After our "Year of Living at Home," some people are healthier; others are heavier. Accordingly, while post-pandemic plans to scale back restrictions make us hopeful and happy, stepping on the scale might not. Because although many people were slow to notice through their T-shirts and comfortable pajama pants, they gained the "COVID 19."
We know how it happened. While sheltering in place, we ate more and exercised less. Although we joke about this phenomenon and recognize that we are in good company, it's not so funny when we are struggling to fit into our work clothes, no longer able to exist solely from the waist up in a box on a Zoom grid.
How much of a problem is excess pandemic poundage? According to research, which now includes data from our year of living at home, the COVID challenge is apparently a weightier matter than many people thought.
Gaining the "COVID 19"
Anthony A. Lin et al. (2021), in an article titled "Body Weight Changes During Pandemic-Related Shelter-in-Place," explored how this happened.[i] They note that initial shelter-in-place orders resulted in a decrease in daily step counts, likely reflecting larger changes in physical activity levels and daily living patterns, as well as self-reported increases in snacking and overeating.
Through analyzing weight trends from the time of initial COVID-19 stay-at-home orders in a sample of 269 participants living in 37 states as well as in Washington, D.C., Lin et al. found a weight increase of approximately a pound and a half per month. If we do the math, having been stuck at home for a year would literally add up for many people to a gain of close to 19 pounds.
Great, now what? How about we take it off.
Homemade Healthy Meals Matter
Not everyone gained the "COVID 19." Some people acquired new routines instead of excess weight during the course of the pandemic. Unable to frequent their favorite restaurants or fast-food chains, many people bought and cooked healthier meals.
Let's face it, most of us cannot successfully recreate that perfect burger or plate of loaded nachos we were used to enjoying out. And without the larger portions served at our favorite homestyle restaurants, we found ourselves eating less at home.
Snacking was the diet saboteur for many people, especially during an unstructured workday without any set lunch break. We knew that grocery stores deliver fruits and vegetables just as easily as chips and cookies, but that wasn't what we were ordering.
But if we start now and vow to resist unhealthy snacking between healthy meals, we will be well on our way to transitioning from sweatpants to business suits that still fit.
Sleeping Off the Pounds
One activity that many people have had the chance to enjoy more often during the pandemic is sleeping. Not everyone of course, because front-line law enforcement and healthcare workers are toiling around the clock to keep the rest of us safe and healthy. But if you can sleep enough, take advantage of the opportunity. Because although it sounds counterintuitive, not sleeping enough is linked with weight gain rather than weight loss.
How does this work? Sure, you burn fewer calories when you sleep. But if you sleep too little, not only does fatigue increase the likelihood of reaching for a sugary snack as a "pick me up," it may contribute to poor decision-making regarding nutritional choices in general. And you are certainly not motivated to put on your jogging suit if you struggled to step out of bed.
If you didn't eat or sleep well enough during the pandemic, the good news is that there is still time to improve your routine. Some aspects of teleworking and virtual meetings are likely here to stay, particularly in industries that have made significant gains in technological proficiency.
And if you are lucky enough to be able to telework at least part of the time, hours saved in transit will provide more opportunity to create healthy meals and ensure adequate rest. In this fashion, the road to recovering your in-person lifestyle can be lined with healthy routines.
This column was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, PhD, is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance and style. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patrick's Reports — More Here.
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