7 tips for weight loss surgery patients to avoid cabin fever (and excessive eating!) during the coronavirus outbreak

As I type this the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has wormed its way into nearly every state in the United States, and many countries around the world. From everything I know (and I know more than most because by day, your girl Nik works in international humanitarian relief) this is probably just the beginning of this outbreak, which was recently declared a global pandemic.

Looking at my Facebook feed, most posts I see about coronavirus run along two different lines. Let’s talk about those first:

  1. The world is panicking! It’s not that big a deal! Yeah, so let’s talk about that. While I agree the massive toilet paper buying is a bit extra, in times of public health crisis, social isolation, quarantining and limiting large gatherings of people are actually scientifically proven to lessen the length and severity of outbreaks. If you are complaining because you haven’t seen or known someone with COVID-19 amid all the “hype,” it’s probably because of the hype. And the hype should continue. Yes, it sucks. But do you want to have fun all the time or do you want to stay healthy? #ISaidWhatISaid
  2. Wash your hands! Wash your hands! Wash your hands! And keep your hands away from your face. Seriously. It’s good advice and we should heed it, along with all the other precautionary measures that are being relayed to us from public officials. Remember, it’s not just about you. Depending on your age, you could get COVID-19 and be fine. But will your older loved ones? Personal safety is the best community protection.

But for us in the weight loss surgery community (and, I’d argue, in the weight loss community in general), there are a few more scary things about this outbreak that we haven’t been talking about. Probably because we think it’s silly to bring up. Well hi. I’m Nikki. Bringer upper of things that others don’t bring up. So here’s one thing I imagine you all might be worried about because it is something I myself am highly attuned to.

If I have to stay in the house because this virus gets too bad – and I’ve stocked up on literally everything to be able to do so – how do I keep myself from eating way too much and gaining weight?

There. I said it. Now you may be thinking, “Nikki, that’s the LAST thing on our minds!” Trust me, for some of you it’s not. And I’m here to say THAT IS OK. It’s ok to worry about how limited movement and possible quarantining will affect your process. After all, God/universe/whatever you believe in willing, this will pass and eventually it will be time to get on with life.

I myself have been put on a telework protocol from my job so I’ve been home about a week now. But I’ve also been shut in for other reasons and I have a few tips for you. Take ’em or leave ’em.

Establish a routine…fast!

Especially if you are a “fly by the seat of your pants” type of person, cabin fever can get you! I’ve found it helpful to have a routine. Well…several. I have my morning self-care routine (cleansing my face, etc.), having tea in the morning. I am blessed enough to have an actual home office so that I can “go to work” (even if it is just upstairs) and I stay there during work hours. I make myself a fabulous lunch, chat with my kid a bit in the evening and do relaxing stuff in the evening before my night self-care routine and bed.

Having a routine helps the days not run into each other. Seriously. Plus if you have small children, you already know the value of routines and continuity to them. Kids go a little bit bonkers when their lives are un-tethered for too long. But make sure you have some routines and rituals for YOU that don’t involve food.

Remember the telephone? Now might be a good time to use it!

This one is mostly for people like me who took the rise of the internet as an excuse to never have to have an awkward voice conversation ever again! But you know what? Lately I’ve been embracing those awkward conversations. Especially because many of the most treasured people in my life (like my only living grandparent!) are not on social media. So I’ve been picking up the phone more. Rifling through my contacts to find folks numbers. (Remember when we knew everyone’s number by heart?) And I’ve been having good old fashioned conversations. It gives me a chance to check on folks and make sure they are ok, but also I am an extrovert. I NEED PEOPLE. So this helps my sanity as well.

If outside is safe, go for a walk.

I live in a suburb-y part of my city. Houses are further apart. There aren’t huge crowds of people everywhere. It’s perfectly fine for me (and my Basset Hound) to go for walks. And I do. Several times a day. Starting Monday, that will come in handy as I begin the Bariatric Foodie Spring StepBet but also it gives me a chance to move my body, clear my mind, listen to some podcasts (which, for some weird reason, I can only do when I am walking) and just generally feel the wind on my face! Plus, it gets me away from the kitchen, and my propensity to eat when I am bored. If you live in a place where it’s not safe to do that (crowded metropolitan areas or anywhere where it’s generally been advised to stay indoors) then always heed the advice of local officials. But if you can walk, I highly advise it.

Remember all that stuff you never had time to do before? Now’s a good time to do it!

Now I’m not talking about a “honey do” (home improvement) list. Unless, of course, that’s your jam. If so, by all means, knock yourself out! But there’s stuff we put off because we don’t have the time. That book you’ve been meaning to read. That knitting project you’ve been meaning to finish. That Netflix show you’ve been wanting to watch. DO IT! Now’s the time. And lastly…

Food prepping. Embrace it.

There’s a reason I am only giving one food related tip. That’s because our decision to eat when we are not hungry (which is the risk here) has a lot more to do with our brains and what we are doing with them, than actual food. Food will be there. It will be in your house. You will share space with food. And if you have a family, people will be eating food around you during times when you maybe should not eat food but are simultaneously stressed, tired, worried or bored.

If you are concerned how you’ll handle being in the house more with the food, and the family eating the food, my one tip is to do a little preparation. Make a few dishes that are you-friendly. Portion them out, if that’s your thing. Count the macros. And if you want to be a super healthy ninja, log your food at the beginning of the day. That gives you a road map to follow and you might be surprised at how motivated you are to stick to that road map!

You can even enlist your family to help. Pick out some fun foods for the kids to prep. (When mine were little they used to love to make homemade Uncrustables.) Let them pack their “lunch box” to put in the fridge. Make an event out of meals together and use the time to connect as well as eat.

Movement is also important

Not everyone has a living space ideal for exercising at home. Like I said, a walk can do you wonders. But get creative about how to get some activity at home. It will help keep your mind off food, on your process, help produce some calming hormones and you’ll probably feel good that you did something for yourself. Try YouTubing some at-home workouts. If you have a small space, search “at-home workouts for small spaces.” If you have physical limitations, search “low impact, at-home workouts.” You get the picture. Do what you can. Forgive yourself for what you can’t do, and keep it moving.

And last, but not least, know that it’s ok to take care of yourself.

Many of us feel guilty taking care of ourselves on a normal day, but in the midst of crisis, self-care seems absolutely absurd to some of you. I know because you’ve told me!

It’s ok to take care of yourself. It’s ok to be careful about what you eat. Someone, somewhere may try to make you feel silly for attempting to keep to healthy habits in the midst of it all, but I’m here to tell you IT IS OK. You are important. Your process is important. Your emotions, your spirit, your goals. They are all important. And you are worth the effort it takes to be healthy in less-than-ideal situations.

So just know that.

We aren’t at a place of total quarantining yet. And, frankly, I don’t know if we will get to that place or not. But just in case, I wanted to share these tips with you to help you get your game plan together. If you’ve followed me for any length of time you know I believe virtually no situation is insurmountable with a plan! Drop any tips you have below in the comments and let’s help each other through the craziness together!

One comment

  1. Janie Wolleck

    Great article, Nikki. Really reinforces the basics, and gives very achievable ideas. Thanks so much!!