If you have been faithfully following COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, you may have become a victim of “the COVID (or quarantine) 15,” or an unwanted 10 to 15 pound weight gain. A change in routine, coupled with isolation and feelings of depression, anxiety, and boredom, have led many of us to fall victim to drinking alcohol and eating unhealthful or excessive amounts of food.
Plus, obesity is socially contagious, so if someone in your home is overeating or eating empty calories, you will most likely eat the same way; thus, everyone in your household may gain unwanted weight.
I had been very healthy and fit prior to the pandemic; however, the stress and my inability to play tennis daily led me to eat more and exercise less. I gained 12 unwanted pounds after seven months into the pandemic. I immediately modified my diet and increased my activity and have now lost the extra weight.
Here are my suggestions that may help you avoid falling victim to the “COVID 15”:
1. Keep a food journal. Write down what you eat, the amount of food, and the time you’re eating. Keeping a record is important because it will make you accountable for what you put in your mouth. A food journal can show your areas of struggle and help you make necessary changes in your habits. Do your logging immediately after you eat, and include snacks; do not wait until nighttime to record your intake. Include how you felt during your meal — bored, sad, anxious, etc. — since this information will indicate why you may be overeating. There are also apps on your phone, such as the USDA’s MyPlate app.
2. Develop healthy eating habits. Eat a maximum of three meals and three snacks per day and eat only when you are hungry. This mindfulness will help eliminate emotional eating to fill a loss in your life or to deal with feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, or isolation which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Do not watch television during your meal time. Eat slowly and savor each bite.
3. Record your daily exercise. Walk, run, bicycle, stretch, or lift weights. To lose weight, calories burned during a day must exceed caloric intake. Sites like WebMD.com can help you calculate daily calories burned. You may want to invest in a Fitbit or similar activity tracker to help monitor this.
4. Don’t under-consume protein. Protein plays a key role in the creation and maintenance of every cell of your body, and because the body does not store protein, it is important to consume every day. To meet basic protein requirements, experts recommend 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This amounts to 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man, and 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.
5. Drink water. It is important to be hydrated to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well hydrated also improves sleep, cognition, and mood. Your daily water intake should be equal to your weight in pounds multiplied by ⅔ (or 67%). For example, if you weigh 175 pounds, you should be drinking about 117 ounces of water every day. You can also meet this requirement by consuming water-rich foods such as tomatoes, watermelon, lettuce, etc.
6. Track your progress. Weigh yourself once or twice a week. Do not weigh yourself every day, as you will not see any results on a day-to-day basis. Weigh yourself at the same time of day (preferably first thing in the morning). Do not panic if the scale indicates you gained one or two pounds, your weight can fluctuate due to glycogen storage, sodium retention, human bias, reporting errors, and home scales have a three-pound margin of error.
7. Reward yourself with nonfood items. A healthful fitness and diet regime requires energy and dedication, so don’t forget to honor yourself for your good choices and new habits as an incentive to maintain your healthful behavior. Some ideas of nonfood rewards: Buy yourself new clothes, a plant or flowers, running shoes, fitness tracker, water bottle, or book.
We are all worried about getting COVID-19, and preventing weight gain will go a long way toward boosting our immune systems and keeping us healthy.
Richard Cohen is a psychiatrist in private practice for over 35 years. Nancy Cohen holds an MBA from Temple University with a focus on health care administration. Previously, she was on the administrative staff at Hahnemann Hospital.