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Are you stocking up for COVID-19? These 4 things will help you and those around you thrive with nutrition.

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You’re hearing and reading all the messages telling you to stay home and limit your social interactions. You heard that you should be stocking up on food and groceries. You’re seeing empty shelves at the stores and long lineups. Maybe you are overwhelmed trying to make a food plan for the coming weeks.

This article is for you. And when I say you, I mean both my regular TBI & chronic illness followers, and also those people who are healthy — who are not at risk nor taking care of those at risk of the coronavirus. This post is in support of people who are already self-isolated or challenged going to grocery stores due to chronic health issues. And it’s directed at you, those who are healthy, so that you can do what you need to do, feeling good with less stress, knowing that you are supporting your health and the health of those around you 🙂

Take it from someone who has been practising self-isolation for years with a brain injury… There are things we can do to keep both ourselves and those around us physically and mentally well ♥️

Your actions can help slow down the spread

Have you seen the graph yet? (#FlattenTheCurve)

A blue and yellow graph explaining the concept of flattening the curve for coronavirus: how many people are sick at once, number of sick people if we don't stop the spread, how many very sick people hospitals can treat, number of sick people if we take steps to control the spread, how long the virus has been spreading
Graphic by Stephanie King.

Italy right now has the highest number of people with the virus. And it all happened quickly — the number of people infected spiked.

“Italy is one country that has had to accept quickly the need for drastic action. Just three weeks ago, it did not have much of a coronavirus problem. Now it has had more than 15,000 confirmed cases.” (Washington Post)

And it’s getting to the point where the numbers of people who have it in Italy are out numbering what the healthcare system can handle. When that happens, fewer people can be treated, and more chance of the illness becoming serious or leading to death.

“They face questions of triage as surgeries are canceled, respirators become rare resources, and officials propose converting abandoned exposition spaces into vast intensive care wards.” (NY Times)

A spike in the number of people infected is what we’re trying to prevent. It seems possible that the total number of people who end up getting the virus may still turn out to be similar here in Canada. But the goal is to slow the spread — to stretch those cases out over a longer period of time. And to get that outcome, we need to slow down our close contact interactions with others, especially those who are at risk.

Your goal for stocking up on groceries: it’s not a sprint, it’s a slow paced jog

There are two goals for stocking up on groceries. The main one is if you yourself need to be self-isolated for potentially having the virus. In the event of self-quarantine, at this time Ottawa Public Health has guidelines asking people to self-isolate for 14 days. Your groceries and pharmacy needs would therefore need to last you for two weeks.

Note: this website is updated daily – this information may change at any time! Reference Ottawa Public Health for updated information.

The second goal might simply be to limit the amount you need to go out and interact with others. This lowers the number of opportunities the virus has to play “musical humans.” The goal is not to hunker down in a bunker for months. At this point the aim is to slow down your close interactions with a greater mass of people. The fewer people the virus can infect at one time, the fewer affected, and the more likely illnesses will come in at a rate the healthcare system can handle. 

What’s going on at the grocery store right now?

In the last week we’ve seen some grocery stores overwhelmed. Shelves unusually out of stock. Check out lines longer than they’ve ever been. We are seeing a mass gathering of people at the grocery store, as they SPRINT to stock up.

I can completely understand your drive to do this. This pandemic is after all, serious. All of us can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. So with all of this on our minds, and uncertainty about how this pandemic will play out, it is human for us to worry and to do everything we can to ensure our health going forward.

However, the sprint does not necessarily help us. Many with disabilities and chronic illnesses, the elderly, as well as their care takers may not be able to participate and get what they need when the sprint is on.

I think of my own horrible experience, back in the early years of my recovery, when going to the store on a slow day hurt. The lights, the noise, the decision-making my poor brain couldn’t handle that left me wandering the store lost & confused, and all the visual stimulus of all those brightly coloured and information-packed packages & labels… There is no way that if I still had those symptoms today, with “panic buying” going on, that I would be able to get what I need…

Ottawa Public Health at this point recommends stocking up GRADUALLY. Getting one or a few extra items each time you go to the grocery store, and planning. In other words, Public Health and this dietitian are recommending stocking up at the pace of a slow jog.

In my opinion, this meets the goals of stocking up better by focusing you to buy only what you truly need, and preventing a spike of people amassing at the store.

Knowing that social distancing can help lower the spread of the virus, and knowing that sprinting for groceries may not totally be in line with your’s nor public health’s best interest, what can you do?

I’ve got four C’s here for you 🙂

Four things that will help keep you and those around you healthy while maintaining that slow pace 🙂

#1 Calm: keeping your body healthy along with the health of the public 

Getting zen may be easier said than done, but it’s worth your time & energy to remedy.

Food on regular days can stress you out, and in this pandemic, it’s extra. It’s maybe become cliché to simply say “Keep calm & ___ on.” But remember that stress does impact your health on a physiologic level. From a nutrition perspective, stress in the body raises cortisol levels, which when prolonged contributes to high blood sugar, high blood pressure, problems with digestion and possibly even lowering the immune system.

There are many ways to cope with stress, and sometimes you may use food. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Though it could impact your nutrition & health if you otherwise have coping strategies you’d rather use, but seem unable to access with the extra stress.

My dog – the best example of chill

Working on your chill on a larger level may also help lower fears about scarcity. It’s highly unlikely that we’re going to run out of food — our food supply system is as “robust” as ever. But driving up scarcity with “panic buying” just makes it harder for those who already have a hard time getting to the grocery store, to get what they truly need when, they need it.

#2 Consideration: positive actions that take care of you and the people you want to help

How much is the stress of this situation prompting you to buy more than you need?

Consider times in the past when you have been faced with similar challenges. How did you handle them? Have you ever forgotten to get groceries one week? Did you ever run low on money and had to make do? It’s not that you have to do these things, but consider that you may already have the ability to make it through.

To lower needless item purchases, consider the food you already have and use it. A number of you may be surprised that there are a lot of meals you can make with those frozen veggies at the back of the freezer, or that stew you made and still have separated into frozen portions. Plus, using up what you got is a strategy I and others use during the regular year, just to save money!

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, consider others. As mentioned above, there is likely someone in your circle who can’t get out on the regular due to health reasons. With the current crowds and ice from rain and melting snow, it’s even harder and riskier. I know you want your actions to have a positive impact on not just your own health, but your environment at large. Here’s a chance to practice that. Think of that person in your neighbourhood the next time you go shopping. Can you pick up something for them? You can save them the risk of going out at this time.

#3 Compassion: keeping positive about yourself and others to stay strong

Many people like you that I work with, have very high expectations for their health and the environment. There’s nothing wrong with this, but for example, I’ve had clients who said that buying frozen vegetables, or pre-chopped produce, is “cheating.” Have some compassion in this moment for yourself. If you can’t eat at the standard you’re used to, because of low stocks or because you need to self-isolate, give yourself a break and don’t make things worse by putting yourself down.

What helps to have compassion for yourself, is to have compassion for others. I have been seeing posts and comments that criticize what others are buying at the grocery store. Judgements of hoarding and loading up on bags of chips, frozen pizzas, or what have you. Drop this judgment. It doesn’t help you and it doesn’t help others get through this. Everyone is truly doing the best they can with what they got.

#4 Community: keeping and building connections at a time of social distancing

The three points above, calm, consideration, and compassion, all lead up to this: community. Take it from someone who has been forced into self-isolation periodically over the years due to brain injury… Maintaining a sense of community is of utmost importance. And despite social distancing, food is still a very important connecter to us all.

This month is nutrition month. And the theme is “more than food.” I believe we must not forget this when people are worrying over, and maybe solely focusing on what foods to stock. What foods you choose are important, and so are your attitudes towards food and eating.

People, Kid, Baby, Child, Strawberry, Fruit, Food

Even at this time, you can get more from your food and find a better quality of life by finding joy with food and others. Share recipes & tips with your friends and family. Do this online if you need to stay home. Make meal times with friends and family special. If you are all at home, have music on, play games, do a theme night, dress up (80s prom dinner anyone?) And if you are self-isolating, heck, I once Christmas dinner over Skype! Get creative and find ways to share 🙂

Finally, there is the greater community at large. To keep your whole community healthy, those who are already struggling still need lifting up. Food banks are taking action to stop the spread of the virus. This may add costs or increase their need for food. For example, vulnerable families can’t afford to stock up food for days at a time. Plus, with schools closed for three weeks, help will be needed to provide families with meals their children usually received at school or in after school clubs.

If you have the means to take that next step to support your community nutrition, donating money to a food bank is an option.

Team, Friendship, Group, Hands, Cooperation, People

This blog post is speaking directly to you, those who are healthy, who don’t have limitations or accessibility needs, those who are not caretakers for people at risk. Many hands will make possible the heavy work of keeping you and your community safe during this pandemic… So long as those hands are washed 😉 

Best in health and support for those at risk and with chronic health conditions,

Krystal Merrells, Registered Dietitian

If you need some ideas to jog your memory on what you need and can make with the ingredients you already have at home, you can check out Ottawa Public Health’s list here.

** And PLEASE NOTE, the situation with COVID-19 is ever changing day-to-day. The info here on public health recommendations for the Coronoavirus may have changed by the time you read this, or may be different where you are in your region of the country, or the world, Tune into your public health for best recommendations. **


Flattening the Curve for COVID-19: What Does It Mean and How Can You Help? KARA GAVIN March 11, 2020 1:47 PM (audio of the article available!),

Coronavirus curve shows much of Europe could face Italy-like surge within weeks, By Loveday Morris and William Booth, March 13, 2020 at 4:10 p.m. EDT,

Italy’s Health Care System Groans Under Coronavirus — a Warning to the World, Jason Horowitz, March 12, 2020,

‘Herd effect’: Social media images of empty shelves fuelling panic buying over coronavirus, says prof, The Current: CBC Radio · Posted: Mar 03, 2020 12:45 PM ET | Last Updated: March 3,

‘We have plenty of food’: Ontario government urges calm amid pandemic panic buying, BY RYAN ROCCA GLOBAL NEWS, Posted March 14, 2020 1:46 pm Updated March 14, 2020 6:56 pm,

Ottawa Public Health: Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) (page being updated regularly),

COVID-19 Response from the Ottawa Food Bank, By Ottawa Food Bank March 14, 2020 10:24 am,