The Department of Psychology at HELP University, Malaysia, brings you our ‘5 Keys Series’ providing five practical tips on five topics to help you stay mentally, emotionally and physically strong. Drawing on evidence-based psychology, you can be sure of getting 5-star quality insight and guidance from HELP University: the university of achievers.

Our second ‘5 Keys Series’ is called “The 5 Keys to Nurturing Your Physical Health”. Be sure to watch this space to get regular insights into the psychology of everyday living.

By Dr LIANNE BRITTEN and ESTHER SONG

How do we make food fun and healthy? Well let’s start with a HELP UNIVERSITY inspired challenge: Let’s eat green and mean! Share with family and friends! Let’s get the challenge going! Exchange recipes, time each other to cook the same meal and finish first!
So hands up.. Who’s snacking more during the MCO? YUP you got that right! So let’s help keep our hearts, heads and waists healthy. Here are five key steps that may be helpful in inspiring you to start cooking today:

Keep the mantra  -  “Mindful Cooking, Mindful Eating”

One of the opportunities that we can take advantage of during this lockdown is to take time to cook! The process of cooking mindfully will help us feel better psychologically, and it will help us keep healthier physically!

To be mindful is to be engaged in the present moment. The act of mindful cooking begins with washing the ingredients, cutting, mixing and progresses as we get to the act of flavouring and garnishing the dish! With awareness of each step, we will increase our appreciation and enjoyment of taste and this helps improve our mood!

Keep practicing every day.

  1. Think about your recipes. Is there one you remember from childhood you wish to learn to do? Or something you saw on TV or on your social media? COOK IT!
  2. As you prep and cook, pay attention to the ingredients and motions, note the change in colours, smells and textures of the ingredients; listen to the chopping and sizzling; and taste the flavours as you eat.
  3. Be mindful and pay attention to what you are doing, cutting, cooking and eating.
  4. Tune in to your senses and emotions and take note of changes as you make cooking a habit.
  5. Put away the screens and FOCUS on the task at hand!

To learn more about mindful cooking exercise check out the podcast on ‘Mindful Cooking as a Joyful Meditation’.

Keep away from distractions!

Research has shown that multitasking and engaging in multimedia usage as we eat makes us eat BADLY! We detach from the awareness of the nutritional value in our food and don’t savour our food because we are too focused on that screen! All our brains need a rest from screens (and our ‘fast brain” which is the anxiety creating part of our brain!). By focusing on the act of cooking and eating, and putting away our screens we do 2 things:

  1. We appreciate and savour the flavours.
  2. We allow our brains some downtime to de-stress.

If you’d like to share your meal creation with your friends and loved ones on social media, that’s GREAT! Take pictures and share your creations online. But save that for AFTER you’re done with the meal. Let’s enjoy and appreciate our meals before they turn cold.

If you’re posting online, consider connecting with other foodies and share your recipe, preparation process and cooking journey with everyone. Check this out: http://foodiesharing.com/.

Keep a Routine!

How & when we eat is just as important as what we eat. This includes keeping a regular meal routine, vital in the “unsettled” non-routine of Covid 19. We can instead CHOOSE to be grateful we are not fighting traffic and commuting in this MCO. If you think about it, now we have extra time to properly plan and prepare our meals. So, let’s reframe that mindset and instead, focus on re-establishing a healthy meal routine. Here are two simple ways:

  1. Prepare and cook your own meals.
  2. Eat your meals slowly, mindfully and spend this precious time to interact on the dining table with our phones and devices stowed away. Let’s not be a phone snub! Don’t deny our loved ones time and attention in favor of connecting with our screens. If you’re solo, share your meal via Zoom, Skype, Facetime or Google Hangout, but try to keep interactions with your gadgets at a minimal.

For those of you worried about weight gain during the MCO, this is one of the BEST ways to control munching. By setting aside cooking and eating time, focusing on the intention of enjoying food together, we can offset the temptation to “snack and munch”. One practical way to start a meal routine is to draw up a weekly meal plan consisting of nutritional food selection and checking out new recipes to maximize your time with family and cooking with kids.

For more information on starting a healthy diet, Health Guide provides comprehensive information and tips on healthy meal preparation and healthy eating: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/healthy-eating.htm

Keep a fellowship of the ring around the table!

One of the blessings in this lockdown period is that we can now enjoy meals together with our families.

Several studies have shown that frequent family meals serve as a protective factor to one’s physical and psychological health, such as reducing risk of engaging in disordered eating, buffer against depression, increase self-esteem and improvement of overall performance in both work and studies. Remember: the family that eats together KEEPS together. When we eat together we are sharing not only a meal but also “daily life” and hence more life satisfaction.

Regardless of whether we stay in the same household or are away from our families, now is the time to CONNECT around the table or across the ether. Share a zoom meal and chat. Let’s talk, laugh and simply be present in each other’s lives!

So let’s keep it fun and yum in your lean, green friend & family team!

Here is a fun one-week challenge that you can try with your friends and family! You can use any platforms to share your recipe, thoughts and insights for each day’s meal challenge. Remember, the key is to keep it fun and exciting!

  1. Malaysian Mondays – recreate your favourite Malaysian delicacies, be it Chinese, Indian or Malay cuisine or more regional dishes such as Nasi Ganja (Perak), Nasi Kerabu (Kelantan), Laksa Johor (Johor), Kolo Mee (Sarawak) and so forth. Because of how diverse our country is, there is literally so many you can choose from!
  2. Tutti Frutti Tuesday  – be creative and come up with at least two fruit-based meals throughout the day. Try making an Açaí bowl or assembling a colorful fruit salad.
  3. Wacky Wednesday – make a fun, crazy dish and share with your friends across the ether or family at home. Think: Ram-don from the Oscar-winning film, Parasite, Ratatouille from the film, Ratatouille or that Pasta Puttanesca from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The key is to be creative and have fun! Experiment your ingredients with inventive meals.
  4. Thoughtful Thursday – you think about it and come up with your own theme as a family, duo or solo. Take it up a notch and turn it into a Masterchef battle!
  5. Five Greens Friday  –  include at least five green vegetables or fruits in your Friday meals (all in one meal or spread across the day — the choice is yours). Let’s remember to stay healthy, folks!
  6. Smoothie Saturday –  as most people might sleep in more on Saturdays, come up with a healthy brunch recipe using only fresh ingredients for a fantastic smoothie (or porridge if you’re using grains). Let’s skip the bacon on toast or canned beans!
  7. Breakfree Sunday  – cook your favourite dish .. Yup! Go with that bacon if you wish, as a celebration of completing the cooking through covid challenge!

Lastly, create a collage with your snaps of all the attempted recipes prepared throughout the week and share it with us via social media! We want to see your creations so post them (and if you’re shy, send them over to our email!)

The key is to focus on keeping it lean, green and a fun family and friend team as we cook our way through Covid 19. Put down the snacks and the screens and pick up those lonely cooking utensils that are hankering to be used and share your amazing recipes and fun tips right here with me, Dr. Lianne, your Covid 19 mental health team member at HELP UNIVERSITY! We want to connect so don’t hesitate to comment on what worked and didn’t work from the above. Let’s add to this and build a TOP 10 from a KEY 5!

Stay tuned right here for our next episode on keeping our mind healthy and hearty. Stay safe and stay sane!

This is Prof Dr. Lianne signing off with gratitude to Ms. Esther Song.

Professor Dr. Lianne Britten is a peer reviewed, published academic author and global presenter, clinician, lecturer and curriculum developer. She has expertise in the fields of complex trauma, narrative and indigenous psychology, crisis response (including suicide). She also has decades of experience in the field of educational psychology and anxiety with a specialization in autism spectrum disorder. Professor Dr. Lianne looks forward to using her expertise in crises to help bring compassion, and peace in times of distress and chaos. Send your comments and thoughts here: HELP5Keysblog@gmail.com