We now have a clear roadmap out of lockdown and back into our normal lives. Now we can enjoy meeting up with friends and family, and start eating out and going to bars and restaurants again. While this will make a welcome change to staying at home, it makes maintaining healthy habits a little bit more challenging.
For many of us, lockdown offered a circuit breaker from our busy lives. With all our usual activities on hold, some of us found we had more time to exercise and, with cafes and restaurants closed, many of us found ourselves spending more time in the kitchen. Many of us have developed new healthy habits that may feel tricky to maintain once life goes back to normal.
As we emerge from lockdown, we have another opportunity to make sustainable changes to our lifestyle and maintain any good habits we’ve picked up over the past year. Here we discuss some important healthy habits and how we can retain them after lockdown.
Be mindful of alcohol
Pubs, bars, and restaurants are officially open again, and the prospect of a ‘social summer’ is well and truly on the cards. For many of us, this means more opportunities, or even expectations, to drink alcohol.
However, something to remember is that alcohol has both direct and indirect impacts on our weight. Alcoholic drinks typically contain a lot of calories. Although calories aren’t an accurate predictor of weight gain, consistently consuming an excess of calories outside of our usual diet can contribute to weight gain.
Alcohol can also cause problems when we reach our ‘tipping point’, which is when our inhibitions are lowered, and we become more likely to make poor choices with food and alcohol. A study showed that we consume an additional 4,305 calories that same evening and continue to overeat the next day when we reach this point.
Drinking alcohol can also indirectly cause weight gain by lowering the quality of our sleep. Although we may initially fall asleep faster, alcohol impacts the critical stages of our sleep, such as deep and REM sleep.
A lack of sleep, or poor quality of sleep, increases your appetite and cravings for junk food and decreases your energy expenditure on the following day.
The good news is, it’s not necessary to abstain from drinking alcohol entirely to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Most people’s tipping point is at around nine units (3.1 glasses of wine, 3.7 pints of beer). Aim to stay below this threshold and alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks such as sparkling water.
With little else to do, many of us have been enjoying going for walks and finding new ways to exercise. Although we now have more options, try to continue to include, or begin to introduce, activity into your new daily routine. For example, walk to work or meet-ups with friends where possible. Take the stairs instead of the lift when you’re back in the office!
With a new routine to adapt to and more plans to work around, it’s easy to find yourself struggling to find time for exercise. However, you don’t need to spend an hour in the gym or on a run for exercise to count. Short bursts of activity (HIIT) can easily fit around your daily routine. For example, squats while brushing your teeth or press-ups while waiting for the kettle to boil.
It may not sound like much, but short bursts of activity can go a long way in improving your health and contribute towards weight loss.
Sleep is critical to our health, so, as we get busier again, try not to sacrifice it!
Research shows that when people get at a good night’s sleep (at least 8.5 hours), they are less hungry, eat less, and have fewer cravings the next day. When the same people got just 4.5 hours of sleep, their appetite increased, and they were unable to resist ‘highly palatable, rewarding snacks’ (cookies, ice cream, and crisps) even though they had eaten a satisfying meal two hours earlier.
So, getting enough sleep means you’re better prepared to make healthy choices and are more likely to resist temptations.
Understandably, a lack of sleep also means we’re less likely to exercise the next day. This means we’re facing a double issue of eating more and exercising less, which, over time, can lead to weight gain.
To sleep better, aim to avoid screen time before bed, limit caffeine to before lunch, and consider supplements such as vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc.
We all know how important it is to drink lots of water. Often we can mistake feelings of thirst for hunger, so making sure we drink enough water means we are less likely to misinterpret these cues and overeat. Pausing while eating to sip water will also prevent you from eating too quickly and allow you to enjoy the taste and textures of your food thoroughly.
Plan ahead for meals out
After a year of eating at home, many of us will be excited at the thought of being able to eat in restaurants again. However, this change can be stressful, especially if we’ve picked up new healthier habits over lockdown that we’d like to maintain.
One way to ensure you make healthy choices when eating out is to look at the menu ahead of time. This way, you don’t get overwhelmed by the options, blindsided by cravings, or influenced by what other people are having.
It’s also best to eat normally throughout the day, rather than ‘saving yourself’ for the meal out. If you arrive really hungry, you’re more likely to choose a less healthy meal or overeat.
Plan your meals for the days leading up to and after your meal out to make it easier to make healthy choices. Even if you feel that you overindulged on a meal out, try not to feel guilty. Instead, recognise that life is meant to be enjoyed and, rather than giving in to the ‘what-the-hell effect’ and continuing to overindulge, get back to making healthy choices the next day.
Go at your own pace
After a year in lockdown, changes to our routine may feel overwhelming. It may feel as though it’s impossible to maintain any new healthy habits we adopted during lockdown.
Although easing restrictions can be exciting, it’s important to take things at your own pace and not feel pressured to do too many things too quickly. If you’re worried, start slowly and gradually build up to more intense activities. For example, meet friends for a walk or in a park if you’re feeling nervous about going out for drinks.
At Second Nature, we realise that life is meant to be enjoyed! It’s not realistic or sustainable to feel that you’re overly restricted or have to miss out on social events to maintain a diet.
If you do want to stick to your healthy plans whilst out and about, here are some of our favourite ideas for healthy swaps.
- If you’re at a barbeque, enjoy your burger without the bun and opt for extra salad to help increase your intake of vegetables while keeping carbs low
- When eating out, don’t feel pressured to order straight from the menu. Ask for adaptations or choose a selection of smaller plates to suit your preferences
- When drinking alcohol, swap every second drink for a sugar-free soft drink to keep yourself hydrated and avoid drinking to excess
- If you’re meeting friends or family for a picnic, consider preparing your food at home rather than buying pre-prepared food that is often high in refined carbohydrates and trans fats
- When meeting friends for a coffee in the afternoon, opt for a decaf option to help you sleep better that night
- If it’s a hot day and you’re craving something cold and refreshing, try making banana ‘nice-cream’ or our frozen yogurt bark, rather than having an ice cream that is higher in refined carbohydrates
- If you’re able to, meet friends for a walk or a game in the park to help squeeze in some extra exercise whilst having fun
- Take a water bottle with you to social events to make sure you’re drinking enough and don’t mistake thirst for hunger
- If you do overindulge, don’t dwell on it or feel guilty – we’re only human! However, try not to let it sabotage your entire week, plan out your next few meals and get back on track!
Take home message
- It may feel more challenging, but it’s possible to maintain and develop new healthy habits post-lockdown
- Alcohol can, directly and indirectly, cause weight gain, especially when binge drinking. Try to stay below the ‘tipping point’ and alternative alcoholic drinks with water
- Exercise has many benefits for our health – even if longer workouts aren’t possible, consider incorporating mini HIIT style challenges into your routine
- Getting a good night’s sleep helps us to make healthy choices around food and exercise the next day.
- Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help prevent overeating
- When eating out, look at the menu ahead of time and don’t arrive too hungry – that way you’re more likely to avoid giving in to craving or overeating
- Don’t feel pressured to try too many things too quickly – enjoy getting back to normality at your own pace, and remember it’s possible to stay healthy whilst enjoying lockdown restrictions