It’s been more than 115 days since stay-at-home orders were issued in North Carolina, and while we’re all ready to get life back to normal – there’s no end yet in sight. What’s been an emotionally-taxing several months for many of us has led to another potentially hazardous health problem – weight gain.
Unfortunately, widespread weight gain is becoming all too common after months of unhealthy habits including a lack of physical activity and overeating that can be difficult to avoid amidst the COVID-19 chaos. There are a number of factors that contribute to this, but the most common reason is that people often use food as a coping mechanism for dealing with stress, anxiety or boredom.
Perfect Storm for Unhealthy Eating
These past few months have been such a stressful time for all of us. There’s anxiety, fear of the unknown and isolation – all combined with the many great losses we’re facing.
Loss of independence and freedom, loss of structure, missing out on major life events and socialization – not to mention the many who have lost their jobs or even their loved ones amidst the pandemic. Add to that the fact that many are a little closer to the refrigerator all day and some are overindulging in high-calorie takeout meals or extra snacks – and you have the perfect storm of unhealthy eating behaviors.
Not only is weight gain bad for your physical health in many ways, it can contribute to feelings of low self-esteem and being overweight has also been linked to other mental health problems like depression.
Many of my patients who were on track and losing weight before the pandemic have stalled their weight loss, while others have gained weight. To their credit, losing weight just hasn’t been a priority for the past few months, which is understandable with all that’s been going on.
Many people didn’t expect stay-at-home restrictions would last this long, but after several months, people are now realizing that the unhealthy behaviors they’ve been engaging in are having an impact on their weight, overall sense of well-being and emotional health.
I am definitely starting to see a change in attitude among my patients – they’re starting to shift their focus back to better health. Realizing this is now our new normal, they’re recognizing it’s time to start working toward achieving and maintaining a healthy weight once again.
Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Weight
When asked how I’m helping my patients maintain a healthy weight and feel their best amidst a global pandemic, the following is some sound advice I’d like to offer.
#1 – Get your head right.
Making peace with the fact that this is your new reality and that the stress that comes with living amidst a global pandemic is not going away anytime soon is a great place to start. With that said, we have to adapt to change by finding healthy ways to manage the stress with better self-care.
Consider getting up before the rest of your family or staying up later to meditate, do yoga or just sit in silence – whatever works best for you to calm your mind and work through the stresses of the day.
#2 – Make a plan.
Unlike sitting around the house during the dog days of summer and eating takeout – being healthy requires a plan. Invest the time and energy to create meal plans and do meal prep. When you take the time to develop a meal plan, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding the ease of takeout. Plus, you’ll have much greater control over what’s going into your body.
#3 – Stick to a schedule.
Maintain regular mealtimes and watch your portion sizes. Also, limit snacking since those mindless calories can add up quickly. If you work from home, try to put your workstation away from the kitchen and keep healthy snacks like fresh vegetables and fruit on hand for convenience.
#4 – Incorporate movement.
While exercise alone hasn’t been proven effective for weight loss, it plays an important role in helping manage a healthy weight.
That’s because exercise help build lean muscle mass and prevent weight regain. Even more important, it’s great for stress relief, which can play a role in your ability to lose weight.
Find an open space – the change of scenery will do you good. If it’s too hot, try an online workout. There’s no right or wrong exercise – I tell my patients that the best exercise is the one you can stick with, which needs to be something you can enjoy. Whether that’s dancing to your favorite tunes, lifting weights, walking or even yard work – getting off the couch is good for your body and mind.
#5 – Shift your focus.
Find time to get your mind off the craziness. Get off your screens and work on the projects or hobbies you’ve been wanting to do for years. Maybe it’s journaling, reading the classics, building something, writing poetry or learning something new – thinking positively and finding the silver lining in all of this is a healthy thing to do.
The Possible Link Between Obesity and COVID-19
From a medical perspective, being overweight or obese has been linked to higher incidence and/or severity of COVID-19. In fact, in late June, the Centers for Disease Prevention & Control added obesity as a risk factor for COVID-19. Similarly, a study performed at Johns Hopkins cited obesity as a major risk factor for hospitalization due to COVID-19 and a study reported by the Mayo Clinic linked obesity with poorer outcomes in COVID-19 patients.
That’s why it’s time to put down the Cheetos and get off the couch – today is the day to start getting your health back on track.
If you need help shedding the COVID-19 fifteen or losing excess weight you’ve been battling for years, WakeMed Bariatric Surgery & Medical Weight Loss offers a full continuum of weight loss options – including working directly with me on a medically-directed weight loss plan.
About Tiffany Lowe-Payne, DO
Dr. Tiffany Lowe-Payne is board certified in medical bariatrics and specializes in stress management. She is a doctor of osteopathic medicine, which means she takes a whole person approach to helping her patients lose weight. Weight management options include seeing her one-on-one or participating in a small group setting – all for the cost of a primary care co-pay. To learn more, call (919) 350-1000.