Worried about stress eating and COVID weight gain in lockdown? Check out these strategies to help you avoid COVID-19 weight gain when you’re stuck at home.
All the circulating memes and jokes about “quarantine 15” on the internet might have given us a few good laughs during the lockdown. However, such a weight gain is nothing to be facetious about.
Although the term quarantine 15 was coined lightly to humor our rule-breaking, binge-eating, freshmen self, a 15-kg weight gain can be far more threatening than the freshman 15 at college.
Most of us aren’t students anymore. We can’t easily lose those extra few pounds we’ve gained by being addicted to an unhealthy lifestyle.
Besides, we are amidst a global pandemic that can be life-threatening for people with a preexisting condition or who are overweight. This potential risk might be reason enough to do something about your growing waistline during the lockdown.
When the gyms are closed, you can’t go out for a run or a walk, and your pantry and refrigerator are stocked with supplies, it is fairly normal to gain a few extra pounds stuck at home. However, the problem surfaces when you succumb to your pandemic stress eating and completely let go of your daily routine. Your new ‘norm’ becomes discipline-free and the eating never stops!
However, don’t think the COVID weight gain is inevitable just because you’re stuck at home with 24-hr access to food. It only takes some willpower and minor adjustment on your part to turn around the quarantine 15 phenomenon into a healthy lifestyle. Wondering how you can pull it off? Read on to learn some helpful tips.
Decide When to Have Your Meals
While being cooped up at home all the time has turned our routine upside down, it has also messed up our eating habits. Many of us are either snacking far too much to pass time at home, or not finding the motivation to cook something healthy, and so opt for a quick, fatty alternative.
If you have already fallen into this cycle, you need to get things back on track. And setting a schedule for every meal can get you there. Schedule a specific time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day; try to stick to that fixed schedule. It will ensure you are eating at the right time every day, and train your stomach to be hungry just at mealtime.
Besides, when your mealtimes are scheduled, the rest of your routine will fall into place. Follow these tips for planning an effective meal schedule and building up a good metabolism:
- Eat your breakfast within one hour of waking up, by that time your body is done processing all the nutrients from your sleep time.
- Eat a low-calorie snack 3-4 hours after breakfast
- Have a protein and fiber-based lunch 5-6 hours after your breakfast
- Keep a low-calorie snack for a late afternoon craving
- Finish off the day with a protein, carbohydrate, and fiber-based dinner. Also, make sure you eat dinner at least 3 hours before bed.
- Don’t leave more than a 4-5 hours interval between meals.
Plan What to Eat Each Day
If you find yourself putting together a meal with whatever you find in your kitchen every time you feel hungry, it’s because you don’t have a plan for what you are going to eat. While this type of makeshift meal might momentarily suppress the hunger, it will do more damage in the long run.
For one, there is a high chance that you will not get enough nutrients from those impromptu meals; chances are you are only loading yourself with carbs that way. And not having enough nutrition, essential protein, minerals, and fiber will make you feel more lethargic.
Make a meal plan with easy-to-prep meals that contain all the necessary protein fiber minerals and nutrients. Make a list of ingredients that you will need to prepare those meals so that you don’t end up buying loads of processed food or snacks on your next grocery run. Here are some meal planning tips that you can follow:
- Start small and plan at least two meals a day
- As a beginner, you don’t have to make the meals for whole the week, you can just prep the ingredients so that you can put them together with the meals faster
- You can buy ready-to-cook veggies, canned beans, or rice to save you the prep time
- You don’t have to follow a meal plan religiously. If you don’t feel comfortable eating the same recipe every day, try to bring in a minor change with different ingredients or condiments
Avoid Boredom Snacking and Keep Yourself Busy
Days in quarantine can often turn out to be as boring as watching paint dry. Even if you have tons of stuff left on your to-do list, your mind still finds an excuse to do nothing and succumb itself to boredom. And when you have a pantry full of snacks, your mind will naturally lead you to binge.
If you have to resort to eating just to keep yourself busy, you might hit a new low. Before you know it, your binge eating habit might spiral out of control surpassing the 15 kg mark. The best way to avoid that is to keep your mind busy. There are some tips you can follow to curb this habit:
- Learn to distinguish between a pang of real hunger and psychological hunger
- Watch out for triggers that make you reach out for snacks; it can be the time when you are watching Netflix or mindlessly scrolling through your social media feeds
- Don’t keep unhealthy snacks in your kitchen in the first place. If you don’t have snacks near you, your mind won’t wander to eating
- Substitute chips, cookies, pretzels, etc., with cut-up fruits and vegetables; even if your mind gravitates to the refrigerator, it will find only healthy options
- Develop hobbies that don’t revolve around work so that your mind can get away from the boring routine. For example, start gardening, painting, reading books, or even journaling about these pandemic days
- When you are planning your meals, plan your snacks too, that way you will have a structure for your snack time
Drink More Fluid
Drinking water can be an effective way to suppress untimely hunger or even psychological hunger. Drink a glass of water at least 30 minutes before each meal. It will ensure proper digestion as well as curbing some of the hunger. Keep a water bottle with you and keep track of how much water you are drinking every day.
Portion Control is Key
You should watch out how much you eat, and the best way to do it is to portion your food. Now, we’re not recommending you drastically reduce your food intake, eat like a child, or even count how many peas there are on your plate. The sole purpose of portion control is to eat the amount that you actually need, nothing more or less. Here are some effective tips for controlling your food portion:
- Use smaller plates during meals. When you have a whole tub of ice cream with you and you are eating straight out of it, chances are you will keep eating until the tub is empty! Instead of eating from the tub, use a bowl
- Use measuring cups to control your food intake
- Give it at least 20 minutes before you reach for a second serving. By that time you might feel full enough to not want another serving
- Store your food in individual containers for each meal. That way, you will have fewer chances of grabbing extra
Opt For a High-Protein & High-Fiber Snack
Have you ever wondered, when you open a bag of chips or pretzels, how you can’t leave until you finish them? You might even open a second bag after finishing the first one. They are flavored in this way to get you hooked. Besides, the added sugar and fat in these snacks can reduce your immunity, which considering the pandemic, isn’t ideal.
So, next time you are on your grocery run stay steer clear of the processed snacks and opt for high-protein and high-fiber snacks. They will keep you full for longer and you can avoid unnecessary weight gain. You can try the following snacks:
- Unsalted nuts and seeds
- Fibrous fruits such as apples and berries
- Whole-grain crackers
- Hard-boiled eggs
Understand the Science Behind Stress And Hunger
Although most weight gain is solely related to eating; many other factors can affect weight. Eating is not always a biological response because there are many other physiological and psychological reasons. Stress might be one of the most widespread reasons for COVID weight gain.
When you are stressed, your cortisol hormone rises, and eating sugary foods is one way to curb the release of cortisol. That’s why when you are stressed, your mind wanders to the bag of cookies or chocolate bars stashed away somewhere in your pantry.
We know, with all the news about the burgeoning pandemic and crashing economy, it’s nearly impossible to bury your head in the sand and be stress-free. However, as we are well into the second year of the pandemic, we have got to learn to take it in our stride. Keep your mind busy with healthy hobbies to get away from the pandemic stress and gloom. Even if you feel stressed, keep healthy alternatives at hand to satisfy the craving.
Be Mindful When You are Eating
Eating is not just a biological act to satiate your hunger; it also has a psychological impact. When you take your time eating, savoring the texture, smell, and taste of your food, you become full more easily. So, when you are eating keep the distractions at a minimum.
Don’t scroll through your phone or even work on your laptop while you eat. If you are used to eating all of your meals in front of the TV while watching your favorite show, you should try to stop it. Focus only on the food you are eating and savor every bite, chew slowly, and don’t rush through your meal.
Don’t be a Slacker, Stay Active
Even if you weren’t much of a gym junkie before the pandemic, your body was doing some regular exercise that it’s probably not doing anymore. It might have been the few blocks of walking to catch the bus for going to work or the few hours of playing fetch with your dog in the park a few times a week.
Now that all of that is harder to do, you need to be a little strategic with your activities. Just because the gyms are closed and you are not allowed to go out, it doesn’t mean you can’t exercise at home. Here are some tips to stay active at home during a lockdown:
- Walk up down the stairs at a faster pace
- Practice light lifting exercises at home
- Try yoga
- Play with your pet
- Avoid sitting down for hours without breaks
Stay Connected with Others (Virtually)
As we are not going out of the house, we are less concerned about our overall appearance. For some people, going out and meeting others might be the only motivator to keep up their appearance and live a healthy lifestyle. While going out is less common, being connected with others virtually can be an alternative motivator.
Besides, being alone at home can get depressing and dampen your spirit. To boost your morale, you can join online exercise classes or facetime with your friends. There are even live videos of people working and cleaning their homes – you can watch those just to keep yourself motivated!
Maintain a Healthy Sleep Pattern
Ever noticed how you crave late-night snacks whenever you stay up late? It’s because your sleep pattern controls the release of ‘hunger hormones’ called leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is released at night, which decreases your appetite; and ghrelin is released when you are awake to signal you are hungry. When you are not sleeping at night, the effect of released ghrelin can make you crave more food.
Besides, a messed-up sleep pattern can also impact your metabolism, making you gain weight. Also, when your brain is sleep-deprived, it craves more sugary foods to keep it functional. To avoid COVID weight gain, make sure you get quality sleep of at least eight hours a day. Keep distractions like your phone and laptop away from you to get uninterrupted sleep.
Devise Self-Soothing Strategies
There are many ways to find comfort whenever you are facing something difficult. For most people, turning to comfort food is the only way they can manage some solace.
However, food is not the only antidote to get away from difficulties. You can find other healthier ways to cope with stress. For instance, regular meditation can go a long way to calm your nerves and keep the pandemic stress at bay.
The Bottom Line – Is COVID Weight Gain Real?
Although a little weight gain during this testing time is nothing to be ashamed of, the problem might spiral out of control if you let go of the rein completely. However, as you might know by now, you don’t have to drastically change your lifestyle to avoid COVID weight gain. Follow the aforementioned strategies: be a little mindful about your diet, exercise, and lifestyle, and you won’t have to worry about quarantine 15.
My name is Deborah Foster and I am a Weight Loss Coach with a background in Nutrition Coaching and Personal Training. I specialize in helping women and men break through the yo-yo diet cycle and lose weight for good, without being miserable in the process.