QUESTION: Both my wife and I have packed on several pounds since the beginning of quarantine. Do you have any tips on how to help us change out of our quarantine diet and habits to get these pounds off?
ANSWER: First, you need to know that you and your wife aren’t the only ones who have gained weight in the past year related to the COVID-19 quarantine. In fact, many consumers have found themselves turning to unhealthy habits to cope with stress related to the pandemic.
For example, health professionals have found that many people nationwide have gained weight during quarantine. A study published March 22 in the journal JAMA Network Open found that participants gained an average of 1.5 pounds per month during quarantine. The study suggests that as people stayed home parked in front of computers and TVs, their eating habits and physical activity changed, resulting in the weight gains.
And a study by the American Psychological Association found that 42% of consumers gained more weight than they intended during the pandemic and ensuing stay-at-home orders. The Stress in America pandemic survey included 3,013 adults nationwide. It found that 42% of respondents said they gained an average of 29 pounds, and 10% said they gained more than 50 pounds.
The survey also found that 67% of respondents said they have been sleeping more or less than desired since the pandemic started, and 23% reported drinking more alcohol to cope with their stress.
While most health experts would agree that a preoccupation with dieting or obsession over body image is not good for one’s mental or physical health, there is reason to be concerned about excess weight gain, said Jenny Lobb, an educator in family and consumer sciences for Ohio State University Extension.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, while many of us were under lockdown and shelter-in-place orders, the hashtag #Quarantine15 started to circulate the internet to describe the weight gain some were experiencing while at home in isolation,” Lobb wrote in Say Goodbye to #Quarantine15!, a blog posted at Live Healthy Live Well.
The site, which can be found at livehealthyosu.com, is a free information resource that offers science-based consumer information and insights. It’s written by OSU Extension educators and specialists in family and consumer sciences who are concerned with health and wellness. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
“One reason maintaining healthy weight is important is that obesity is associated with serious complications in those infected with COVID-19,” she said. “Eating a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains not only helps one maintain a healthy weight, but it also provides the body with important nutrients that strengthen immune function.”
Here are some tips Lobb suggests to help people adapt healthier eating habits:
-Adopt a positive perspective. Rather than giving in to #Quarantine15 and accepting weight gain as inevitable, look at the pandemic as an opportunity to change your routine and establish new, healthy habits.
-Adjust your setup. If you are still spending the bulk of your time at home, try not to hang out in or around the kitchen all day. Set designated times for meals and snacks.
-Keep sweets and processed foods out of sight or out of the house altogether, and make sure healthy snacks such as fresh fruits, chopped veggies, cheese cubes, or whole-grain crackers are readily available.
-Plan ahead. Take time to plan meals, and then prepare or pack food as needed so you’re not tempted to grab something “easier” when you get hungry.
-Focus on easy meals. Keep your pantry well stocked with staple items so you can throw together an easy meal in a pinch, if plans go astray.
However, it’s important that you set realistic expectations, she said.
“Getting adequate sleep, coping with stress, and exercising regularly are also important components of self-care,” she wrote. “Decide today to adopt one new healthy habit, and then build on that habit until you reach your ultimate goal.”