The importance of eating well during the coronavirus pandemic

There are many ways in which food plays a vital role in maintaining our physical and mental health. Here, we look at three of these – the basics of eating well, emotional eating, and cooking as a form of meditation.

Back to basics

Eating a nourishing, balanced diet helps with our overall sense of wellbeing and a healthy approach to food is vital for supporting mental health.

During tough times, it can be tempting to sideline healthy eating. To help support both your physical and mental health, try to follow these Australian Dietary guidelines on a daily basis:

  • Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, legumes and fruits
  • Eat plenty of cereals, preferably wholegrain, such as breads, rice, pasta and noodles
  • Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
  • Include milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt and sugars
  • Limit intake of caffeine and alcohol.

Keep things simple

It's understandable if you’ve lost your mojo in the kitchen, as well as your appetite at times. If cooking and maintaining a healthy diet is tough for you right now, try and keep things as simple as possible. Here are some handy tips.

  • Meal planning can help take the stress out of cooking. Write a weekly shopping list – minimising the number of times you need to go to the shops – and try and stick to your plan.
  • Learn how to prepare simple, quick, healthy meals and use frozen pre-cut vegetables and fruit and good-quality canned foods, such as beans and lentils, to save time
  • Make use of online shopping and home-delivered groceries to knock going grocery shopping off your to-do list.
  • Batch cook large quantities of food to freeze. Put into separate containers to avoid waste.
  • Make the most of quick and easy cooking methods such as stir-frying, oven tray bakes, pressure cookers, grilling and microwaving.

Emotional eating

It can be tempting to use food as a form of comfort and/or distraction. People with existing – or emerging – anxiety or depression, may be finding it hard to eat properly when going through a challenging period.

Whether due to loss of appetite, comfort eating, lack of motivation, feelings of boredom, loneliness or low self-esteem, food can become an emotional crux.

For people experiencing anxiety or depression who comfort eat, regularly turn to unhealthy foods, and who aren’t physically active, putting on weight gain is common. Conversely, loss of appetite, skipping meals and weight loss is also common in those experiencing low mood, stress, anxiety and/or depression.

Sticking to your usual daily routine and eating mindfully can help in addressing emotional eating and unhealthy eating habits. By bringing your attention to how food makes you feel, both physically and mentally, you are more likely to notice when you’re full or eating for the sake of it.

This article by Smiling Mind offers ways to eat mindfully in five easy steps, while Food & Mood Centre offers plenty of information about how our diet affects our brain, mood, and mental health.

If you feel that your relationship with food has become unhealthy, or you’re struggling with a mental health condition that’s affecting your appetite, contact your GP or a dietitian.

Cooking for peace of mind

Many people have embraced the opportunity to dust off their cookbooks and brush up on their skills in the kitchen while staying at home at more.

As well as being an enjoyable way to pass the time, cooking can be a form of meditation too. It offers us a chance to escape the worries and stresses – at least for a while – while we solely focus on creating something delicious. And while for some, cooking may simply be a means to an end, many people (including those with anxiety and depression) find that taking the time to prepare healthy, tasty meals from scratch does them the world of good.

Here are some ways to maximise your cooking experience:

  • Clear your kitchen. To remain focused on the task at hand, try to make sure your cooking space is clean and clear.
  • Listen to soothing music. Relaxing, feel-good vibes may help you focus and unwind.
  • Choose fresh, healthy & seasonal ingredients. A healthy brain has been linked with several crucial nutrients, including omega-3 fats, B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium and amino acids. Learn more about what foods are best for your mental health here.
  • Enjoy your creations. Mealtimes are important. Take the time to sit down and really enjoy your food.
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