Tom Browne, physiologist and Rita Makri, dietitian at AXA PPP healthcare

Leaving lockdown with a dietary plan

14 September 2020

35% of people in the UK are reported to have eaten more food or less healthy food during the lockdown period. With many things now set to change again as schools re-open and more of us return to the workplace, healthy eating can be one less thing to worry about with our top tips for creating a dietary plan. AXA PPP healthcare Programme Lead Physiologist Tom Browne and Dietitian Rita Makri share their top tips on how you can be in control, whether you want to maintain your diet or to improve it. 

What does the new ‘normal’ look like for your diet? 

At last! You may have finally adapted to a new routine working from home, but things are changing again... so what does this mean for your diet?

A recent survey by Kings College London, found that 35% of those surveyed in the UK, reported to have eaten more food or less healthy food during the lockdown period (Duffy, 2020). Conversely, for some, the coronavirus pandemic has provided an opportunity to improve dietary habits, including more time to prepare meals at home from scratch. In fact, 37% of the British population said that their lack of home cooking prior to lockdown was due to a lack of time (Hughes, 2020). As well as the time factor, the closure of fast food outlets, restaurants and cafes during lockdown gave us little choice but to cook and eat at home, with those craving a favourite takeaway, creating their own versions at home, often with healthier results.

So where will you go from here?

We’re here to encourage you to build on or maintain any healthy dietary habits from lockdown and use a return to your pre-lockdown routine as an opportunity to ditch the less healthy behaviours you may have adopted during this time. And we’ve got lots of helpful tips to help you do it.

Your guide to creating – and sticking to – a healthy post-lockdown dietary plan

1. Record the good results

During lockdown, did you prepare more meals from scratch? Have restrictions on eating out ignited a new passion for cooking? You may have found a new favourite dish that everyone in the household enjoys, or had more opportunities to sit down to a meal together as a family, something that may not have been an option before. The research suggests that many people have eaten more during lockdown. But that may have meant eating more freshly prepared, wholesome food, instead of being tempted into a pastry with your morning coffee or grabbing a pre-made sandwich or a couple of chocolate bars in lieu of lunch as many of us did pre-lockdown. In other words it may be no bad thing.

So, record the good results by writing them down, and celebrate them! You never know, you may find lots of new healthy eating habits or behaviours in your routine already.

2. Reflect on the positives

In addition to recording and acknowledging positive changes to your dietary habits from lockdown, taking time to reflect on those positives can help you reinforce and maintain the behaviours through the next set of challenges. How did you feel day to day during lockdown? Did you feel healthier or more energetic? Maybe you were more relaxed when planning meals for the day because you had time to prepare and more freedom to be creative with ingredients or try new recipes.

Now a commute or a school run (or both) may be back on the cards, and time more scarce, it’s helpful to keep reminding yourself why you maintained a behaviour during lockdown and what were the benefits to you and your family. It could simply be because you didn’t have a choice, but did you feel happier when eating together as a family or creating a new culinary masterpiece? This will help you to avoid slipping into old habits and perhaps reaching for a ready meal or takeaway menu when you get home in the evening.

The circumstances alone will bring about change, but reflect on the positives to help maintain healthy habits. 

3. Plan ahead

Avoid temptation or impulsive decisions by planning and preparing meals and snacks in advance. Cooking in an evening isn’t ideal if you’re limited for time, but could you prepare a meal early in the morning or the night before?

Slow-cookers are the perfect way for people who are out of the house all day to have a wholesome meal ready and waiting when they get home. Prep the ingredients in the morning, add to the cooker and leave it to do the work while you get on with your day.  When you’re ready to eat, you can serve up in a matter of minutes

Batch cooking meals at the weekend is another great tip to help you dish up nutritious home-made meals when time is short. Do the work once, store it well (this is where your freezer really can be your best friend) and you can enjoy home-cooked food throughout the week or even later down the line, with very little extra effort required. Take a look at our article and webinar for more great tips for fitting a healthy diet into our busy lives.

Finally, if you’re prone to snacking, try preparing healthy options ahead of time so they’re a quick and easy option in times of need. Pre-cut vegetables or fruit are great options. Team them with hummus or a peanut butter dip for a protein hit to keep you fuller for longer. Or try having a glass of water or a fruit tea instead. Often when we think we’re hungry what our bodies really crave is fluids not food.

4. Feel confident about change

A change in routine at the start of lockdown may have meant you’re eating more slowly, have more time for cooking fresh food or perhaps you’ve reduced your intake of sugar, fat, salt and other preservatives often found in foods to grab and go. This is great because you know what you need to do to maintain this behaviour. But if you never managed to get into healthy habits during the lockdown, why not look forward to the opportunity for another fresh start?

If you found yourself opening the snack cupboard more frequently while working at the kitchen table, the opportunity to work away from your home can help you avoid comfort eating or impulsively reaching for the biscuit tin when putting the kettle on. So, don’t stress… Many people can spend a great deal of time and energy trying to avoid change, but if you want to make a difference and you’re confident with your plan or goal, it will make the journey to success possible.

5. Commit yourself

Whether you did or didn’t adapt well to the lockdown, let’s all now commit to a healthy regime with our food as our circumstances change again. We’ve known for years that a poor diet can increase our risk of a wide range of health conditions and leave us more susceptible to infection. And given the current situation, maintaining optimal health is now more important than ever.

So, create a written or verbal promise to yourself, your family or friends and ensure your commitment is achievable. This is important even if it’s to maintain just one particular behaviour. For example, if you increased your fruit intake by 2 or more portions a day in lockdown, take 2 portions to work with you and maybe eat at the same time you would have done at home.

The best way to maintain commitment is having the goal in constant view, such as a written note stuck to your fridge or as your screensaver on your computer screen or phone. And once you continue the behaviour without any prompt you know you’ve cracked it. Motivation can help get you started but habit is what keeps you going. 

Top Tips

  • Keep healthy snacks prepared and nearby to avoid reaching for the biscuit tin.
  • Prepare meals early in the morning or the night before to save time in the evenings.
  • Organise meals for the week at the weekend. This could mean batch cooking your family favourites for the days ahead or simply writing a list of the meals that you are going to have for the week when you go shopping. 

When considering healthy eating during challenging and ever-changing times, aim for consistency over perfection for successful long-term results.

References

Duffy, B. (2020) Life under lockdown: coronavirus in the UK. Accessed: 22nd July 2020

Hughes, A. (2020) More than a fifth of people cooking every meal from scratch due to coronavirus lockdown, Tesco finds. Accessed: 22nd July 2020