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Quarantine 15: How to bounce back if you’ve gained weight

If you’ve gained weight during the pandemic – also known as the “quarantine 15,” you’re not alone. Stress, gym closures, the desire for comfort food and being in close proximity to snacks when working from home can all play a role in weight gain. That said, there’s no need to beat yourself up.

“Beating ourselves up only compounds the situation, and it isn’t a great weight loss strategy,” says Lena Beal, MS, RDN, LD, a therapeutic dietitian at Piedmont. “It’s never too late to change course. We’ve had interrupted routines and a lot of us are now working from home, so what we eat is about access. We have increased access to food, so we graze a lot more. There are more emotional triggers. When we feel a lot of sadness, worry, boredom and anxiety, that can cause us to munch mindlessly.”

How habits affect health

“One of the top causes of weight gain is a change in habits,” says Beal. “We’ve been put on lockdown and this has changed everyone’s environments.”

She references a recent study in the Journal of Obesity that interviewed 8,000 adults in 50 countries and every state in the United States.

“Across the board, there has been a decrease in healthy behaviors,” says Beal. “That is attributed to things like isolation, anxiety, depression, stress and a decrease in funds and the ability to buy healthy food. Those all influence our eating and activity behaviors.”

Potential health risks of weight gain

If you have gained weight and your body mass index (BMI) is in the obesity range, losing weight can improve your health. 

Obesity increases the risk of many health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers,” she says. “For women who are pregnant, mothers with obesity and their babies can have short- and long-term health problems.”

Obesity can also increase your risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

“The CDC lets us know that obesity or an increase in body mass index (BMI) can worsen COVID-19 outcomes,” says Beal. “It can triple the risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 infection. Obesity is linked to impaired immune function and decreased lung capacity. As BMI increases, the risk of death from COVID-19 increases as well.”

Healthy changes to lose weight

Forget about weight loss. “When I say ‘forget,’ I mean don’t think so much about it or get in your head about it,” she says. “Think about small changes you can make to have healthy behaviors.”

Pay attention to amount and frequency. “If there’s anything we want to modify with our diet or lifestyle, we can change two things: the amount (how much) and the frequency (how often),” says Beal. “If you know you’re eating too much, you can cut back on portions. If you’re eating high-sugar or high-fat foods every day of the week, you can eat them less often.”

Ditch the all-or-nothing mindset. If you choose microwave macaroni and cheese instead of the salad you planned, you can have the salad later that day or recover at your next meal. You don’t have to start again on Monday or next month – just make your next meal a healthy choice.

Be mindful of hunger versus craving. “We need to check in with ourselves to see how we’re feeling,” she says. “Sometimes, our feelings can cause us to munch mindlessly. Check in to see if you’re truly hungry or if there’s something else driving your motivation to eat. Then you can address that as needed.”

Seek accountability. Not only will seeking support help with feelings of isolation, but having an accountability buddy has been shown to help when working toward a goal. For example, if you set a goal to “close” your kitchen by a certain time each night, have a check-in with your accountability partner to stay on track.

Cope with stress without food. Make time for meditation, connecting with loved ones or activities you enjoy.

“I know there’s a lot going on around us, but we can find small ways to increase our activity and healthy eating,” says Beal. “We can find upsides to the current situation we’re in, make adjustments and continue healthy behaviors.”

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