Healthy Weight Management in the Age of Coronavirus

Updated March 21, 2020

A letter from Dr. Susan Roberts:

It’s clear that COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease that is likely to infect many Americans, and may be especially severe in those who are over 60 years of age or have compromised lungs or immunity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes or other predisposing conditions. It seems like a big job to avoid catching it while preparing for what to do if the worst happens! As this is on my mind, and likely yours also, I wanted to describe what I’m personally doing to prepare in case anyone finds that useful.

Doing your part to limit virus spread helps to preserve medical and community resources to assist those most in need, and puts you in a better position to help others. We are all in this together as a society — something important to remember if people around you are losing their heads. We want to help you stay healthy so you can be your best and do your best during a challenging time.

As a broad comment, I see nutrition as even more incredibly important now, because we can use the power of nutrition to stay as healthy as possible while we get through this challenging time.

Think about it in 3 categories: Healthy food, healthy attitude, and healthy weight control.

How important is nutrition, anyway?

In short: important! COVID-19 is a new virus, which means none of us have any immunity. So our immune function — our native immunity — is what will ultimately help us pull through if we catch it. So now is an excellent time to truly embrace eating for health. Lots of fruit and vegetables (see safety note, below), lean proteins and fish, legumes, low-fat dairy, low glycemic index carbs. In short, that’s everything we do in iDiet, including our moderate (not crash-dieting) approach. As you know, iDiet also recommends a daily one-a-day multivitamin-mineral supplement, and if you have not been taking one, now is a good time to start.

Move towards health: Regular exercise is also valuable, because having some cardiopulmonary reserve will be helpful if we get infected. Something like a daily walk outside is healthful without risk of contamination (I personally cancelled my gym membership this week — I couldn’t see any way to avoid the risk of infection there, for now).

Stress eating and too much time at home?

I can see from my inbox how preoccupying COVID-19 is, I’m probably getting 10 times fewer work emails than normal, which fits with the stress levels people say they are feeling. And the combination of stress and more time at home may cause stress eating, in those who are so inclined. Now is not the time to give in to overeating and worse health!

Stock up, but not with junk: I know it is easier said than done, but the very best way to deal with stress overeating at home is to get rid of the unhealthy things you can’t resist. Cookies, cake, ice cream, chips… None of those have any nutritional value — they actually decrease your immunity as they are pro-inflammatory, and in short would ideally be banished. Having substitute foods to eat during stress is a good plan too — see what good things to stock up, below.

What are good items to stock up? Think healthy and safe

I have stocked my own kitchen over the past week and having both healthy foods and safe foods that accommodate our new reality has been my priority. Panic buying has depleted some food stocks, but we think this will be temporary because fundamentally America has a lot of food — Americans’ waistlines are proof of this. Until grocers are able to restock, we will need to be creative based on what healthy foods are available in your local store. 

Efficient is safe and healthier: To reduce your risk of infection by spending less time out in public, make a list before shopping and try and get everything you need for a minimum of a week, 2 weeks if possible. Try to think of alternate foods to substitute for your usual foods, and write them down too. This will help you stay on-mission and not shop randomly, or end up with unintended and junky foods suddenly appearing in your cart on impulse. If you can, consider shopping first thing in the morning when the supermarkets open, to reduce the risk of airborne virus exposure since it will have had the nighttime to disappear from yesterday’s customers. 

Safety first: it seems radical, but when we get to the point when COVID-19 is transmitted through the community I will not be buying prepared salads, or fresh and raw salad items like lettuce, tomatoes and strawberries. Switching to cooked fruits and vegetables and frozen things (those frozen blueberries were harvested last year so are perfectly safe), and things you can peel is the prudent choice. My dry run this week to prepare for this new shopping made this all seem fine — I picked up a pineapple and frozen blueberries instead of strawberries — and both were delicious. Cooked food is probably safer than raw at this time.
We may need to be flexible in what we cook while the supply chains work themselves out, based on what we are able to bring home. Look at this as an opportunity to try new things and practice your creativity.

Healthy is anything iDiet legal! Since we are all going to be spending a lot of time at home, and restaurants are full of potentially contaminated customers, now is a great time to think about more home cooking and freezing meals for when you need them. It’s better to make your own convenience foods than to buy them anyway. Anyone who has particular healthy recipes that they have in mind and iDiet hasn’t yet developed can let us know and I’ll see if I can produce a new adaptation. And if baking is your delight when you are home, think about iDiet bread. It’s so healthy, and a great substitute activity to stay busy and nurture your spirit.

Clean cooking: Touching your face increases the risk of infection — as many articles mention — but how to do that for women is easier said than done! I am personally using a hair band to tie back my top hair when I work with food, so i don’t have to push it out of the way, and I’m using a string on my glasses so they don’t slip down and require frequent adjustments. You can also buy silicone appliances to attach to your eyeglass earhooks to keep them in place. This sort of hand awareness combined with washing your hands before and after handling food will help reduce contamination quite a bit.

Immune Awareness: Junk foods and refined sugars are pro-inflammatory, so they take your immune system away from important jobs, and rob your body of important antioxidants. Whereas fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, fish, and the other foods you would associate with a Mediterranean-style diet are a plus. If you are not already an iDiet member, look up the Mediterranean or MIND diets for an idea of what is good. (We use similar foods, but in our proprietary hunger-suppressing ratios, and with an emphasis on fiber and glycemic control.)

Rest and calm: Your immunity and health are also improved when you’re getting enough restful sleep — for most people that’s 7-9 hours of good-quality sleep each night. I also recommend putting yourself on an information diet. That’s not to say stick your head in the sand, but to be just as moderate with your consumption of possibly distressing news stories as you are with your food 🙂   Stay informed, use trusted news sources (see some links below), and don’t believe absolutely everything you see on social media without checking the source first. It’s easier to “catch” panic than it is to catch a virus.

Think beyond food: Of course, nutrition isn’t the only thing, and everyone will be thinking of ways to stay healthy ourselves and protect loved ones – everything from finding a supply of hand sanitizer (who would have thought that even Staples would run out?), to not visiting elderly relatives, or safely helping them stay healthy and well-prepared. As always you are my inspiration and I will look forward to hearing via the Group Leaders what your best tips and strategies are!

With very best wishes

Susan Roberts Signature



Dr. Sue Roberts


At the time of this writing, here are some news sources we know to be responsible and timely:


Free New York Times coverage

Free Washington Post coverage

San Francisco Chronicle coverage

LA Times coverage

Seattle Times coverage

BBC coverage


Help and advice:

NPR: Prepare Your Home

How to Wash Your Hands Correctly

How to get help for anxiety: Get free helpline via text.
Text CONNECT to 741741 or https://www.crisistextline.org/anxiety

National Suicide Prevention Hotline (call or text): https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

World Health Organization info center

Directory of State Health Departments for the USA


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