Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet and a regular meal pattern can be a challenge when suddenly your home becomes your office. There is plenty of food available, you are in comfortable surroundings and there is nothing stopping you making regular trips to the kitchen. Setting some ground rules around food is important so that our health does not suffer:
Feed your brain: For optimal brain power and productivity, we need to give the brain a regular supply of its favourite fuel, glucose. Aim for three regular meals per day, including a healthy mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack if required.
Don’t be tempted to skip meals: People that skip meals may be more likely to choose the wrong types of foods later in the day and overcompensate due to excessive hunger. When we are excessively hungry it’s easier to lose control and opt for high fat and sugar-rich foods. Studies show skipping breakfast is associated with overweight and obesity.
Aim for balance: We need a diverse variety of nutrients in our diet to stay healthy, so be sure to factor in plenty of fruits and vegetables (at least five portions per day), some wholegrain carbohydrates (such as wholegrain cereals, bread, brown rice, quinoa and wholewheat pasta), healthy fats (from nuts, seeds, avocados and oils such as olive and rapeseed), animal-derived or vegetable-based protein foods (beans, pulses, tofu, soya mince) and low fat dairy products or fortified plant-based dairy alternatives (such as calcium fortified plant-based milks or yogurts).
The Eatwell Guide shows how much of what we eat overall should come from each food group to achieve a healthy, balanced diet. You do not need to achieve this balance with every meal, but try to get the balance right over a day or even a week.
Planning is key: Before doing your grocery shop, make sure you figure out a rough meal plan for the week ahead. Consider batch cooking meals and portioning them out. As well as being a time saver, meal prep helps with portion control and minimises the risk of you making poor choices when you’re rushed or stressed.
Situate your work area away from your kitchen: Out of sight is out of mind!
Mindful eating: It is tempting to work through lunch breaks, however it’s important to prioritise mealtimes. Walk away from computer screens, set aside your phone and any distractions. Take time to enjoy your meal (taste, texture, aroma) and chew carefully. This will help you to feel more satisfied and reduces the chances of you overeating because your brain has had time to process that you are full.
Some of us are comfort eaters and are more likely to opt for fatty or sugary foods when we are stressed and anxious. If this is you, acknowledge how you are feeling before reaching for food and consider alternative strategies to manage your stress such as exercise, listening to music, meditation and deep breathing exercises.
Don’t turn your cupboards and fridge into a vending machine: Don’t make opting for empty calories easy for yourself, it’s hard to say no to these sorts of foods when we’re stressed or having an energy dip.
If you find you get hungry between meals, opt for nourishing snacks such as a handful of mixed nuts, a piece of fruit, low fat yogurt with a sprinkling of blueberries, vegetable sticks with low fat cream cheese/humous, a hard-boiled egg, rice cake with peanut butter, avocado on crispbread, a handful of olives or a slice of brie with grapes.
Don’t forget to move: Working from home means most of us are moving less now we no longer have a daily commute. Factoring in some daily exercise is essential. Increased physical activity levels are linked with improved mood, increased productivity, concentration, sleep quality and reduced risk of ill health and disease. Even 10-15 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily to raise your heart rate will make a difference.
Supplement with vitamin D: With winter approaching and being indoors more often, we are not getting the sunlight exposure needed to produce enough vitamin D. Vitamin D is critical for immune function, which is even more important than ever during the pandemic.
It is difficult to get enough vitamin D from our diet therefore a daily 10 microgram supplement is recommended throughout autumn and winter. Vitamin D deficiency is particularly common in people with darker skin, (such as those of African, African-Caribbean, or South Asian descent), as they are not as efficient at making vitamin D from sunlight. If you have darker skin, you may want to consider supplementing year-round.
Track your fluid intake: Keeping a bottle of water by your desk is a visual reminder to drink. Opt for sugar-free, uncaffeinated drinks as often as possible but if you find it difficult to drink plain water, fruit and herbal teas, sugar-free cordials and flavoured waters are also hydrating.
We should be aiming for one-and-a-half to three litres of fluid daily. The best way to tell if you are having enough fluid is to keep an eye on the colour of your urine – the paler, the better!
Restrict your caffeine intake: Now it is even easier to take regular tea and coffee breaks, but remember, too much caffeine can be dehydrating and interfere with sleep. Try to ease off caffeinated drinks as the day progresses and opt for decaffeinated versions as often as possible.