This article is part of our special Food Freedom resources meant to support you during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to see our entire collection of resources. It is also the second part in our “How Melissa Urban Eats” series. Click here for Part 1.
Since so many people are asking me how I am navigating my own diet during the stress and extenuating circumstances of the pandemic, I thought I’d share some specifics and my actual day-to-day thought process.
Just a reminder—MY food freedom is not YOUR food freedom. Just because granola bars are worth it for me doesn’t mean they are for you. Just because I’m doing zero gluten at home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy sourdough. Read this through a generalized lens, and see which parts of my decision-making process inspire you in navigating your FF plan.
One common theme you’ll see here: My “is it worth it” bar is MUCH higher than it would be on a normal day. On a normal low-stress day, I’m much more likely to take a chance on a sweet or treat, knowing I have a solid physical and psychological buffer to fall back on if it doesn’t work out. Right now, things are stressed, volatile, and highly emotional. I have very little margin for error, and it’s even more important that I maintain high energy, a positive mood, and excellent sleep. These things all factor into my daily decisions. (Not to say I’m saying no to everything… only evaluating foods more carefully, and with more caution.)
Here is my day today.
Wednesday March 25, 2020
7:00 AM: I train fasted, so I head straight into the garage for a workout. (I don’t do a pre-workout, just water.)
8:00 AM: Post-workout, I drink a MUD WTR (cacao-based beverage) or functional mushroom tea as I get my kid ready and prep breakfast. I quit caffeine (again) a few months ago, and see zero reason to pick it back up, knowing how horrible it is for my anxiety. No coffee for me!
9:00 AM: My first meal of the day is always Whole30 compatible. I usually eat already prepped ground beef or chicken with a ton of mixed veggies and a drizzle of sauce; I find meat tides me over longer than eggs in the A.M. I know the kiss of DEATH for my energy and mood is sugar in the morning, so I’m not even tempted to make pancakes. A Whole30 breakfast is non-negotiable, even in my Food Freedom. (Today I had ground beef with sautéed peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, and spinach, and a drizzle of Golden BBQ Sauce.)
1:00 PM: I always find a natural break for lunch between 1 and 2 PM, as my creativity at work fizzles out and my brain needs a break. Lunch is usually a Whole30 base with some FF sides. I often eat a Whole30 chili, frittata, or protein salad, and throw in a side of white rice or a Siete tortilla. I also might add a granola bar or a GF muffin. I do better with sweets in smaller portions earlier in the day, and since I don’t have a mid-afternoon energy slump any more, it feels like a delicious addition and not a needed pick-me-up. I make a point to buy kid-sized MadeGood or Kind bars here, because the smaller portion works perfectly.
I also might throw some chips in with this meal. I’m a big fan of Kettle potato chips, and these aren’t foods-with-no-brakes for me. I can have 2 handfuls and be satisfied, and that amount doesn’t have any negative consequences. (Pepperoncini or Jalapeno are my faves.) I buy them only sporadically, though, so they feel like a treat when I do have them.
Today for lunch, I had leftover buffalo chicken frittata with hot sauce and half a gluten-free carrot raisin flax muffin. I also had a handful of Siete tortilla chips crumbled over the top of the frittata—a nice way for me to get some crunch without eating too many. (They make me bloated if I overdo it.)
4:30 PM: I usually eat a mini-meal late afternoon, because dinner with my son isn’t until 6:15, and I’m legitimately hungry before that. I usually do a hard-boiled egg or two, or a meat stick with peanut butter. (Another food freedom favorite; I actually do better with PB than almond butter, digestively speaking.) Again, it’s mostly Whole30, and protein-forward just to tide me over. I steer away from sugar here, as that will kill my appetite for dinner.
Today I had a Beef Chomps dipped in Sunbutter—one of my favorite combos.
6:00 PM: Dinner is the lightest meal of our day, and again, it’s always Whole30-ish. We’ll do spaghetti squash and meatballs in pasta sauce, or my son will eat Banza chickpea pasta while I do zoodles. (I like the taste of Banza but again, it makes me bloated, so I skip.) We also commonly do Applegate hot dogs or chicken sausage and roasted sweet potatoes or cauliflower. I keep dinner simple as my son always wants to eat fast and get to the games and LEGOS.
Tonight per my 7-year-old’s request, we’re having the aforementioned hot dogs with raspberries and strawberries, and organic Tater Tots from Whole Foods. (He likes what he likes.) The tater tots are not Whole30 compatible (corn flour) and they’re pretty fast-food-ish, but damn are they delicious, and this is one of our favorite “fun” dinners together.
8:00 PM: This is the trickiest time of day for me. My son is down, it’s just me and Twitter, and these days I find myself wanting to prowl through the pantry out of restlessness or anxiety way more than usual. Here’s how I handle this:
If Brandon (my partner) and I are up later watching a movie, I’ll make a bowl of air-popped popcorn with lots of melted butter, salt, and nutritional yeast. This is super satisfying but doesn’t stir up my Sugar Dragon, and as long as the bowl is small and I don’t do it more than once or twice a week, I have zero negative health consequences. (Too much corn gives me a histamine response—hives—so I’ve figured out how much I can get away with.)
The other thing that I love after dinner is a rice cake with a generous slathering of peanut butter. It’s light in my belly, doesn’t stir up cravings, and the fat before bed is much more conducive to sleep than a whackload of carbs. (I do very well with rice; it’s a Food Freedom staple.)
I also have Unreal brand bite-sized peanut butter cups and coconut bars in my pantry. I realized a while ago that I don’t need two full-sized PB cups to make me happy, so I switched to the minis. I will rarely (but it happens) eat one with my herbal tea while I read a book. I take my time eating it even though it’s tiny, I can be happy with just one, and they don’t send me screaming for more. It turns out that buying smaller sizes of treats like this is a great hack.
Basically any other sugary treat (especially in a bigger portion) after dinner is a total no-go during the pandemic. I know that I have a harder time sleeping and maintaining a good mood if I eat too much sugar too late at night, so even though that Cadbury Egg or GF cupcake may be worth it at other times of day, if it’s after 8 PM, I’m saying no. I’m already stressed, anxious, and emotional, so my “is it worth it?” answer is very different right now than it might be under normal circumstances.
A Sidebar on Treats
Yes, I do keep treats around the house! I buy things I know from experience are generally worth it, and if the mood strikes me, I’ll eat it. I have a 4-pack of small GF cupcakes, 4 Cadbury Eggs, and a few full-sized PB cups in my pantry as we speak. I ate one cupcake last week mid-afternoon, my kid had one, and the other two might be stale by now. I haven’t touched the Cadbury Eggs yet, but I will someday! And the bigger PB cups… Brandon will probably eat all of those.
The point is, I know I can have this stuff lying around and not feel pressure to eat it or feel like it’s calling to me from behind the pantry door. If this is not your context, follow one simple mantra: BUYING it is the same as EATING IT. If you don’t know if it’ll be worth it once you get home, or you didn’t have this item specifically on your list, don’t put it in your cart.
I hope this “day in the life” helps to give you ideas for evaluating your own Food Freedom while staying at home, and reassures you that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to successfully navigating your FF plan during this difficult time. The only thing I left out of my timeline is the parts where I show myself grace for doing the best I can in a stressful situation. That shows up all day, every day, and I hope it does for you, too.
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