Unhealthy pandemic eating habits? Here’s how to get back on track


When asked about weight management in a recent survey of nearly 10,000 Canadians, four out of 10 people reported unintentionally gaining extra weight during the pandemic.

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After more than a year of being stuck at home, many Canadians continue to struggle with their eating habits.

Prolonged pandemic stress has led to emotional eating, unhealthy snacking, difficulty managing mealtimes – and unwanted weight gain.

That’s according to researchers from the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University who, last month, surveyed nearly 10,000 Canadians about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their health and eating habits.

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Not surprisingly, 77 per cent agreed that their stress level has increased. And one-half admitted that they tend to eat when worried about the pandemic.

Most participants (74 per cent) said they eat healthy snacks only occasionally or never. Most also reported challenges when managing mealtimes.

When asked about weight management, four out of 10 reported gaining extra weight (unintentionally) during the pandemic. Among those who gained, 37 per cent put on six to 10 pounds, 18 per cent gained 11 to 15 pounds and 10 per cent added 16 to 20 pounds.

Canadians aren’t alone when it comes to carrying extra pandemic pounds. A recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 61 per cent of Americans had gained more weight than intended during the past year. Stress, lack of exercise, unhealthy eating habits and increased alcohol consumption were contributors.

Tips to get your diet back on track

With the vaccine rollout moving along and summer just around the corner, it’s a good time to take stock of your eating habits. Use the following strategies to help you get your diet back on track. You may have heard them before, but they serve as good reminders.

Set goals

You’re more likely to achieve the changes to want to make if you set goals. Write down what, specifically, you’d like to achieve and how you will do that.

For example, if your goal is to reduce your alcohol intake, you might decide to limit alcoholic beverages to weekends only. If you want to eat healthier snacks, you could decide to eat fruit or vegetables as a snack once a day.

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Break up a weight loss goal into small achievable monthly goals. Doing so will boost self-confidence and motivation.

Eat on a schedule

When working from home, it’s easy to head straight to your laptop instead of eating breakfast, or to work your way through lunch.

Eat breakfast before you start your work day. Include a source of protein (e.g. eggs, Greek yogurt, kefir, salmon), low glycemic carbohydrates (e.g. steel-cut oats, whole grain rye bread, whole fruit) and healthy fats (e.g. nut butter, chia seeds, avocado).

Plan for a nutritious between-meal snack to keep your energy level constant and to prevent hunger. Keep snacks to 150 to 200 calories (women) and 200 to 250 (men) if your goal is to lose weight.

Block off meal and snack breaks in your calendar or set an alert on your phone to remind you to eat if you need to.

Plan ahead

To stay on track, plan meals and snacks in advance. Cook on the weekend for quick and easy weekday meals.

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Make a batch of overnight oats or hard-boiled eggs. Make a lentil or chickpea salad for plant-based lunches. Grill extra chicken to have on hand for wraps and salads.

Drink water during the day

Even minor dehydration can worsen your mood and impair concentration and memory. Keep a bottle of water on your desk to remind you to drink; set a goal to drink one litre by lunch time. (Women need 2.2 litres of fluids per day; men require 3 litres.)

If you feel you consume too much caffeine, limit coffee intake to two small cups in the morning. Switch to decaffeinated coffee, herbal tea or green tea in the afternoon.

Keep a food diary

Instead of tracking your food intake as you eat during the day, or at the end of the day when you’ve forgotten some foods, write down today what you plan to eat (and portion sizes) tomorrow.

A forward-thinking food diary serves as your meal plan for the next day, a plan that you’ll be more likely to stick to.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD

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