Phil Holmes BA (Hons), PGCE, Adv Dip.Nut MRSPH

We are in unprecedented times and there is a great deal of anxiety and worry about what the coming weeks and months will bring. With yesterday’s announcement re school closures, many families are going to be ‘working from home’.

From research into behaviour and food consumption, there are 3 areas I’d like to share with you: (a) Psychology = people eating due to being bored, depressed or seeking comfort (b) Habit = where food is easily available (c) Physiological = the obvious need to reduce or remove the feeling of hunger.

Working from home brings a great deal of temptation for all the family to eat through boredom. For adults, an evening drink may become a greater feature of life due to worry which borders on depression. I usually focus on athletes or those aspiring to be – however please see here my tips for helping your nutrition and cohesion for the coming weeks:

  1. Set up a family routine / timetable. This includes a breakfast to signal the start of the day. You have choices here which range from grapefruit followed by porridge (around 300 calories combined) to a bacon sandwich (which would be a similar amount). The point here is that whilst calories are similar, the speed of energy release, vitamin & mineral content and overall benefit in times of a pandemic virus should help steer you to my preferred option. Think of blood sugar levels and maintaining a sense of calm in your family members – we don’t want fall outs.
  2. Plan your meals. You can only eat what you have in stock. Ignoring the selfishness of those who bulk buy, if your cupboards contain cakes, cookies and crisps then you will eat them. If you have salad, rice, fruit and tuna then these will be your source of nutrients. I’m not expecting people to be angelic, rather I am highlighting the need to plan your shopping list and meals.
  3. Maximise the extra time now available. No drive to work means extra opportunity in the day to exercise. You have the chance to really hit some daily exercise time. Therefore as part of your family timetable, schedule a PE lesson. This could be anything from a 30 minute run or family bike ride, home exercises based on squats, press-ups, lunges, stair climbing etc (contact Steve at as a guide – a close friend I trust implicitly to guide you for ideas re exercise ). Keep it fun as well by taking the kids out with a ball and making up fun / silly challenges.
  4. Introduce a family Food Technology lesson and allow the children to join in with baking, cooking, choosing menus. We have the chance to spend time together being productive. If we buy ingredients we can make dinners together. The children can learn skills they’ll need in future life and we can eliminate some of the hidden ‘nasties’ in shop bought convenience meals.

Finally I’d like to offer some statistical motivation. Various studies have looked into the amount of calories burned by sedentary office based workers. More of us are now going to fit into this category. Sat at a desk was found to burn around 70 calories per hour. Standing up for the second 30 minutes of each hour only increased the rate by a mere 100 calories in a day! Or slightly less than one flat white.

So please be aware as to how vulnerable we all become when we combine less activity with increased anxiety. Even daily exercise doesn’t burn as many calories as you may think. A 90kg athlete running for 30 minutes (at 10 minute mile pace) will only use up 450 calories. It is less for lighter and more for heavier. But a cheese and pickle sandwich at lunchtime will weigh in around 450 calories. A jam doughnut is 230-250 calories. If you escape the house for a medium latte coffee and blueberry muffin you consume over 500 calories (an Americano is 8 calories).

Without excessive detail here, the recommended rates of energy expenditure would be approximately 2600 calories per day for a desk bound 14 stone male. A 10 stone female requires 1900. I totally understand the likelihood of alcohol consumption being an evening occurrence. To share a bottle of red wine as a couple means you share 600 calories. 2 cans of european beer offers more than 350 calories.

To conclude: we can be worried, or we can embrace the chance of spending more time with people we love. We can comfort eat due to boredom, stress or habit or we can plan, buy smart and make good food as a family unit. We can let the kids hide away in digital world or we can plan daily exercise and use this time to live a healthier life. And if we eat smart through the day, there may be enough room to fit a couple of glasses of much needed wine into each evening without this topping up an already overloaded body!

Yes, I focus on athletes. But if you feel you need some help or a digital arm round your shoulder, please drop me a line and if I can help I will.

Please look after each other. As a good friend of mine often says, “Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.” Next blog will focus on ensuring teenage athletes maximise this enforced ‘off-season’.