CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Have you gained weight during the COVID-19 pandemic? Do you keep going to the fridge or pantry while isolated at home? Has the stress made you crave salty or sweet treats?
According to medical professionals around Charlotte, if you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re not alone.
They are warning parents and families to eat healthy as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
John Bartemus, a chiropractic physician in Cornelius, says he’s seeing worrying trends as we head into month 11 of the pandemic.
Bartemus, who specializes in integrative and functional medicine, says in his view people are responding to the stress of COVID-19 with comfort foods, which can be dangerous.
"If someone entered COVID with say, sub-clinical blood sugar dysfunction, all the way up to insulin resistance or known pre-diabetes or diabetes, and now they've been locked down for 8-10 months. And they've been eating a lot of comfort foods, there's the potential that those high-sugar foods tip them over into diagnosable insulin-resistant, type-2 diabetes,” he says.
The Centers for Disease Control and many other experts say diabetes can be a dangerous pre-existing condition for COVID-19 patients, making it all the more important to avoid, according to Bartemus.
Bartemus, a published author with more than 10 years experience in healthcare, recommends people plan their meals, exercise more, and eat a rainbow of vegetables.
Back in Charlotte, Haynes Paschall is a mom to three busy teenagers.
“They can cook for themselves, so that is really helpful and also sometimes challenging,” Paschall says in her kitchen.
Besides mom-duty, Paschall is also an experienced health coach, helping people like her kids make healthy eating decisions. She knows it’s not easy right now.
"For the most part I think people are struggling, life as we know it looks so different and people want comfort. Food is an easy place to reach for some sort of comfort,” she says.
There is some good news, the 7-year veteran of health coaching says some people took the opportunity of being at home for months to develop better habits for eating and exercising.
But at the end of the day, she is seeing some of the same worrying trends doctors are seeing. People with bigger waist lines, higher blood sugar, and poor eating choices.
"I do like to prepare fruits and vegetables and keep them where they’re the first thing that you see,” advises Paschall.
And she means it, her refrigerator is separated into little jars and Tupperware containers full of already prepared fruits and vegetables.
For her family she keeps those handy, plans ahead for dinners each night, and says if you don’t want unhealthy foods in your house, do not buy them.
Paschall also does not want people to get discouraged with costs. She advises families to choose a protein and then two to three vegetables to repurpose for several meals a week. For example, she used chicken, peppers, and another vegetable to make a variety of dishes for her family this week.
In her line of work, Paschall often partners with Dr. Sheila Kilbane to help people.
"People aren’t feeling as good, a lot of people are saying ‘I gained the COVID-10 or COVID-15,” Dr. Kilbane, a licensed pediatrician specializing in integrative medicine, says in her Charlotte office.
She warns parents fatty and unhealthy foods are even more dangerous while COVID-19 is a threat, because of their impact on the body.
"We really want to have minimal systemic inflammation right now, so our immune system can work properly. And, hopefully we’ll be one of the people who gets over it more easily,” Kilbane says.
Her prescription? Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and make it fun.
"One of the things that I do is I have a green smoothie every morning,” Kilbane says.
Kilbane made a smoothie as an example, combining leafy vegetables, some frozen fruits, water, and flax or chia seeds. She advises against mixing it with dairy milk, and instead suggests water or almond milk.
Kilbane says if you combine a smoothie with at least 30-minutes of exercise a day you’ll feel better and potentially avoid some health issues associated with poor eating habits.
The exercise should elevate heart rates and kids especially should come back inside with rosy cheeks and a little out of breathe, according to Kilbane.
Her practice works with families and children to develop better diets and plans for nutrition.
Dr. Kilbane recommends parents supervising virtual school set out fruits and veggies instead of chips and other snacks. She also warns against sugary drinks like sodas and sports drinks.
And do not just plan for your kids, Dr. Kilbane says parents should be getting 30-minutes of strenuous exercise at least 3 days a week.