“Back then it was a shock to the system, the challenge of staying home,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, a dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic. “Now we’re seeing people struggling with stress, boredom, and the inability to focus on making a lifestyle change when there are so many other things going on.”
So, does that mean we should just keep going the way we have been? Not so fast, says Kirkpatrick: “Some people are changing the narrative, looking at this as an opportunity.” Not going to the workplace means there’s no long commute, which makes space for exercising and cooking healthy meals. “While about half of my patients are saying this is the worst thing ever, the other half say, ‘There’s so much I can’t control, I’ll control making a true lifestyle change.’ They’ve finally got the time to do it,” she says.
Such was the case for Dianne Simmons of Frederick, MD, who has lost 40 pounds on WW (formerly Weight Watchers) during the pandemic. “COVID made me look differently at how there are some things I can control, and some I have no control over whatsoever,” she says. “I think I needed something to focus on that allowed me little victories going along. It makes 2020 feel a bit less dire.”
- Take baby steps. We’re all stressed right now, so trying to overhaul your lifestyle completely might be asking too much of yourself. Instead, start with one small step. “What’s something you can change right now?” says Kirkpatrick. “It’s too hard to make five different changes when you can just pick one to start.” For many of her patients, that means experimenting with intermittent fasting, in which you eat only during a set number of hours each day. (More on that below.)
- Embrace semi-homemade. Yes, you have more time to cook. But if you just don’t have the mental energy to choose recipes and shop for specific ingredients, stock your kitchen with ready-to-use items that are easy to transform into a nutritious meal. “Now isn’t the time to become a grand chef,” says Kirkpatrick. “Learn to be a great short-order cook.” Frozen chicken breast + frozen broccoli + a pouch of pre-cooked quinoa or brown rice = dinner.
- Eat on a schedule. Working from home means you’ve got food accessible 24/7, and your days probably have less structure than they used to. Plan when you’ll take a coffee break and eat lunch, and stick to it.
- Consider intermittent fasting. “Even a Mediterranean or low-carb diet takes planning, and most of my patients can’t wrap their heads around that right now,” says Kirkpatrick. Intermittent fasting limits your eating to a set window of hours each day. The idea isn’t to gorge on cookies during those hours – you should still aim for healthy meals and snacks — but you don’t have to count calories or nutrients. Simply by not eating early in the morning and late at night, you’ll probably find you’re eating less. Pre-pandemic, Rachel Kahan of Brooklyn, NY, was doing a 12-hour intermittent fast, largely because her commute required eating breakfast early and dinner late. In lockdown, her family ate breakfast later in the morning and had dinner earlier in the evening, which left her with a 10-hour window for eating. She’s lost 5 pounds, and her husband has lost 10.
- Or maybe go vegan. Many of Kirkpatrick’s patients have adopted a vegan lifestyle during the pandemic, which they hope will be better for their immune systems. Experts say a plant-based diet supports your immune system. “It’s transformed how they eat,” she says. “A lot have lost weight without that being the goal.”
- Lock the liquor cabinet. Not only does alcohol provide excess calories, it also takes away your ability to regulate your food intake, Kirkpatrick says. “If you start drinking while you’re cooking, you stop caring about what you’re eating.” You don’t have to give up alcohol entirely, but drink more consciously.
- Start the day ready to play. Get dressed every day, but skip the comfy sweats. Opt for clothing that encourages you to move. “Loungewear doesn’t foster physical activity,” says Kirkpatrick. “Whatever clothes make you more likely to go for a walk, choose that.”
- Use your commute time for exercise. Now that you don’t have to leave home by 8, you can spend that time moving your body. “The intensity of your workout doesn’t have to change, but you might have 90 minutes now, instead of 45 minutes during your lunch break on the job,” says Kirkpatrick.
- What’s realistic in your current environment? A young person quarantining with roommates probably can’t ask everyone else to adopt the same approach to eating, but you can be honest with them and ask for their support. A parent with small children, on the other hand, has more control over what food comes into the house — but less time to focus on your own needs, so a health-oriented meal-delivery program might do the trick. And a senior living alone might want the sociability and group support of a plan like WW.
- What kind of communication do you prefer? If you’re just looking for structure and guidance, a tracking app or website might do the trick. For structure as well as support from others, a formal weight loss program could be a good fit. Or if you’d prefer a one-on-one approach, opt for Zoom sessions with a dietitian.
- How much support do you need? Maybe you already understand what changes you need to make, but don’t have people in your life who’ll support you. Thanks to the pandemic, neighborhood groups have sprung up on sites like Facebook and Nextdoor. “People share ideas about what to make for dinner, or say, ‘Hey, I’m going for a socially distanced walk at noon. Who wants to join?’” says Kirkpatrick. “They’re supporting one another, and they don’t necessarily have to see each other.”
“Waist size also matters because central obesity is more inflammatory, which may have a worse effect on COVID compared to someone who is holding weight in the butt or thigh area,” Kirkpatrick says. “This is the time to focus on accurate, measurable indicators for health, and studies show that waist is a better predictor.”
WebMD Health News Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 29, 2020SourcesArticle: The Pandemic Diet: How to Lose the ‘Quarantine 15’Mondelēz International: “Mondelēz International Reports Q2 2020 Results.”SWNS Digital: “Americans have gained up to 16 pounds while quarantining.”Nick Rizzo, fitness research director, RunRepeat.Kristin Kirkpatrick, registered dietitian, Cleveland Clinic.Dianne Simmons, Frederick, MD.Rachel Kahan, Brooklyn, NY.The BMJ: “Central fatness and risk of all cause mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of 72 prospective cohort studies.”MD Anderson: “5 benefits of a plant-based diet.”John Whyte, MD, MPH. Chief Medical Officer, WebMD,Drew Ramsey, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Columbia University
The Quickest Weight Loss Technique
“Why exactly calorie restriction and fasting induce so many beneficial effects is not fully clear yet.The elegant thing about strict ADF [alternate-day fasting] is that it doesn’t require participants to count their meals and calories: they just don’t eat anything for one day.”
“We found that on average, during the 12 hours when they could eat normally, the participants in the ADF group compensated for some of the calories lost from the fasting, but not all.Overall, they reached a mean calorie restriction of about 35% and lost an average of 3.5 kg [7.7 lb] during four weeks of ADF.”
About the authorPsychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassionThe Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and PanicSpark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For AnythingActivate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do