7 reasons why now is a good time to start a diet

It’s more important than ever to focus on eating a healthy diet and exercising.

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By Kristin Kirkpatrick

Dealing with a lot of change right now? That doesn't have to be a bad thing. As a registered dietitian, I know that a new routine can help create positive lifestyle changes. Even though life is crazy and stressful at the moment, it's still a good time to focus on your health.

In fact, it’s more important than ever to eat a balanced diet and exercise. Such healthy habits not only strengthen your immune system, but they also help you maintain a healthy weight and stay physically fit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has indicated that individuals with severe obesity are at a higher risk for complications of the coronavirus.

This is a difficult time for a lot of people. Many of my patients are struggling with getting access to healthy foods, either because they're trying to eat on a reduced budget or simply because they can’t get the ingredients from the store. But there are ways to eat healthy on a tight budget — and there are a few advantages to being stuck at home. Here are some tips on why now is the perfect time to focus on eating more fruits and veggies.

1. The pressure to be perfect is off.

This is a time to focus on progress, not perfection. Frozen fruits and vegetables can be just as healthy as their fresh counterparts and can easily be added to other frozen options, like chicken breast or fish. Canned beans and legumes can be used as a protein or carbohydrate source for meals and snacks. Staples such as brown rice can easily add a budget-friendly source of fiber. The key here is not overthinking your meals. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef.

2. You have more control over when you eat.

Dietary habits have been found to improve once a temptation is removed. Think about the progress and change you can implement simply from being home more. The lure of the fast food option at every corner, the temptation to order a pastry with your coffee because it just looks so good and the dinners out during the weekend can all be left in the past (for now, anyway).

If you’re struggling with changing the types of foods you're eating, perhaps you can focus on the frequency. Time-restricted eating, a form of intermittent fasting, has been shown in multiple studies to benefit health. Reductions of cravings and hunger, weight loss and even improvements in blood sugar and lipid profile have all been demonstrated. Time-restricted eating involves eating during a “feeding window” of eight or 10 hours a day. One study, in fact, showed that delaying breakfast by 90 minutes and eating dinner 90 minutes early helped to reduce overall fat mass in participants — regardless of what they ate.

3. You can sit wherever you want.

If you're now working from home, you have control over your physical location. Move your place of work to an area of the home not associated with food. Consider working outside if you can. Scheduling your trips to the kitchen can also help create a positive new routine.

4. Cooking your own meals has benefits.

Supporting local business is important, but now is not the time to be eating takeout every night. Focus on what you have in the house. Have some frozen broccoli, brown rice and canned chicken? You have a meal. Whole-wheat spaghetti and tomato sauce? Another meal. Don’t overthink your kitchen creations. Focus on nutrient density, which means colorful produce, healthy fats, fiber and lean sources of protein. Many chefs, both professional and amateur, have taken to social media to show quick and easy meals as well. Use them as examples of how to be creative with ingredients.

5. You aren't socializing as much.

In your typical everyday life, you have happy hours and dinners out with friends. Now, most of us are connecting over Zoom or FaceTime — but not every virtual interaction needs to include alcohol.

Excess alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns, making you more likely to make poor dietary choices the following day. Further, it can increase your risk for disease and obesity — both of which have been shown to make you more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. Finally, studies show that binge drinking can weaken the immune system. A glass of wine at the end of the day is fine, but keep your intake within the CDC guidelines.

6. You have more time to spend outdoors.

The silver lining to being stuck at home is the fact that it may make you want to get outside more. If you have a neighborhood or park close to your home where you can engage in walking, do it. A recent study found that getting outside for just 20 minutes helped in lowering stress hormones which in turn, can help in making better dietary choices.

Binging all day on TV may sound like a way to pass the time, but it will most likely result in poorer mental health outcomes and an inability to fit into your pants once you get back to work.

7. You can rethink toxic relationships.

When it comes to changes in diet and weight loss, community can be a blessing or a curse. Find individuals who share your desire to adopt a healthier lifestyle and connect with them through socially distant means of communication. Alternatively, rethink relationships that are surrounded by overeating and excess alcohol.

Use this time to change habits so that you can live longer and better.