When COVID-19 hit, this Rochester woman decided to go on the 'Mayo Clinic diet'

Jun. 7—ROCHESTER — Becky Hubbard married her husband, Jarrett, in a small intimate courthouse ceremony in January 2020.

The newlyweds' plan was to hold a celebration later in the year, but then COVID-19 hit. And like so many other well-laid plans, the Hubbards' wedding celebration was put on ice.

But unlike a lot of people, who went on high-caloric eating binges to cope with the stress, Hubbard, 38, used the pandemic as a pretext to go on a diet. It was not her first attempt.

The Rochester woman figures that she has been dieting off and on since her late teens. She tried starving herself, Weight Watchers, and milkshakes. Paleo dieting provided the best results, but like her previous attempts, the weight loss proved to be temporary.

"I found that over time, paleo was too restrictive for me to carry it long term," said Hubbard, a Minnesota Department of Transportation environmental document writer.

At the beginning of the year, Hubbard tried again, hitting upon a combination of motivations that ended up providing more long-lasting results. Hubbard knew she wanted to have kids and that having kids required a level of healthiness that had eluded her most of her adult life.

Another motivating factor was the pandemic itself. Having been obese most of her life, Hubbard knew that her weight was a risk factor for severe illness or even death if she caught the disease.

Today, Hubbard can no longer wear the "beautiful" dress that she wore on her wedding day because it's too big. She estimates having lost nearly 50 pounds, dropping from nearly 300 pounds to 240.

Hubbard's experience ran counter to the experiences of many adults, who found that their waistlines expanded during the pandemic. Nearly half of U.S. adults put on excess pounds during the first year of the pandemic, making a national obesity crisis worse, a new study found.

Other benefits for Hubbard have included a lower, more stable blood sugar level. Hubbard tracks her exercises through a fitness watch and has noticed how her resting heart rate has dropped to a lower level. Her cholesterol levels have also gone down a few points — another good sign because high cholesterol runs in her family history.

Hubbard's experience in terms of her motivation for losing weight has found echoes in other dieters. In a weight loss survey of 200,000 consumers on the Mayo Clinic Diet, the official dietary program developed by Mayo Clinic, considerations of health were a key motivator.

About 83% of participants valued health above all other aspirations, which is consistent with global health trends post-COVID. Health surpassed physical appearance as a motivating factor by more than five times. More than 55% of participants had dieted at least six times during their lifetimes, a sign that Americans are seeking sustainable solutions to healthy weight management, the study's author said.

"It's rather a unique survey because of its large scale, and that it explores the psychology of a dieter's mindset," said Donald Hensrud, medical editor of "The Mayo Clinic Diet." "We wanted to learn more about the motivations and aspirations around weight loss, and if a stage of readiness or sense of identity played a role in a diet program's results."

Hubbard said Mayo Clinic Diet originated as a book series and now exists on a new online platform "that gives you a lot more tools" and features five different meal plans. For Hubbard, the Mayo diet differed from others she tried in that it not only gave recommendations but offered rationales behind those recommendations.

"I was looking this time for something that would give me that educational piece about nutrition that I felt like I was missing," Hubbard said. "I really felt like I wouldn't be able to carry anything forward without having that solid education first."

Hubbard said the Mayo program educated her about portion and serving sizes and the number of calories in each serving. It gave her tools to track her food intake, as well as ways to monitor the pounds and inches lost. Hubbard is on a high protein plan.

Hubbard found the Mayo diet enlightening in terms of what had contributed to her previous weight loss failures. In all her previous efforts, Hubbard recalled experiencing "horrible sugar cravings" that ended up derailing her best intentions. This time, she went through what she called a "two-week sugar detox."

"It took me a while for me to come off of that. And as soon as I hit those two weeks, my sugar cravings essentially went away," she said. "I didn't realize I had such a sugar addiction before this diet until I went through that detox period."

Hubbard said another reason she has been successful over the last several months is the program's flexibility. Instead of imposing a restrictive, all-or-nothing eating regimen, there is room within the program's boundaries to eat the foods she loves — within reason.

She can still have a piece of cake at a friend's birthday party or eat a square of Dove Chocolate "every now and then."

"It's flexible enough that you can still enjoy some of the things that you really, really love," Hubbard said. "You don't have to just give something up because you're dieting."