Local nutrition services sees demand grow during COVID-19 shutdowns


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Since the pandemic began, Kayleigh Farrell of A Gut Feeling Nutrition Services in Fort McMurray has seen more people ask her about a healthier diet. This was surprising. In her experience, historically stressful times see people moving away from healthy eating.

“This was such a wakeup call for so many people with regards to their health and what they were currently doing,” said Farrell.

With the pandemic, some people are looking at how to stay as healthy as they can. Many people have found this to be expensive, and Farrell said the financial commitment for her program has stopped some people from using them.

She’s tried adapting her business to the current economy, such as working with items typically found in a food bank hamper and offering some free services.

“I used to be fairly rigid with programming that I would offer and it’s just not realistic right now,” said Farrell. “It doesn’t have to be elitist, it doesn’t have to mean that you need a tremendous amount of disposable income to eat health for your family.”

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Danielle Todd, a North Zone Registered Dietitian with Alberta Health Services, isn’t surprised people are thinking about food and healthy eating when so many people are spending more time inside. Todd said she has gotten calls from community agencies with clients looking for meal planning and healthy eating ideas, although she is hesitant to blame the trend on COVID-19 shutdowns.

“I think a lot of people just really are thinking about what’s important and really wanting to keep our health top of mind as much as possible,” she said.

The rising interest in healthy eating also comes as a poll published last November suggests Canadians are gaining weight and neglecting nutritional health since the first COVID-19 wave began in March 2020.

The survey, conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies, found one-third of 1,516 respondents have gained weight since the pandemic began while 15 per cent have lost weight during the same period. Another third of respondents said they were exercising less and 16 per cent were exercising more.

Sarah Hennessey, a Fort McMurray resident, started working with Farrell in 2015. Hennessey learned about the impact food can have on fighting disease, depression and anxiety, which have all had a big impact during the pandemic.

“There are days where you’re just down and out and you’re like why is this happening, the pandemic sucks and I don’t like this, and yeah, you ordered pizza,” she said. “We do like pizza night on Friday night, but other than that, we do try to stick to a pretty whole food diet during the week.”

Everyone’s situation is different and it is important people consider what is practical and attainable for their situation, said Todd. For example, finding a balance between buying fresh produce and frozen or canned fruits and vegetables.

She said many people think about food and eating meals together as a way of connecting socially. With that being changing for many during the pandemic, it comes back to what people can do with food to bring comfort and tradition, she said.

“Maybe it’s just really important to people, whether consciously or not,” said Todd.



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