South Carolina nutritionists and dietitians say they’ve been busier than usual this past year, as many in the community adjust to a work-from-home lifestyle during COVID-19 and need additional help to meet new nutritional goals.
Moving from the office to a home desk (or couch) during COVID-19 comes with a likely shift in eating habits — for good or bad — according to Charleston dietician and nutritionist Jana Davis, owner of Carolina Green Living.
“Initially, many clients who had struggled with skipping meals or making mealtime choices at the office that didn’t align with their health goals thought that working from home was going to solve those challenges,” Davis said.
But Davis’ clients soon realized that their need to plan ahead didn’t disappear when their work setting changed.
“They were still just walking into the kitchen and grabbing snacks or meals between video meetings with little thought in regard to what they were eating,” she said.
Along with Americans elsewhere, South Carolinians over the past year have packed on pounds. According to nutritionists, the increased availability of takeout, people’s reluctance to linger at the grocery store to review ingredient lists in detail and stress-eating have all contributed to the nation’s collective weight gain.
Work-from-home stress is exacerbated for parents, said Lorena Graham, Charleston nutritionist and holistic doula of A Natural Minded Mama. Parents exhausted from managing their children’s schooling are more likely to resort to fast food or other unhealthy meal solutions that seem simple.
Graham advises her clients to create a routine, along with taking advantage of local resources like fresh foods from farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture, recognizing that it might take time to form healthy habits.
“True health is not a quick journey,” Graham said. “It’s a lifestyle.”
Charleston-area nutritional counselor Meg Richichi said working from home offers a chance to focus on nutrition throughout the day.
“People realize, ‘If I have a break, let me prep some food, chop some vegetables, put a chicken in the oven,’ ” Richichi said.
The proximity to the kitchen for home cooking and flexibility throughout the day for exercise are two improvements she’s noted.
For Michaela Brewer, shifting from a job as a bartender on Folly Beach to an at-home sales representative was a major lifestyle change.
“I’ve always enjoyed fruits and vegetables and made them a daily habit,” she said. “However, working in food and bev, you are surrounded by a lot of temptation to indulge, and with no lunch breaks, you are often left with limited options that for me resulted in unhealthy, quick, fatty meals.”
Additionally, working long, late hours on her feet left Brewer with little motivation and energy to cook and exercise, resulting in what she calls “a toxic cycle of unhealthy meals.”
Once she had more time to prepare meals, Brewer on her own did what Graham suggests and joined a CSA.
She discovered Earth Heart Growers, a local nonprofit organization focused on connecting the community to the earth through gardening, farming and cooking education. She started purchasing a $35 weekly box of fresh, organic produce.
“This is when eating healthy became fun for me,” she said. “COVID-19 was the motivation. Working from home allowed me the time to implement it.”
Ash Starkey fell out of his healthy routine when he began working from home during the pandemic. Instead of sticking to his 6 a.m. workout regimen, he ate heartier breakfasts and snacked on whatever he found in the kitchen. With his teenage daughter at home, too, he also started ordering Zaxby’s multiple times a week.
After he contracted COVID-19 in June, Starkey decided to get back to healthy eating. He began snacking on carrots and celery and gave up his Big Zax Snak Meals for flank steak.
“Home cooking makes a huge difference, since you can portion better than eating out,” he said.
Alicia Valverde, a Charleston-area writer and marketing coordinator, agrees. Since she started working from home, she’s switched from what she describes as a “20-something who is working multiple jobs diet” to an almost entirely plant-based diet.
She decided to make the switch once she realized that her typical overload of iced coffee wasn’t keeping her energized all day long. She also began to really pay attention to the inflammation in her back from sitting all day and in fingers and hands from typing all day.
“I really had an ‘a-ha!’ moment when I realized that of course I do not feel good because I’m not eating feel-good food,” Valverde said.
That being said, she still orders takeout on Fridays and Saturdays to support local businesses and as a treat. It’s about balance, she said.
Reach Kalyn Oyer at 843-371-4469. Follow her on Twitter @sound_wavves.