According to a recent survey, six in 10 adults experienced undesired weight changes during the recent pandemic. For 42% of respondents, that meant additional pounds — an average of 29. The remaining 18% experienced unintended weight loss.
A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that daily step counts went down and sedentary behaviors increased during the pandemic. Though gyms are reopening and team sports are resuming, it will take more than exercise to get rid of pandemic pounds. When it comes to weight, food is about 90% of the equation and 10% is exercise. That’s because it’s so easy to out-eat your exercise. You might go for a five-mile run and burn 400 calories, then come home and drink that in a shake.
Exercise is still critical, however, for overall fitness and mental health. You can feel good about yourself with exercise, even if you haven’t necessarily lost weight yet. You can start to change the way your body is reacting — even if you don’t necessarily see it on the scale yet — and that can cascade into bigger changes long term and better mental health. It’s important to be self-compassionate about pandemic weight gain, being hard on yourself over it isn’t going to help.
Tips to help with weight loss
Think about adding healthy foods to your diet, rather than focusing on eating less. Look to add natural, unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains to your diet. An easy way to keep health food top of mind is to keep fruits and vegetables at eye level in the fridge or in an easy-to-grab-from bowl on the kitchen table.
Think about it as eating more of the good stuff, the healthy stuff, because nobody wants to feel hungry. That is just not a fun feeling during the day when you’re already feeling stressed because now there’s another change happening in your life.
Making a list of things within your control you can do to boost health, then gradually adding those things to your daily life, can engender feelings of self-efficacy. For instance, if you know you’ll be having breakfast at home each day, consider starting there with healthier choices. After a few mornings fueled by a healthy breakfast, perhaps consider adding a short afternoon walk.
Map out the things you can control that are not too overwhelming, rather than trying to knock out too much at one time. When you say, “I need to lose 20 pounds,” it feels unattainable. Whereas if you map out little goals that you can do on a daily basis and you’re chiseling away, that seems much more doable. It also gives you the opportunity to set yourself up for little positive reinforcements every day.
Consider forming SMART goals, which are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. As you achieve each incremental SMART goal, you’ll have the confidence and self-knowledge to pursue others.
It’s important to start off slowly, because if you feel self-efficacious and positive emotions from that, it makes you want to build on it. And forget crash dieting. Though you may be panicked that your work clothes have gotten uncomfortably snug, a steady approach to weight loss is healthiest and most sustainable.
Crash diets are not the answer for weight gain ever. Especially not when it’s been weight gain associated with stress, because crash diets can stress a lot of people out, too. You’ll just feel cranky and probably hungry. But real food can be soothing to the soul.