As the world emerges from COVID-19-related quarantines, returning to “normalcy” can be tough. The general message to the public over the spring and summer was to focus on staying home and placing your mental health first — meaning don’t beat yourself up over some comforting couch potato behavior. Now that some folks are leaving their safety nests, how can we return to our fitness and diet routines, especially with only a smattering of gyms open and daily stress pushing us toward that bag of chips?
Nikki Caster, a Los Angeles-based holistic wellness and empowerment coach (and co-host of the Cherry Bomb podcast), emphasizes taking changes slowly, especially since we’ve all encountered so much disruption this year.
“Start to create space again for your health and wellness,” Caster says. “What happened for a lot of people is that they lost their wellness routines for obvious reasons. The time and energy they had devoted to those practices became consumed by pandemic activities.”
Caster recommends beginning with 10-30 minutes devoted to fitness, with an emphasis on breath awareness, mobility, strength, cardio, and quiet time.
“You could do 10 minutes of relaxed breathing with stretch, five to 10 minutes of push-ups, squats, and core work and then 10 minutes of dancing, jumping on a trampoline, walking, or riding a bike,” Caster says. “It’s just important to start.”
Online sessions, classes, and tutorials are also helpful, especially for those who live alone. Caster recommends the dance parties on Daybreaker (Daybreaker.com), various emotional freedom techniques on YouTube to release stress and anxiety, and the qi gong practice, also on YouTube, to boost your immune system, soothe inflammation, and improve mobility.
As far as gyms, Caster herself wouldn’t yet return. If it’s the only option for exercise, Caster says there are precautions to take. Bring a fanny pack stocked with hand sanitizer, a washcloth to wipe up your sweat, and, if you can find them, antibacterial towelettes. Always clean your machines before and after your workout.
“No offense to the staff, but I wouldn’t trust that everything is sanitized and clean, so do take ownership to clean everything for yourself and support those after you,” Caster says. “Bring your own water bottle. I wouldn’t use the faucet there. Wearing gloves is an option, as well as a mask.”
When it comes to food, Caster reiterates the go-slow approach for most people. While she describes herself as “extreme” when it comes to what she limits in her diet (no dairy, gluten, soy, fried foods, carbs, or sugar), she knows not everyone can be as strict.
“The other type [of dieters are] the gradual baby steppers,” Caster explains. “Easy and subtle transitions work best, this is my lovely girlfriend. She does well removing a few things and adding a few things without a severe disruption of her habits.”
Drinking alcohol five nights a week? Try to make it three or even two. Attempt to consume no carbohydrates for two days a week.
“Replace [carbs] with salad and protein for breakfast, steamed veggies and protein, or overnight oats with blueberries,” Caster says. Try replacing chips and pretzels with carrots and hummus, she adds.
Caster’s final recommendation is to get your food sensitivities tested.
“They have really easy mail in kits with quick results,” Caster says. “Many people are intolerant to things they are consuming every single day. This can lead to weight gain, inflammation, moodiness, and other negative side effects. Knowing what foods your body is sensitive and intolerant to will allow you to have greater ownership of your daily choices to improve your health. You’ll desire to consume more of what feels good naturally for you and this knowing can create real change that is empowering.”