Take Control of COVID Weight Gain

Alyssa Salz | Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Have you heard of the Quarantine 15? Quarantine 15 is the catchphrase for weight gain that occurred during the shelter-in-place restrictions and has even become a widespread meme on social media. There are many reasons you may have noticed increases on the scale over the last few months. Let's take a look at some of the reasons your pants may be feeling tighter (now that we are all getting out of our sweats) and then come up with some action steps to get your weight and health back on track because now it is more important than ever!

Lack of movement: With businesses and health centers closed and social distancing guidelines in effect, there were many obstacles to getting in physical activity and some of these restrictions are still a struggle to work around. Many people's daily steps were greatly reduced due to staying home. With these changes to our calorie output, our likelihood of potential weight gain increased. The more we sat, the less energy we needed, and weight gain may have resulted if we did not change our eating habits.

Boredom: The monotony of being at home with nowhere to go quickly made many of us bored. Many people struggled with grabbing a snack or a handful of something just because there was nothing else to do. Boredom can easily turn into mindless eating, leading to the intake of extra calories our bodies just didn’t need. This boredom may have surfaced in other ways too, such as cooking or baking to fill up time or for an activity to do with the kids. Yes, it's good for us all to be cooking more at home but if you're making cookies, cakes, and other high-calorie treats, the temptations, and easy access could have led to an excess of calories making weight gain more likely.

Stress: No matter what your situation was, whether you were juggling e-learning, working from home, dealing with someone who was ill during a pandemic, or anything in between, this situation was stressful to everyone in different ways. We know that stress can increase cortisol levels leading to weight gain and an increased appetite. This disruption of cortisol secretion may not only have promoted weight gain but also may have affected where you put on weight. Some studies have shown that stress and elevated cortisol tend to cause fat accumulation in the abdominal area. Additionally, when we are stressed, we are more likely to turn to food for comfort since eating can stimulate "feel-good hormones," although this relief is often short-lived. Many people have reported eating more comfort foods during the coronavirus outbreak.

Poor sleep: Stress, lack of routine, and anxiety all led to people tossing and turning when they turned out the lights during shelter-in-place. This lack of sleep may have stacked the deck against you for weight management. When we sleep poorly, we are more likely to make poor food choices which can set the stage for weight gain. Physiologically, lack of sleep can impact our weight too. Ghrelin and leptin are two hormones that control our hunger and fullness cues. When we are functioning with a sleep deficit our ghrelin levels increase leading to feeling hungrier and our leptin levels decrease making our fullness gage, in a sense, broken leading to eating more to feel the same level of fullness.

Sympathy eating: Did you find yourself feeling sorry for yourself or your kids because of missing out on planned activities, missing friends, or other sacrifices made because of the pandemic? Some parents gave into requests more. Some individuals allowed themselves a 'treat' more often. If you find that you were guilty of this 'sympathy eating" you may have not been listening to your bodies cues and eating when you were not hungry or you might have knocked your nutritional balance off track with too many splurges. If you are a parent, it might have been hard to not feel sorry for your kids because of the things they were missing out on (and maybe still are), from birthday parties to prom and graduation, and with restrictions of COVID in place, there was little you could offer them besides food. You couldn't visit the park, go bowling, or host a sleepover but you could buy a fun surprise at the grocery store, surprise them with homemade waffles for breakfast, or drive-thru the local ice cream shop. Individually, you may have missed visiting your favorite restaurants, having get-togethers, with family, or be upset about having to cancel long-anticipated vacation plans. Some individuals found themselves taking this disappointment and feeling like they deserve a little indulgence. And while we did need to find ways to take care of ourselves during this time and the disappointments we faced were very real…we do need to find ways other than indulging on food or giving in to cravings now and in the future because emotional eating can grow into a hard cycle to break and a big crutch for any healthy weight goals.

Why We Need to Take Action Against the Quarantine-15

Now down to the facts, the CDC has stated that those with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, liver disease, severe obesity, and serious health conditions may be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. We are also aware that these conditions can be very much impacted by diet, exercise, and changes in weight. Knowing this, we need to take the time now to get our healthy living goals back on track. We may need to take a hard look at some of the habits we may have picked up or struggled with during the stay-at-home orders and figure out how to turn these back around. What are the struggles you are currently having with managing your food intake and exercise to help maintain or reach your healthy weight? What beneficial habits have you let go of that you would like to add back into your routine? Which of the struggles detailed above do you need to address? Now is a good time to re-evaluate ways you may be able to improve your lifestyle to help manage your health to reduce your risk for illness, keep your immune system strong, and protect your health for years to come.

While some of us are still feeling the stress of COVID-19, whether its employment, financial, health, or other stressors; the goal isn’t to add more stress to your plate but to empower you to take control and be aware of the little things that may be impacting your waistline and overall health right now. By being mindful of these things, it allows you to prioritize changes to your daily routine to improve your health. Small changes like getting up and moving more, prioritizing sleep, finding new hobbies, and trying to keep tabs on your food intake are all things you can do to help maintain your weight without pushing yourself too hard. Small changes right now can help you not feel as overwhelmed in this overwhelming time, but also don't forget...SMALL CHANGES can lead to BIG DIFFERENCES in your health for years to come!!!

7 Steps to Lose the Quarantine-15

  1. Spend time meal planning and prepping. This step is crucial for getting healthy eating back on track! Having a plan can help keep impulse eating or last-minute take-out under control. Having healthy food prepped and ready to go makes it easier to stick to healthier choices.
  2. Get creative with ways to get moving. You may still not be able to get those extra steps while at work or going to your favorite exercise class but thinking outside the box on ways to get moving may help you increase your calorie output. Trying a YouTube or Zoom exercise class. Find an activity you enjoy outside such as bike-riding or walking. You can even just turn on some music and dance around the house. Be creative and have fun! Remember, the best exercise is one you can stick to so make sure it is something you enjoy!
  3. Start logging your food intake and exercise to assess your habits. Tracking what you eat can help you find problem areas of mindless eating or excess portions that need to be addressed. We also know that when people write down or record their intake they are more conscious of what they put into their bodies. Try MyFitnessPal, all of our Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating meals are available on their site to make tracking easy! A pen and paper log works just fine too!
  4. Get the whole household involved. It's hard to be the only one watching your diet and trying to exercise when you are surrounded by people who are eating foods you are trying to limit or tempting you to binge on Netflix rather than go outside for a walk. Getting the entire family on board can help keep you motivated and also limit temptations that may set you off track.
  5. Try a new hobby to help with boredom and lower stress. Stress can make following through with healthy eating and exercise goals impossible. Trying meditation, yoga, gardening, or some other relaxing hobby may help to naturally lower stress but also give us something else to do rather than run to the cabinets or take a nap. Exercise is ideal for lowering the impact of stress on the body. Research has shown that exercise is by far the best way to reduce cortisol levels that have risen in response to stress.
  6. Talk with a registered dietitian/nutritionist to help you come up with a personalized eating plan to promote a healthy weight. Registered Dietitians are the true experts when it comes to healthy eating. They can help guide you now during the remnants of the pandemic and also help set you up for healthy habits for the future. They will not promote fad diets, disordered eating principles, or unproven techniques.
  7. Consider healthy home-delivered meals. Programs like Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating takes the guesswork and stress out of healthy eating. At Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating, our dietitian-designed and chef-inspired meals make sticking to a healthy eating routine easy. You will receive fresh, balanced meals right at your door with no need to plan meals, grocery shop, or prepare anything! Our meals are low in sodium, fat, cholesterol, and feature quality, fresh ingredients with no added preservatives or artificial ingredients. If you are serious about getting your health moving in a positive direction, home-delivered meals might be just what you need to set you up for success.

Now, more than ever before, we are seeing the importance of taking care of ourselves in more ways than one. If you’re struggling with managing your blood sugar, high blood pressure, or have noticed the weight creep on after the historic last few months don’t beat yourself up, take a step back and take control of what you can. It’s your life, your health…Take control!

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