Eating better comes down to acknowledging the relationship we have with food and developing healthier habits, according to Rachel Paul, Ph.D., RD, creator of the College Nutritionist. We talked to her about what people can do to eat healthier and feel better, especially while sheltering in place.
What are some tips to avoid developing bad food habits while spending more time at home?
Create a schedule for yourself so you have structure in your life. Plan out when you’re going to wake up and go to bed, exercise, take breaks, prep your meals, eat your meals, and start and finish work.
Either buy foods in single-serving portions or portion your foods that come in larger packages into single servings when you get home. This can greatly help you stop overeating.
Create a list of things to do when you’re bored or stressed that aren’t eating (e.g., organize your desktop, call a friend, do a load of laundry).
Identify the problem: If you actually figure out what the problem is, it’s a lot easier to solve it. For example, if I wasn’t sticking with my meal plan, I could journal about why I wasn’t sticking with it, and realize the meals I was prepping were too bland and unexciting. I could then research some newer, tasty recipes to add to my meal plan to make it easier and more fun to stick with.
Stock up on pantry and frozen foods as much as you can. These can include beans, canned tomatoes, frozen vegetables, and frozen proteins like shrimp or meatballs (here’s a full list!). Some foods also last longer in the fridge than others (e.g., eggs, cheese, yogurt, deli meats, bacon).
How has meal prepping changed your life? How can it help others?
Having a plan in place can be life-changing. Our lives are very busy and hectic, so the ability to feel in control in the food realm can bring calm to one’s life.
However, what’s more important than having a meal plan is having foods you like the taste of and are easy for you to put together into a meal. That way, if you don’t feel like eating chicken and rice on Day 4, you can switch it up so you don’t get bored and you can always please your taste buds!
How does meal prepping change for people that have to work from home?
Meal prepping is just as important, if not more important, when we’re working from home. It’s very easy when we’re working from home to subconsciously overeat, so planning and prepping food can give your time at home structure and a feeling of being in control.
There are easy things to do for everyone that make meal planning and prepping easier while at home.
First, going through the kitchen and seeing what foods you have available can help save money when grocery shopping. An unorganized, stuffed refrigerator can actually hinder our progress because it’s very difficult to see what foods and leftovers you have. This means you often end up wasting food.
Next, plan what you’re going to eat for the week and shop for what you don’t have.
Finally, prep certain foods to make cooking easier. For example, hard boil eggs, chop up veggies, and cook your proteins and starches. This makes meal assembly when you’re ready to eat actually feasible and more fun.
What are your long-term success strategies?
Developing a good relationship with food is key. That means learning how to deal with our emotions, stress, anxiety, boredom, sadness, and even happiness without food. Food will not solve the problem and only provides short-term relief. After overeating, we often feel dejected, disappointed, and sometimes bloated — not the result we were looking for!
Long-term habit building is also key. For habit building to last, focus on “not breaking the chain.” That means it’s better to do something than nothing, even if it’s not perfect. For example, if you’re having an incredibly busy day and can’t get to the gym, can you do 5 pushups? Or can you track your dinner if you don’t have time to track what you ate the whole day? Missing your new habit two times is the start of a new (bad!) habit, so don’t break the chain.
You’ve coached hundreds of women throughout the world. What do you think works for people? Is it different for everyone?
I’ve found that limiting excess sugars and carbohydrates; objectively looking at what one is eating, often through tracking; and changing how we think about our emotions and food are all helpful changes the majority of us can make.
When we limit excess sugars and carbohydrates, our blood sugar stabilizes, our hunger and fullness signals are more reliable, and our weight is easier to control.
When we objectively look at what we’re eating, for example, tracking what you’re eating with an app, we can see, without question, which foods, snacks, meals, and even portions were more filling, or less filling, or “worth it.” This can be a truly eye-opening experience to many.
Finding other ways to cope with emotions — stress, anxiety, boredom, sadness — besides eating is critical for success and very empowering!
What is the best advice you can give to young girls and women who are unhappy with their weight?
- You must love & respect your body now. If you don’t, no amount of weight loss will ever be enough. What parts of your body can you love now? What can you respect about your body’s abilities now?
- The No. 1 thing I see with overeating is eating from emotions, as we’ve talked about — stress, anxiety, boredom, sadness, even happiness. But often when we eat from these emotions, we end up feeling worse, not better. What can you do instead? Can you talk with a friend, family member, or professional? Can you journal? Can you take care of yourself and be your own best friend — put on some music and dance, take a hot shower or bath, light some candles, open a window. When you learn to cope with your emotions without food, you will feel back in control and be so proud of yourself!