You’ve probably heard the joke: “I made a resolution to lose 10 pounds during the pandemic, and I’m only 15 pounds away from my goal.”
Humor is funny only when there’s a ring of truth.
COVID-19 has increased stress and disrupted routines, and that has contributed to unwanted weight gain, said Victoria Campesi, dietitian with Baton Rouge General Medical Center. Some clients she has worked with since before the pandemic have gained up to 15 pounds, she said.
One reason, Campesi said, is that many employees are working from home and are no longer bound by eating schedules that come with being on the job. The refrigerator is always close by, and unlike the break room at the office, everything in it is yours.
Also, stress linked to the pandemic and other issues has people reaching for high-calorie comfort food, she said.
“That temptation is there,” Campesi said. “Two hours after lunch, if we were maybe sitting in our office, we might have packed a snack; we might not have. Whereas, if we hit the two-hour slump and work is kind of slow, we might walk to the fridge and grab a snack regardless of whether we’re truly hungry. It’s just way more available.”
How can we eat better during the new normal? Campesi has some tips.
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1. Pay attention to serving size
You don’t need to pull out measuring cups or scales, Campesi said. Your hand provides a good measurement of how much to eat. For meats, the palm of your hand is the right size. A fist is a good measurement for fruits or starch. For toppings like dressings or cheese, don’t use more than the size of your thumb. As for vegetables, no hands are needed. Eat as many as you like.
2. Re-create structure and routine
Just because the kitchen is open 24/7 doesn’t mean you have to go there when you’re bored. Set breakfast, lunch and dinner times, and limit your time in the kitchen to those time slots and scheduled snack breaks.
3. Keep better food choices in the house
Cookies, candy and chips are immediately satisfying, but the sugar rush wears off quickly and leaves you craving more, leading to a vicious cycle that will pack on the pounds. Prepare healthy snacks ahead of time to make them equally convenient as less healthy food.
“Have quicker options that are healthier — maybe fruits and some nuts or a little piece of string cheese, veggies and dip, Greek yogurts — things that can still be convenient but that still hit our nutrition goals can help us avoid weight gain related to working from home,” Campesi said.
4. Drink plenty of water
People often think they’re hungry when they actually need hydration, Campesi said. Try to drink eight 8-ounce classes of water per day Keep a water bottle where you work. If you’re tempted to snack, sip some water first and reassess after 20 minutes.
5. Avoid soft drinks
Soft drinks can run as many as 150 calories and contain more than 40 grams of sugar. These are the emptiest calories you consume. Substitute water (the best option) or low-calorie drinks.
6. Keep moving
The quality and quantity of your food is the biggest driver in weight gain and weight loss, but exercise also plays a role.
In addition to burning calories, exercise can strengthen your bones, improve your mood and reduce the risk of some diseases.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that, for substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity, or 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or a combination of the two. Aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
HHS also recommends adults do muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups twice or more a week.
Exercises to consider are walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, Pilates, yoga and weight training. Most of these can be done outdoors or at home if you find going to a gym too risky during the COVID outbreak.