If you’re feeling stressed, fatigued, and a little heavier than you’d like since the pandemic began in 2020, you’re not alone.
According to a survey of adults done by the American Psychological Association, 42% of US adults picked up more weight than they intended, with an average of 30 pounds gained. No one really wanted to gain weight, but with gyms closed and stress eating on the rise, this increase often came as no surprise. 1
With weight gain comes higher risks of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, joint pain, depression, and decreased self-esteem. No thanks!
Fortunately, we can turn things around. While COVID-19 isn't gone yet, the incidence of acute hospitalizations and deaths related to the pandemic is on the decline. 2 Now may be the perfect time to get back on the road to good health -- here's how.
Eat Real Meals. It’s tempting to skip meals when you're trying to lose those extra pandemic pounds, but don’t do it. People who successfully lose weight and keep it off typically eat three meals, including breakfast (according to the National Weight Control Registry). Since mindless snacking often results from meal skipping, pay attention to hunger cues and allow yourself to eat.
Think About Meal Timing. In addition to eating regular meals, pay attention to their timing. Meals should be spaced appropriately to allow for more balanced blood sugar. Spread meals out every 4 to 6 hours, at most. Avoid eating late at night, which interrupts sleep and may lead to reflux and weight gain. 3
Be Thoughtful About What You Eat. Make the most of meals with nutrient-dense foods including moderate servings of whole grains, lean protein sources, low-fat dairy products, healthy fats, and more fruits and vegetables. Curb the urge to splurge on junk food when you’re feeling blue. In short, be sure there’s actual food in your food!
Move. There’s no question that regular physical activity is not only good for your physical health but also your emotional well-being. A large cross-sectional study published in Lancet Psychiatry analyzed adults over the age of 18 and their “mental health burden” with or without exercise. Those who exercised experienced fewer days of poor mental health with the largest associations seen with team sports, cycling, aerobic, and gym activities. 4
Find Fun in Fitness. Just like food must be enjoyable to eat, fitness should be fun to be sustainable. There is no “one size fits all” approach to exercise. Some people like to walk in solitude, while others prefer to go with a friend or small group. Still others enjoy the social aspect of a group fitness class. Try new things. Bike, hike, jump rope, dance, swim, play tennis or frisbee. Just move.
Rest. Since the pandemic, many people suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out). We’ve missed friends, family, and social situations as well as our previous work life. Reducing time on social media can help reduce the feeling of anxiety that we’re missing out on something. 5
Get Adequate Sleep. Sleep is needed to rest the body as well as the brain. Research shows that sleep is needed for the regulation of emotions as well as appetite control, a healthy immune system, normal metabolism, and weight management. Listen to your body and go to bed when you're tired. Aim for 7 to 8 hours each night. 6
Below are even more tips to help get your health back on track:
- Focus on small, healthy habit changes and not “weight loss” as a goal. Eat healthy and weight loss may follow.
- Take inventory of your current habits. What habits could use some work? What are you doing right?
- Pick one habit at a time to tweak such as eating breakfast, drinking more water, or getting better sleep.
- Add exercise to your calendar and commit to at least a few days per week to start. Find something fun. Check your local park or rec center for inexpensive ideas.
- Turn off your phone, especially at night. Too much time on social media may lead to depression and poor sleep. Stop comparing yourself to others and live your own life.
By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
New Handout: Get Back on Track
- One year on: Unhealthy weight gains, increased drinking reported by Americans coping with pandemic stress (apa.org)
- CDC COVID Data Tracker: Home
- Xiao Q, Garaulet M, Scheer FAJL. Meal timing and obesity: interactions with macronutrient intake and chronotype. Int J Obes (Lond). 2019 Sep;43(9):1701-1711. doi: 10.1038/s41366-018-0284-x. Epub 2019 Jan 31. PMID: 30705391; PMCID: PMC6669101.
- Dominski FH, Brandt R. Do the benefits of exercise in indoor and outdoor environments during the COVID-19 pandemic outweigh the risks of infection? [published online ahead of print, 2020 Jul 17] [published correction appears in Sport Sci Health. 2020 Aug 17;:1]. Sport Sci Health. 2020;1-6. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11332-020-00673-z
- COVID-19 FOMO: Fear of missing out persists amid pandemic, experts say (usatoday.com)
- Pires GN, Bezerra AG, Tufik S, Andersen ML. Effects of acute sleep deprivation on state anxiety levels: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Med. 2016 Aug;24:109-118. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2016.07.019. Epub 2016 Aug 27. PMID: 27810176.
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and owner of Sound Bites Nutrition in Cincinnati. She shares her clinical, culinary, and community nutrition knowledge through cooking demos, teaching, and freelance writing. Lisa is a regular contributor to Food and Health Communications and Today’s Dietitian and is the author of the Healing Gout Cookbook, Complete Thyroid Cookbook, and Heart Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook. Her line of food pun merchandise, Lettuce beet hunger, supports those suffering food insecurity in Cincinnati. For more information, visit her website: https://soundbitesnutrition.com/