Pandemic-induced weight gain a fact, but it can be avoided

·4 min read

Jul. 16—It sounds like a title for an upcoming post-apocalyptic video game — Quarantine 15. In actuality, the term alludes to the 15 pounds of extra weight that people have gained during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But in this day and age of social media-spawned half-truths and fake news, is this a real thing?

Yes, said Jennifer D'Amour, dietitian and diabetes educator with Freeman Health System, it most certainly is.

"Since the pandemic, people have obviously increased their access to snacking — a lot more people are working from home, there's decreased activity, gyms have been closed, people are afraid of contact and they're consuming a lot more high-calorie snacks and convenience foods," such as drive-thru lanes at the popular fast food chains that dot Joplin, she said.

In other words, people are stress eating — a condition that's afflicted millions of men, women and children since early 2020. Medical officials, including the nation's leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, have labeled the pandemic one of the most significant stressors the world has faced in a while — the last major pandemic was the flu pandemic of 1918, caused by the H1N1 virus, is out of living memory, for example. Based on that, there's a justifiable reason why Americans are reaching for bags of potato chips, stacks of brownies or bowls of ice cream, health officials say.

Americans, D'Amour said, have reported a 61% increase in weight since the pandemic took root in the United States a year ago last March. A national survey of 2,044 adults conducted in March found that 57% admitted to weight gain during the pandemic. Of that number, three-fourths said they had gained 10 pounds or more, while half reported 15-plus pound gains. An additional survey, this one conducted by the American Psychological Association, showed that 42% of U.S. adults had gained an average of between 15 to 29 pounds.

The weight gains, D'Amour said, can lead to increased health risks, such as "heart disease, hypertension and diabetes." On the plus side, she said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated "that a higher obesity does not cause increased risks in developing COVID-19, but they have stated that having obesity may increase the severity of the illness, increasing the chances of hospitalizations."

So, the extra pounds are sitting there; how can people go about losing them?

"If you're working at home, create an actual designated work space" where eating isn't allowed, simply because "when eating in front of a computer ... you're not really paying attention to what you are eating."

People, D'Amour said, should be more mindful of their snack choices and eating frequency throughout the day, and make sure a meal has equal parts proteins, fruits, vegetable and dairy on a daily basis. Instead of having a breakfast of a honey bun, have an egg and toast, or oatmeal and fruit.

While some people graze — meaning they eat multiple small meals a day — "don't skip meals," she urged. Some people "are trying to skip meals, and they end up overeating."

Unlike this time last year, when everything was shut down or spaces inside had enforced capacity limits, "the gyms are open now. Or people can go outside to get exercise," D'Amour said. "A lot of my patients got really into the YouTube free workouts. Or people can go outside and get some fresh air or walk, bike or swim ... which doesn't put anyone at risk for COVID."

And when it comes to goals to help lose the extra pounds or to make healthier lifestyle changes, "make sure it's an obtainable goal. Make it something simple — like I'm going to go for a 15-minute walk in the morning, or I'm going to watch a 20-minute yoga video daily. Choose something that is something you want to do — don't go running if you hate running."

And it may take weeks for these new changes to become routine. But remember, she said, routine becomes hobbies, and hobbies become a lifestyle change. and it's not just about weight loss but overall health.

Completing one or more of those small, simple goals can "create self-confidence, which makes it easier for you to move on to your next goal," she said.

Remember, she said, "food and eating isn't a bad thing. We need to nourish our body. We just need to do it in a healthy way."

Kevin McClintock is features editor for The Joplin Globe.

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