“Quarantine 15” is a popular term being used recently to refer to the pesky pounds that have crept onto waistlines since the shutdown began. It’s a phrase similar to “freshman 15,” where in the first year of college students gain 15 pounds.
There are several reasons this happens. Right now, many people are suffering from extra unwanted pounds because of the combination of the stress that we are going through related to Coronavirus pandemic and the fact that we are staying at home for extended periods of time surrounded by all the food we have stocked up. Add that to a lack of gym access and decreased physical activity and we are set up for a perfect storm of overeating and gaining weight.
Stress might not sound like it can lead to weight gain, but because it causes increased levels of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, it actually makes people hungrier and leads to favoring more sugary and fatty foods. Not only that, but stress affects our ability to get a good night’s rest. This in itself can make people gain weight over time.
Trust me, this quarantine weight gain has gotten me too! If you have gained weight during this time, don’t beat yourself up. Show yourself some love and know that it’s a struggle we are all feeling right now. According to some experts, it’s normal for people to gain weight during a crisis time. You are not alone.
Instead of slipping even further (Quarantine 30, perhaps?), let’s get proactive! Here are some easy things you can do at home to lose some of that weight.
#1 – Make Your Scale (and Your Pants) Your Best Friend
The first thing you can do to tackle this issue is to start checking your weight on a regular basis. I know how easy it is to wear those soft sweatpants and reach for snacks while catching up with your favorite TV shows. But that can lull us into comfort and not make us realize how our belly is getting a bulge or that our work pants are getting tight. To curb this, I would suggest at least once or twice a week put on some regular work pants or your jeans and get on the scale so that you know where you’re at. I know that sounds like the opposite of all things fun, but believe me, when you maintain the awareness of your number, it will help you think twice when reaching for the sweets.
#2 – Get Your Groove Back
The next step is creating a new active routine for your day. Because all the gyms are closed, we are staying at home with ample time on our hands to add physical activity. You don’t need to go crazy here and order hundreds of dollars of gym equipment. It can be the simple things that make a difference. Things, like playing with the kids or walking the dog, are great ways to increase physical activity! Not to mention that there is free access to many online exercise classes that gyms and yoga studios have created. And there is a bunch of YouTube videos that are free as well.
#3 – Plan What and When You Eat
Next, let’s talk about planning out your meals. I completely understand that the lack of access to fresh groceries can throw you off the best-laid plans. But you will see progress if you stay strong and go with a list when you go shopping or order online. Make a meal plan and buy only the items that fit within your plan, especially if you’re following a low-carb or keto diet. Above all, resist the urge to add processed sugars, grains, white bread, and desserts into your cart. Create a menu for the week and have a scheduled time for meals each day. This will be especially useful with kids when we can set up a time for them to have meals and also schedule a time for their snacks. Having a meal plan is always a great tool to cut down on extra eating.
#4 – Practice Mindfulness
The next step is to start being mindful of your diet. I highly suggest restarting a food journaling if you have gotten off the habit or start one now and use it regularly. We always get confused about whether we are thirsty or hungry. So whenever you feel the need to snack, think about the type of hunger it is, and have a glass of water before you reach for food. Be conscious of the hunger scale. Mindfulness is about paying attention and being present. So, consider eating a meal at least one meal a day without sitting in front of the TV, being on your phone, or reading a book. And I think this is the best time to enjoy some family meals together. Since my son was in college for the past two years, we were not able to have family meals together. Now that he’s back home, it’s so nice to be able to eat as a family again. Also, I know most of you have started cooking at home, so it might be the best time to try out some recipes and see how they go. I’m sure the kids also would like to join you in kitchen experiments.
#5 – Develop Stress Resiliency
Next, I want you to consider working on developing stress resiliency. By that, I mean add a new type of relaxation in your daily routine. There are so many experts out there now who are teaching meditation and breathing techniques for free with online courses. You can start by adding at least one minute of meditation or mindful breathing into your daily routine.
#6 – Improve Your Sleep Habits
I also consider the lack of sleep as a factor for weight gain. And this is even more important for those of you who are binging on Netflix at night and not sticking to a regular sleep routine. Lack of sleep can increase your hunger hormones and can worsen the stress emotions. Not getting enough sleep will make your mood swings worse than your usual mood fluctuations and can slow down your metabolism. This is actually the best time to get an extra hour of sleep and regulate your sleep routine so that you are going to be on time every night and are getting somewhere between seven to nine hours as recommended.
#7 – Stay Connected
Social distancing means only limiting physical contact with the outside world or family and friends. I think many people now are familiar with using Zoom and Google Hangouts for work, and you can also use them to connect with your family members and long-lost friends. If not a video chat, at least pick up the phone every day and talk to somebody you haven’t spoken to in a while. That’s a kind of soul healer and can bring people together during this time.
This quarantine time shall pass sooner or later. Don’t use the time staying at home as an excuse to lose your focus on your health. A recent article published showed that people affected by obesity or higher BMI were at increased risk of getting worse complications with COVID-19 compared to somebody with a healthy weight. [https://www.sciencenews.org/article/coronavirus-covid19-obesity-risk-factor] Also, being obese can decrease your immunity level because food can be inflammatory and can cause inflammation which can give you more susceptibility to infection.
So the next time you reach for foods that are only there to make you feel good temporarily (you know which ones I’m talking about: doughnuts, chips, cookies, etc.), remember, they’re only a temporary fix and you’re just buffering the situation. Instead, work on some of the more long-term solutions we covered above. Setting up healthy habits will help you beat this sheltering time and come out “Quarantine Strong.