Safety Measures

by Tom Swift

There is something unseemly about getting fat during a pandemic. To spend precious time in the grocery store gathering ice cream, filling one’s cart with potato chips, thumbing through the pastry selection, at a time when going to the grocery store itself is a risky proposition, makes even less sense to me than buying excessive amounts of toilet paper.

As I am not a big drinker and I don’t smoke, food is my mind-altering substance. We all need a mental anesthetic now and then. Yet while I can see how comfort food might play a role in a home-bound sanity strategy, I also think it’s important to eat really, really well right now. I am, frankly, surprised this is not on the list of protective measures so widely publicized by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and others, somewhere right after the importance of washing your hands, maintaining physical distance from those you don’t live with, and not touching your face. Seriously, food has to be right up there.

What we put in our bodies always has the potential to alter our hormonal functioning, bolster or diminish our immune systems, enhance or lessen the health of our bones, muscles, and skin. Food can make us weaker or stronger, healthier or less healthy. Our food choices alone, even if all other factors are equal, play such a pivotal role in our physical and mental health and well-being. It would be, frankly, hard to overstate how much. Food is pleasure, yes, but it’s also medicine.

I am, to be sure, not saying that if you just eat your fruits and veggies, you will not still get sick. This isn’t about guarantees. I can’t offer one — no way. But the three pillars of good health — sleep, exercise, and diet — are especially important right now, it seems to me. We’re fighting chronic stress, a novel (for most) mental health challenge, if not also a virus, and the body needs vitamins, minerals, and nutrients — fat, protein, and carbohydrates — to do that.

I have noticed my food choices have changed some during this time — and by that I mean not just that I have more than the usual number of canned goods on hand.

Two examples:

1. Less dairy. I love mixing my own chocolate milk and I can put away Greek yogurt like a champ. I have not eliminated dairy but I have reduced my consumption. Why? Milk and its byproducts tend to produce or contribute to — in me, at least, very possibly not in others — congestion. Dairy products are excellent mind-numbers but I don’t need any false sniffles right now.

2. Smaller meals. Especially at the end of a work day, it’s easy for me to let go and have that extra chicken thigh, the dessert (for me that is often breakfast cereal or fruit smothered in yogurt or cottage cheese). I don’t do well on a calorie deficit, stress-wise, so I am not eating light, I would not say, but it doesn’t seem right at a time of scarcity to overdo it, either.

My goal at every meal is pretty simple: a responsible protein, an appropriate carbohydrate, and a green vegetable. As much as possible, I try to eat whole rather than processed foods. I am far from perfect with my habits but I think now is a great time to refine them.

One more thing: Generally speaking, sugars — refined sugar in all its forms — is just something almost everyone should avoid if optimal health is the goal.

To be sure, I do not believe there is only one right way to eat. I also don’t think it’s healthy to eat “healthy” all the time. I do not mean here to preach — forgive me if my tone has come out that way. (Well, except about sugar. I do not apologize about sugar. Sugar’s just toxic. Sorry — true.) I just think that if we want to do everything we can to fight a virus that almost all of us either have been or will be exposed to, it only stands to reason that we remember that the best medicine is the preventative kind.