“Lose weight.” It’s one of the top New Year’s resolutions people make every January. But with the 2020 we all just experienced — hoo boy! — this common resolution is even more pressing for many as 2021 begins. Whether you call it the “Quarantine 15” or merely “pandemic pounds,” you’re definitely not alone if you’re among those who gained weight during the Covid-19 health crisis gripping the globe.
According to a survey commissioned by Nutrisystem, more than three-quarters of Americans gained up to 16 pounds between the months of March and July 2020 alone. Another 63% said they were prioritizing weight loss after quarantine to slice off the excess pounds that crept on during lockdown.
Why we’ve gained weight
It’s easy to see why so many have packed on the pounds this past year — especially if you had already struggled with your weight. The pandemic created a perfect storm of sorts for weight gain, with many factors prompting people to eat more and exercise less. What contributed?
• Stress and anxiety: Nothing like a global health crisis to trigger emotional eating, right? Many of the excess calories have also come in the form of “comfort foods” brimming with sugar and simple carbohydrates. On top of that, stress ramps up our body’s production of cortisol, fueling weight gain.
• Boredom: Stuck at home during lockdown, many of us tickled our taste buds just to stave off the humdrum nature of our days. A lot of us also tried decadent new recipes and did a lot of baking. (Sourdough bread, anyone?)
• Lack of focus: The sheer volume of information streaming in every day about Covid-19 — even if you and family members were lucky enough to avoid catching the virus — made healthier lifestyle choices that much harder.
• Gym and park closures: Exercise routines were upended by on-again, off-again shutdowns around the United States all year. These disruptions demolished many people’s best-laid plans for cardio, weightlifting and exercise classes.
• Postponed medical checkups: Physical exams at the doctor’s office and readings of blood pressure and cholesterol levels help a lot of people keep better track of their health. With these routine visits often not possible, it’s been harder for some to stay motivated about weight.
Sane tips to drop pounds
The start of vaccine distribution for Covid-19 in the United States is good news for a lot of reasons. Among them is the very real hope it offers of restoring our pre-pandemic lifestyles — day-to-day routines that include more normal ways of eating and moving. And ,of course, losing the “Pandemic 15” is ideal for overall health as well.
It’s understandable to want the extra pounds gone as quickly as they came but aim for 1 or 2 pounds of weight loss per week. This pace is not only more realistic but allows you to adjust to the lifestyle tweaks you’ll make to achieve weight loss as well as maintain it going forward.
Here are some common-sense tips to lose the “Pandemic 15” in 2021:
• Do one thing: Overhauling both your diet and exercise levels at the same time may feel like too much. So start with one thing — such as walking a mile a day, or skipping dessert — and build on these efforts over the days and weeks ahead.
• Eat on a schedule: Some people are embracing intermittent fasting, which limits eating to a set window of hours each day — say, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. But even if intermittent fasting isn’t your thing, try to plan when you’re eating and stick to a schedule, even if working from home means food is accessible at all hours.
• Turn your “commute” into exercise time: Many employees who left offices in 2020 will continue their work-from-home arrangements well into 2021. If you’re not commuting, spend that time moving your body instead.
• Liquor less: Tipping a nightly glass of wine (or two) or a frosty mug of beer are how many have sought relief from pandemic-related stress. But not only does alcohol depress your nervous system, it quickly boosts your calorie consumption and makes it harder to resist junk food.
• Prioritize stress management: Even as the pandemic eases (we hope) over the coming months, acknowledge the enormous stress that Covid-19 has created in your own life — whether through illness, job loss, or caregiving duties — and take healthy steps to manage that stress. Seeking counseling (which can be done virtually), practicing yoga or meditation, or taking long daily walks are just some of the ways to calm frayed nerves and focus more on your health.
Preeti Pusalkar, CNS, is a certified clinical nutritionist with Hudson Medical, with extensive training not only in nutrition but in functional medicine. For more, visit hudsonmedical.com.
– Preeti Pusalkar, CNS