Recover from Your Pandemic Weight Gain
Food Scarcity Has Changed Our Eating Habits
I recently met with a patient that had gained 12 pounds since the start of the pandemic one year ago. Recalling my own health behaviors over the last year, I realized I too was among those who had gained a few extra pounds. According to a recent study of 7700 participants, 28% reported weight gain related to the pandemic with over 65% of the study population identifying as being overweight or obese (1). It’s time to recover from weight gain in a healthy way.
Layers of Fear and Food Scarcity
Early in the pandemic, we were forced into an “eat what you can get” mentality, due to scarcity of commodities. Most of us had not experienced a scarcity in our short history. Many of the foods that made their way into our kitchens did so without much thought to nutritional value. Eventually, some of these new eating habits became the norm for many households. I began hearing patients regularly share their loss of motivation to change their eating habits. As with many habits, it became the status quo. In addition, a reduction in physical activity and an increase in responsibilities schooling children solidified the habit. Another layer to consider is the increase in anxiety, depression and other mental illness. All combined, they have played a significant role in our added pounds.
Now the vaccine is on the forefront, cases are dropping and the concept of normal life feeling is within reach. This is a great time to revisit our prior commitments to improve our health.
Here are 5 ways to get started making changes today:
Take inventory of your pantry & freezer. When the pandemic began, many faced a limited selection of foods and reduced grocery visits. This led to a larger selection of shelf-stable or frozen products. These are often less nutritionally dense foods. Which means they encourage more snacking and bigger portions. Try to identify empty calorie foods and comfort food habits that you have adopted during this last year. Revisit your pre-pandemic food choices to include a greater variety of fresh and frozen vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Move. Sixty minutes of walking per day is associated with a 24% reduction in mortality! (2) Consider resuming former workout routines, like group fitness classes or gym memberships. The best form of exercise is the kind that you enjoy. If you are contemplating adding exercise into your routine, think about what steps you could take to make it easier. Ask yourself: What type of results you could expect if you made the change? Who could help you? Getting out in nature for exercise has the combined benefit of improving overall mood and psychological well-being.
Drop the drinks. Some evidence suggests that alcohol consumption increased by 60% during the pandemic leading to additional pounds gained (3). Assess your current alcohol drinking habits. How it has affected your food choices? Alcohol calories are metabolized by our bodies differently than foods. It suppresses fat oxidation, which then leads to fat deposition in the abdominal area. Subsequently an increase in appetite often leads to overconsumption of food (4). Identify your triggers that lead to alcohol consumption and build new routines that lead to healthier choices.
Creativity in the kitchen. Not all habits gained in the pandemic were bad. We were cooking and baking more at home instead of relying on fast foods. We have been able to see it is possible to cook and go to work. Try exploring old and new recipes that incorporate healthier whole foods.
Seek professional guidance. Enlist the help of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to identify key factors that may be sabotaging your efforts. Dietitians are trained to assess eating habits and help you recover from weight gain. They can make appropriate recommendations based on the most recent evidence about weight management. Dietitians have a unique skillset along with training in diet and disease. They use a variety of methods and tools to individualize a plan that will move you towards your goals.
For more information on nutrition counseling visit https://newdirectionspgh.com/nutrition-counseling/
- Wang, G. (2020). Stay at home to stay safe: Effectiveness of stay-at-home orders in containing the covid-19 pandemic. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3581873
- How much exercise is enough? (2017, August 31). Retrieved March 10, 2021, from https://nutritionfacts.org/audio/how-much-exercise-is-enough
- Grossman, E. R., Benjamin-Neelon, S. E., & Sonnenschein, S. (2020). Alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 PANDEMIC: A cross-sectional survey of us adults. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(24), 9189. doi:10.3390/ijerph17249189
- Suter, P. M., & Tremblay, A. (2005). Is alcohol consumption a risk factor for weight gain and obesity? Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences, 42(3), 197-227. doi:10.1080/10408360590913542