During 2020, I ran a programme of remote consultations with some 70 young professionals who suddenly found themselves working from their bedroom, their living room or their kitchen, feeling disorientated and confused about how to structure their working day.
They missed their colleagues and had a range of issues which were pulling them down including:
- Weight gain (the "quarantine fifteen")
- Low energy
- Low mood
- Lack of exercise
- Difficulty sleeping
Creating a Wellness Roadmap
As a nutritionist, I was engaged by a range of companies to help their staff successfully manage this new reality and way of working. Through a series of one to one consultations, I worked with participants to create a ‘Wellness Roadmap’, inspiring them to adopt a healthier routine as they acclimatised to the ‘new normal’.
The start of the journey begins with some questions about their daily food intake. This helps me to gain a better understanding of their dietary habits and preferences, so I'm better equipped to signpost them towards healthier, more sustaining alternatives.
For example, one of the participants who was suffering from low energy levels captured what they typically ate during the day:
Whilst not all unhealthy food, a better balance of nutrients will help them to stay sustained and energised, without having to resort to snacking throughout the day.
My next step is to talk participants through my POWER Eating Plate which illustrates the components that make up a nutritionally balanced meal. I use this as a basis for helping them make healthy changes, and ask them how it fits in with their meals.
I constantly relate the elements of the Power Eating Plate back to their own health issue. For example, I might explain how eating excessive carbohydrates—which include all fruit and vegetables, not just grains—can impact their energy and weight. I ask them how they can incorporate protein and healthy fats into every meal, and then we discuss the green stuff – are they getting enough?
It's surprising how few people reach their 5-a-day quota and in fact, ideally we should be aiming for 10-a-day for optimal nutrition and protection from disease. It’s easily done – think smoothies for breakfast, soup and salad for lunch, raw veg with hummus as a snack and some steamed or roasted veggies for dinner.
When and how
I will also ask people when and how they eat. Time Restricted Eating (TRE) has become very popular and well supported by science. It involves setting an ‘eating window’ of say 10 hours so you only eat between 10am and 6pm and the rest of the time you have nothing but water. This is also known as Intermittent Fasting (IF) and it's a chance to give your body a break from constant digestion so it can carry out its essential repair and maintenance work.
Eating mindlessly in front of your screen can impair the digestive process, so I always recommend switching off the screen or, better still, going into another room to eat. Mindful eating, which includes chewing food several times before swallowing, helps you relax and your food will be far better digested than if in a stressed state.
Keep a food diary
By the end of a typical 30 minute session, my 'mentee' will have gone away with a list of inspiring meal ideas that will make them feel happier and more energised during their workday.
For some, that’s all they need and others need a bit more support so I ask them to keep a food diary which I check after a week to help them keep on track. I remind them that they need to keep a drink diary too – it’s amazing how many glasses of wine, pints of beer slip under the radar!
Put your commute time to good use
In terms of fitting exercise into their suddenly very sedentary lifestyle, I advised them to use their commute time to do some exercise either at home or outside. Far better than falling out of bed and landing at your desk without any movement whatsoever. Getting dressed for work helped change their mindset too and, to demarcate the end of the workday, changing into more casual clothes was a winner.
Books and podcasts
I would sometimes signpost podcasts and books eg. Feel Better in 5 by Dr Rangan Chatterjee as well as his podcast Feel Better Live More. The Calm app can be a great way of de-stressing and switching off from a frantic day, and it can help you sleep too.
Many people returned again and again over the course of the year and it was such a pleasure to see how they had taken control of their health and were so much happier with their new routines. As one employee said:
You've helped me see the positives in Lockdown - I've had more time to expand the range of what I've been eating and am taking better care of myself
If you or your employees could benefit from this support—and 30 minutes is often all it takes—please get in touch so that we can discuss your needs.