Pandemic Weight Gain? Here is How to Lose the “COVID 19"

Common solutions to reverse an uncommon pattern of extra pounds.

Posted Jul 02, 2020

Pandemic-prompted stay-at-home orders and closures have left people all over the world homebound and hungry; and we are feeling the results. People have noticed it in different ways. A button popping, a zipper that will no longer catch, pants that are suddenly too short. Or maybe it’s a surprising, unfamiliar reflection in the bathroom mirror. For a significant segment of society, such uncomfortable experiences reflect the same reality: pandemic weight gain. How did we get here? Here is how it happened—and how to reverse the process.

Image by Nancy Mure from Pixabay
Source: Image by Nancy Mure from Pixabay

Patterns Predict Pounds

Lifestyle routines predict everything from weight to wealth and everything in between. In March of 2020, much of society was forced to do something they had never done before: stay home. Some relished the government imposed orders, perceiving the time at home as a staycation, while others grew stir crazy almost immediately, feeling like they were under house arrest. What did both groups have in common? They gained weight. As the “Quarantine 15” grew to the “COVID 19,” people recognized a growing problem—pun intended. Clearly, the weight gain was not a surprise to many people. With gyms closed and groceries delivered, it was easy to lounge around and comfort eat. For those unable to telework and concerned about financial stability, comfort eating was a psychologically verified response to stress,[i], and for the financially secure, binging on snack foods was the perfect accompaniment to binge-watching Netflix.

But now that the pajama party is over, people have to face the music. For much of the workforce now heading back into the office appropriately masked and gloved, their first question is simple: will their clothes fit?

Breaking Patterns Takes Patience and Practice 

Research ties weight loss to behavioral patterns and personal discipline.[ii] You didn’t gain it overnight, so you won’t lose it overnight. You probably did not even notice the pounds building up because most pajama sets feel the same whether we gain or lose a few; that is why we like wearing them. But two months of lounge wear and lounging (more importantly) has taken its toll. Now it’s time to step up and turn it around. Here are some ideas.

Home Cooking Saves Calories and Cost

Ordering in a restaurant presents issues of preparation, portion control, and price. At home, you control all three. You can substitute healthy ingredients without sacrificing flavor, there is no pressure to finish what you ordered in order to get your money’s worth, and you can buy the same ingredients for less money if you know where to shop.

For many people, time saved not having to commute to and from work freed up more time to strategize healthy meals, a particular bonus for people who previously opted for microwaved or otherwise quickly prepared meals not as a matter of choice, but out of necessity due to time constraints.

In addition, cooking involves movement, creativity, and can be a family activity.  Serving meals on smaller plates helps maintain portion control both literally and psychologically. For optics, you can dress up small portions of calorie-laden food with colorful vegetable garnishes or other sensible side dishes.  And leftovers are easily transferred to the refrigerator immediately.

Walking Work-Outs

Disruption to our usual routines allows us to make new ones. YouTube is filled with exercise options to choose from depending on your level of fitness, and weights and other home gym equipment sets are an online order away. And of course, weather permitting, walking is easy and free.

One routine many teleworkers have been using for years is walking meetings. Unless you need to be tied to a computer or at a desk taking notes, or plan on a heavy run, many remote-workers combine exercise and employment responsibilities through walking while talking.  

Catching Up On Sleep

Without your after-work commute, and at a time when most evening activities have gone virtual, you are presented with a perfect time to catch up on your sleep. This alone may help you lose excess weight. A study outlined by the National Institutes of Health (2016) [iii] examined the relationship between sleep deprivation and the endocannabinoid (eCB) system, which helps our brain regulate appetite and energy level.

They found that participants who were sleep deprived ate a greater number of and less healthy snacks between meals. They explained that these time periods represent when eCB levels were highest, which suggests eCBs were driving what they referred to as “hedonic, or pleasurable” eating.

Considering all of these tips together, because we are creating a new set of professional habits to accommodate the “new normal” mode of working as the economy reopens, it is a great time to incorporate healthy personal habits as well.

References

[i] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4214609/. 

[ii]Szabo-Reed, Amanda N., Jaehoon Lee, Lauren Ptomey, Erik Willis, Matt Schubert, Richard Washburn, and Joseph E. Donnelly. 2016. “Longitudinal Weight Loss Patterns and Their Behavioral and Demographic Associations.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine 50 (1): 147–56. doi:10.1007/s12160-015-9740-1.

[iii] https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/molecular-ties-between-lack-sleep-weight-gain.