…that’s a start! As hard as it may seem, your body and brain will thank you.
Inhale, Exhale, Repeat
Are you breathing? Before you say, ‘obviously, I’m breathing Norine’, just think about it. Our bodies have been running an emotional marathon and they’re tired. When we’re exhausted, anxious, and overwhelmed, our breath can change. I have been practicing what’s known as box breathing for some time now, and it always helps bring my focus back to my breath and away from whatever it is that is making me feel out of sorts. Let’s do it together!
Box Breathing Technique
Inhale for 4 seconds – focus on breathing into your belly and expanding your breath.
Hold your breath for 4 seconds – this may be uncomfortable at first, but focus on counting.
Exhale for 4 seconds – completely empty as you count.
Hold at the bottom of that exhale for 4 seconds – do your best not to inhale again until you’ve completed your 4 second count.
Repeat this for 3-5 minutes.
And finally, know that you are doing your best, and that’s all you can do. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and stay healthy and hopeful.