Just like that fateful first year of college, many of us have gained weight during the pandemic. The Quarantine 15 is real, but is it a bad thing? Here’s what the experts are saying.
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has severely disrupted our normal way of life. Many Americans are continuing to stay home as much as possible, which has derailed the efforts of many to get into shape. With most gyms and health clubs keeping their doors closed and big grocery trips resulting in a fully-stocked snack pantry, it’s no wonder that many U.S. residents are reporting they’ve gained what many are calling the “Quarantine 15.”
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In fact, a recent Nutrisystem poll found that 76% of survey respondents had gained around 16 pounds thus far during the pandemic. A separate survey by Weight Watchers found that 36% of participants had gained weight, reporting an average of 12.5 pounds. Whether due to job loss, stress, changing schedules, lack of physical activity, or sheer boredom, it’s clear that many of us are turning to food in order to cope. If you’ve gained the Quarantine 15, here are the facts from experts in the field.
What’s Causing Pandemic Weight Gain?
Figuring out the specific cause behind a change in eating habits is your first step. If you’re spending far more time at home, it’s not surprising that you might be consuming more calories. Although the average American eats out at restaurants around 4.5 times a week, that has obviously changed for most of us. Yet eating at home doesn’t necessarily mean you’re eating healthier. You might be tempted to graze all day or eat junk food that’s not normally accessible at the office. Since you have fewer social engagements outside the house, there’s literally nothing standing between you and the fridge.
There’s also something to be said for seeking out comfort in food (and drink). When you’re in a near-constant state of stress, you’re going to search for things that make you feel better. Food can make us feel secure and loved both emotionally and physically. This is thanks to the feel-good hormones that our brain releases when eating.
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At a time when there’s so much unpredictability, it’s completely understandable that you grab comfort wherever you can. Often that’s found in the kitchen. In addition, Americans are drinking more alcohol than ever during the pandemic. We are also baking like never before, resulting in some indulgences you might not otherwise enjoy.
Suffice it to say, there are probably a number of reasons why you might have gained weight during the pandemic. But whether the Quarantine 15 is really a cause for concern isn’t necessarily clear.
Should You Worry About the Quarantine 15?
If you’ve been working hard on your health or you have a history of certain medical conditions, you might be feeling depressed or anxious over a bit of weight gain. But while the cardiopulmonary bypass was developed in 1953 and has been used in countless heart surgery procedures since, there’s nothing that says you’re setting yourself up for substantial health problems. Even if you gain 10 or 15 pounds during a tough period in your life, you’re not necessarily at a higher risk.
For one thing, stressing about your weight will probably cause you to consume even more calories to cope. It’s more likely that as pandemic-related stress starts to wane, you’ll return to your normal eating habits on your own. But regardless of whether or not that happens, most experts urge individuals to be patient and understanding with themselves.
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This is probably one of the most stressful periods any of us has ever experienced. There’s no shame in your body reacting to that. If fact, it’s perfectly normal and expected. This does not mean that you’ve failed, so try to relax and cut yourself some slack.
That said, weight gain can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health. If you aren’t feeling your best right now then focus on the positive. Those feelings of guilt and shame aren’t going to be productive. Instead of focusing on the scale, shift your perspective to treating your body with respect. Whether that involves a nightly walk around the neighborhood or limiting the consumption of junk food, do it. Make yourself feel good again. Focus on your overall health, rather than clothing size or your literal weight.
How Can You Embrace Healthier Habits?
It’s always a good idea to focus on healthy habits, rather than behaviors that simply cause you to shed pounds. Although a procedure like Smartlipo takes only a few hours and two to three days of recovery, it doesn’t solve your root problem. There are plenty of ways you can prioritize your health and well-being without turning to a surgical procedure or crash diet.
For one thing, it’s a good idea to be mindful when you go grocery shopping. Plan out your list in advance and resist the urge to add any extraneous items to the cart. Swap out those potato chips and ice cream for fresh veggies and frozen yogurt. That way you won’t feel like you’re sacrificing, because you’ll still have options for when you get the munchies. Take advantage of in-season produce for when you’re craving something sweet. Have some pretzels or healthy popcorn for whenever you need a salty snack. Explore those options!
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It’s likely you’ll now need to find a different outlet for your stress and boredom. If you’re spending night after night on the couch, then you’re going to feel sluggish and mindlessly eat. It might feel good in the moment to curl up with a glass of wine to watch a few hours of trash TV. But we all know it’s not doing much in the long term for our anxiety. Whether you pull out the yoga mat, make a virtual appointment with a therapist, draw a hot bath, or retreat to a quiet spot for some meditation and journaling, these activities will help you work through your feelings without numbing them.
It’s also worth mentioning that your regular exercise routine doesn’t do as much to prevent weight gain as you’d think. A healthy diet is crucial. Most people allow themselves to eat a bit more, or move a bit less later on, when they’ve had a good workout. A half-hour exercise session doesn’t actually burn that many calories, so this is counter-intuitive.
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Fitness is extremely important and will help your mood, but its not a cure-all activity. It might even keep you from emotional eating or snacking late at night and it’s an essential part of a healthy life. So getting back into your workout regimen can do wonders for your well-being. But if you’re really worried about your weight right now, exercise is just one part.
Beyond your diet and exercise, you must try to get the right amount of sleep. Many people are having trouble getting 40 winks of uninterrupted slumber during the pandemic. But getting too little sleep, as well as getting too much sleep, has been linked to weight gain. Sleep can have an impact on your stress levels, your blood sugar, and your appetite. So if sudden job loss has caused you to sleep later than normal or you’re waking up multiple times during the night, that is likely effecting your weight gain. By sticking to a relatively regular sleep schedule and staying off your smartphone before bed, you’ll have more energy and eat less to cope.
Ultimately, gaining 10 or 15 pounds during the pandemic isn’t something to panic over. A catchy name like the Quarantine 15 is simply catchy. There are so other things to worry about right now. Focus on feeling good without food, because chances are your eating habits will slowly return to normal over time. Remember to treat yourself with kindness and prioritize your health over whatever the scale says.