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Looking at unhealthy eating habits formed during COVID
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Looking at unhealthy eating habits formed during COVID

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During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, life consisted of sheltering at home to stay healthy and prevent the spread of the virus. But, according to nutrition professionals, living in lockdown also contributed to the formation of unhealthy habits.

“…People are doing more take out. We’re seeing people eating more processed foods like French fries and hamburgers and fast food and all those kind of things,” Susan Olmer, registered dietitian at Columbus Community Hospital, said. “A lot of people did gain weight over the last few months. And some of that, also, is due to inactivity.”

Spending time outside moving around was limited, Olmer said, and now that’ll take place again with the onset of winter.

“When summer was here, it was really neat to see a lot of people out walking,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve seen so many people out on the trails in Columbus.”

Shannon Muhs, a Hy-Vee registered dietitian who covers 18 stores in Nebraska and Iowa, including in Columbus, agreed that less-than-healthy eating habits were started during the pandemic.

“I feel like people were not that healthy during this pandemic and it’s not over,” Muhs said. “There was less activity, more eating and more drinking, so I feel as though many people may have some weight to lose. There are some quick-fix diets out there people could do or try but if you want to do it in a healthy way, see a dietitian.”

This week, Hy-Vee announced the launch of virtual dietitian services which will include a free class in January. Led by a dietitian, topics cover nutrition and healthy habits. More information can be found at hy-vee.com/healthy/hy-vee-dietitians.

“For virtual nutrition counseling, like for a diabetic or someone that wants to lose weight, with multiple sessions, there is a charge,” Muhs said, adding that there are also menu plans available for a cost. “A nutritional counseling session would be a one-on-one Zoom conversation with me or another dietitian if you’re in another area.”

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Along with the bad, Olmer saw a positive – the explosion of gardening and more home-cooked meals.

“People were canning like crazy; you couldn’t find a canning lid if you wanted to. You haven’t seen that for a very long time,” Olmer said. “People are really trying to make the best of the situation.”

Although the pandemic isn’t yet a thing of the past, Olmer said she’s already seen an uptick in the number of calls regarding weight gain.

“The biggest thing that I tell people is, you’ve got to get out, you’ve got to exercise and you really have to watch your portions. We never realize how much we eat when we sit down for a meal,” she said.

Eating processed or otherwise unhealthy food affects an individual’s overall well-being, she added.

“People need to remember, first and foremost, that… 70 to 80% of your immune system is in your gut and what we eat every day can affect our immune system,” Olmer said. “Eating a lot of fatty food, meat products and processed foods can cause inflammation in our bodies. When we get that inflammation that lowers our immune system and that allows us to get sick.”

Olmer often recommends taking a look at what’s good for the body as well, such as yogurt and at least four to six bottles of water a day.

“You can’t always tell people what to do, but you can always advise them to eat more fruits and vegetables and maybe more plant-based protein, like beans and peanut butter, instead of all the meats,” Olmer said. “Those things are going to help them in the long run with their inflammation and maybe with weight loss.”

Hannah Schrodt is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at hannah.schrodt@lee.net.

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