Pandemic Weight Gain? Here’s How To Lose It
Has the stress of the COVID pandemic prompted you to turn to food for comfort? You’re not alone.
About 42% of U.S. adults reported undesired weight gain in the first year of the pandemic, with 29 pounds gained on average, a recent survey shows. There is a path to improved health through weight loss, and it starts by identifying the factors that led to weight gain.
Disruption to Routines
There are several reasons so many people have gained weight during the global health crisis, including:
Exercise disrupted. At the start of the pandemic, gyms and pools closed, forcing many to find new ways to get physical activity. Even now, re-establishing fitness routines is taking time and determination.
Sedentary at home. As more people work from home, simple activities such as walking to a car in a parking lot or taking the stairs at the office have disappeared -- and all those activities add up in a day. Commuting from the bedroom to the living room or dining room table, as opposed to moving through the rest of the physical world, has a profound long-term impact.
Stress eating. Meal planning and prepping also have decreased, and balanced dinners too often are replaced with cereal, processed foods or food delivery services. The sudden disruption to our collective routines brought with it unhealthy habits that are still in place for many families.
Pandemic Stress and Weight Gain
It is impossible to talk about the physical effects of the pandemic without mentioning the mental health crisis. Anxiety has spiked as uncertainty swirls. Many turned to emotional eating and drinking alcohol to cope. Multiple studies show that increased stress can lead to weight gain through higher levels of the hormone cortisol, reduced sleep, emotional eating and reduced insulin effectiveness. It may seem that stress is merely a psychological issue, but it affects the health of our physical body in many ways, including weight gain.
Is Weight Loss Possible Without Bariatric Surgery?
If you are one of the many people who gained weight since the start of the pandemic, it is important to prioritize healthy weight management with the help of a medical professional.
Maintaining a healthy weight improves heart health, boosts immunity and reduces your risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Not every person needs bariatric surgery to get back on track. Regaining control of your weight is really about getting back to basics, including:
- Monitor stress levels. The cortisol that the body releases during stressful moments can lead to weight gain -- and make it harder to lose weight, too. Small steps, such as taking time away from your desk during the day, praying/meditating, prioritizing eight hours of sleep a night and getting outside for fresh air every day are free ways to reduce stress. If your stress levels seem uncontrollable, seek professional help.
- Plan meals. Even if you are still working from home or getting out less, plan meals and have healthy meal options on hand so you can throw one together if needed. Pack your lunch if you will be at work or out during meal times.
- Get moderate exercise. You do not have to spend a lot of time in a gym or fitness class to feel the benefits of exercise. The American Heart Association recommends just 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise for adults (that’s less than 25 minutes a day). So take a walk in your neighborhood, sign up for a dance class or squeeze in a short, from-home workout during your workday.
- Take short-term weight loss medication. Many people can jumpstart their weight less with just 30 to 45 days of weight loss medication, taken under the supervision of a physician. Often, this is the step needed to get back into healthy eating and exercise habits.
If you feel that all your options for weight loss are exhausted, bariatric surgery is a potential next step to getting your weight under control and improving your overall health. You may be a candidate for bariatric surgery if:
- You are at least 18 years old
- You are more than 100 pounds overweight (or BMI ranging from 35-65) and suffer two serious health problems (such as diabetes, high blood pressure or sleep apnea) as a result
- You have been at this level of obesity for at least two years
- You have tried to lose weight following diet programs and been unsuccessful at either weight loss or maintaining weight loss
While surgery is not the right choice for everyone, consulting a healthcare professional about your best path to weight loss will ensure you find a sustainable, safe way to do it.
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