The COVID-19 pandemic has left us all in fear, especially for those who are elderly or have pre-existing conditions. Knowing that we fit this demographic adds an extra layer to this difficult time. We’ve all been staying at home and trying our best to keep our minds and body active and healthy. I reached out to my diabuddy, Ben Tzeel, MPH, RD, and CSCCS to get his advice on how to get through this time at home.
Hi Ben, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I know you are a registered dietitian (RD) and strength coach and you are very active within the diabetes online community and doing your part to advocate, educate and support others dealing with this disease. You spend your time sharing your expertise on nutrition and exercise, even offering one-on-one coaching, helping people living with diabetes achieve better glucose and weight management. Both of these are even more trying during this crisis. I thought it would be nice for our readers to hear a perspective of a type 1 RD on how to remain healthy while at home!
How long have you been living with type 1 diabetes?
Almost 21 years!
Did your diagnosis play into your choice of becoming a registered dietitian and strength coach?
Yes! Absolutely. Growing up, I’d go to the endo every three months as I was supposed to, and as an athlete, I’d have a ton of questions about blood sugar management during practices, games, and more. I played baseball and volleyball and began lifting weights when I was fifteen. Still, no matter who I would talk to – endo, dietitians at the clinic, etc. – no one seemed to have any definitive answers, and it became a “figure it out for yourself” type deal, which got frustrating. I started to take training more seriously in college, and learned nutrition was the X factor that could level up my training and my diabetes, so I ultimately became an RD.
How has your overall health and blood sugar management been leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic?
For me, it was pretty status quo – I was training as I usually do, five days per week with a combo of strength and interval cardio, and my blood sugars were pretty solid. Life for me was normal, as it was for most of us.
When you heard the virus was picking up speed, what were your first thoughts? Fears? How did you prepare for staying at home?
I first heard about it in the end of January and didn’t pay it much attention, but once large events started getting canceled, including the Arnold, where I was supposed to meet up with some other members of the T1D tribe, I started to take it a little more seriously. I actually went to Costco to stock up on food in case there was a lockdown, which for me in Florida didn’t happen for another four weeks. I wouldn’t say I was scared, but I definitely knew it was something serious and contemplated how I would adapt to stay at home life and minimal leaving.
Right now, people want to get in and out of the grocery store quickly. What are your staples foods that help keep you on track with your goals?
Great question. For me, before anything else, I’m planning out my meals ahead of time, so I have a plan going into the grocery store and don’t have to go up or down aisles unnecessarily. I’m thinking of my proteins (chicken, turkey, pork, canned tuna, salmon, cheese, greek yogurt, eggs), my vegetables (greens, peppers, zucchini, cauliflower, and more), and my fiber sources (chickpea or black bean pasta, whole grain bread/tortillas) and making sure each meal has them, and then getting food according to the recipes.
You’ve also got to have snacks that are delicious but won’t throw you off track – NRG bites are a favorite of mine, quest chips, and enlightened ice cream have all come in handy so far.
We are all trying to come up with quick, easy meals. What are some quick go-to ideas that will keep us on track despite this?
I’m the world’s laziest chef, so I love cooking up a ton of meat and veggies in the Instapot and portioning it out for a few days, but by having the protein on hand along with the foods mentioned previously, you can create things super quick. Tacos, burritos, anything Mexican, tends to be a winner for easy and delicious, any type of salad with chicken is a go-to, and I love peanut butter and jelly on the high fiber tortillas.
Things are getting harder for many financially. Do you have any healthy inexpensive snack or meal suggestions?
If you can buy in bulk, go for it, especially for meats and produce – just cook it up and you can freeze it after portioning it out. It saves a lot of money and also, time.
For snacks, you can’t go wrong with something as simple as veggies and hummus, cheese sticks, or even crackers and tuna.
I know a lot of us are stressed…very stressed. How do you suggest people combat emotional eating?
Stress will wreak absolute havoc on your blood sugars, so lowering it is going to be key to success. To combat emotional eating, try to situate yourself with some sort of barrier between you and the food, like sit in another room. When snacking, portion it out, put the container away, and consider moving to a room away from the food so you can’t just get up and go grab some more. But also divert your attention to something else that is hopefully more constructive, like going for a walk or reading a book.
Many people thrive on routine, which is really hard to achieve right now. Do you find you have more success with eating right when you stick to a routine and schedule?
Routine is key right now – keeping things as normal as possible for eating is going to help you feel your best from both an energy and blood sugar standpoint. Once you start introducing eating at strange times, eating foods you normally wouldn’t, and eating from sheer boredom, that is where things could become a bit more haywire, and once you fall off the tracks, it can spiral out quickly if you don’t stop it.
Many people want to remain active but aren’t sure exactly how. Besides going for long walks, what are some basic exercises people can do at home?
It’s all about bodyweight workouts to start with! Pushups, squats, lunges, planks, v-ups, side lunges, jumping jacks, burpees, and wall sits can all be combined into a circuit that will definitely make you work hard. If you have some heavy household objects, you can use those like dumbbells to press or row.
What have you been doing to stay in shape? With being as knowledgeable as you are, are you finding it hard to adapt to our new normal while staying focused on your overall health?
It’s definitely been a little strange having not been in a gym in a month, but I’ve remained consistent at home. I’m fortunate to have a kettlebell and a few resistance bands, which is enough for me to maintain a fairly normal training routine, but again, I’m doing a ton of pushups, lunges, and squats, since those are the types of things I’d be doing anyway in the gym. To me, the biggest key is to just move. I can say that my overall movement has been difficult, since I don’t really leave where I live, but I’ve still been getting to 5000+ steps per day.
I did create an at-home, 4-week workout program for my clients that I’ve been following as well and that has been super helpful to keeping me on track with different types of training.
Right now, a lot of people are struggling mentally. What are your coping strategies to get through this time?
Biggest thing is to focus on what you can control. None of this is an ideal situation, but dwelling on the negative is going to get you nowhere. Focus on how you can improve, stay on track, get better, and figure out a way to adapt so when this is over, you can look back at this time and say, “Wow, I could’ve squandered that stay at home time, but instead, I feel like I’ve really used it well and gotten ahead, I’ve gotten better. Shift your mindset’s frame from “Why me? This sucks” to “What can I do today with the opportunities I have?”
Thank you, Ben for taking the time to talk to me and for all you do for our community! It is more important than ever to take care of our mental, emotional and physical well being so we appreciate these tips!
What have you been doing to keep your mind and body active during this time at home? Share and comment below!
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