Covid-20: Battling Weight Gain During the Pandemic

Covid-20 is not a new virus. It’s the 20 pounds gained while sheltering in place during the Coronavirus pandemic.

It’s another Thursday night at home. It feels like day 128 in jail. The latest mandate from the Governor here in California is to stay home to push against the wave of new virus cases. What to do? You’ve watched 16 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, and finished watching Fauda, Tiger King, Homeland, Outlander, and Broadchurch. You don’t dare watch any more Star Trek or MASH lest you lose your mind.

To fend off boredom, you followed the advice of your best friend and joined an online cooking service. Each day you look forward to the arrival of a new meal. Today’s gourmet delight is Crispy Parmesan Chicken. When it arrives, you carefully take out the pre-measured ingredients and follow the directions.

You take your creation and sit down in front of the TV for the ultimate of self-soothing: “at-home dinner theater”. One hour in, at the change of episodes, it’s time for dessert. What shall you have? Fresh fruit? Don’t be silly. Sugar free Jell-O? Don’t even think about it. What’s in the freezer? Wait! In the back you hid the last pint of Ben & Jerry’s “Everything But The …”.

Your prefrontal cortex questions: “Can this be healthy?” But deep in your mind a voice speaks up: “WTF! It’s Covid time.”

The day comes to a close … at 2:00am. You’re tired, hungry, and it’s time to go to bed. Then again your deep inner voice speaks to you: “Did you finish the Crispy Parmesan Chicken? Oh wait … Is there ice cream left?” You go to the freezer to check, hoping, and wishing … and alas, your wish is answered: Four more bites of ice cream are left; might as well finish them and start fresh in the morning. The inner voice speaks again: “What bad can it cause? You might die next week from some asymptomatic kid giving you Covid. Enjoy life while you can.”

In the morning, an argument swirls in your head: “Was last night so bad?” The only way to tell is to step on the scale. You do, and once again you’ve gained another pound. The inner voice convinces you it must be water weight because your pants still fit. Of course, you’ve been wearing leggings or gym shorts with an elastic waist since March 15th.

“It’s time to get control”, you tell yourself. “Today I’m going to exercise willpower.” According to James Clear, most people say that poor choices result from of a “lack of willpower.” However, as Clear explains, effective strategies, not willpower, is what works. Create and focus on rules, strategies or habits that you can follow to enable you to achieve your goals.

  1. Control your environment. Imagine that your home is a space ship. You will travel for the next 5 years from Earth to Mars on your ship. Question: During these 5 years, do you want your weight management to be easy so you can relax, or do you want to struggle? Easy and relaxed? Then make sure your ship has only those foods that support your meal plan, and remove those that cause you to gain weight: cookies, ice cream, chips, etc.
  2. Make it easy on yourself. Fill your house with more fruits and vegetables, and find those that you like (have you ever tried a cherimoya?). Not only do they provide essential vitamins and nutrients, they fill you up and replace the foods you removed, and they remind you of your plan.
  3. No zero days. Do any amount of physical activity every day. Create a habit of moving. Create consistency. More important than burning calories, create an identity: I am someone who exercises. 70 years of research shows that physical activity is the key to losing weight and keeping it off. Even if you don’t (or can’t) change your food choices, consistent daily physical activity will enable you to lose weight and keep it off.
  4. Meal plan. Create a meal plan and follow it. No one likes to do food records. It is easier to create a meal plan and check off that you’re following it. There are many diets that will help you lose weight. The best one for you is the one that you create yourself. Make certain to create your meal plans when you are satiated. You will always plan healthy, well-balanced plans. Focus on the long game. You are retraining your brain to follow a healthy eating plan.
  5. Log, log, log. Keep an electronic journal to track whether you followed your food and physical activity plan, or to track what you have eaten and how many minutes of physical activity you do each day. Logging food intake and physical activity keeps us honest, and helps motivate us. Better, find an electronic journal that will remind you to do your physical activity.
  6. Count the days. Make a game of your program. How many days have you successfully followed your meal plan and done physical activity? Use your electronic journal to do this. Racking up continuous days keeps us motivated. You will be more likely to follow your plan.
  7. Learn more ways to self-sooth. When you feel like eating, chat with a friend, listen to music, do some yoga, take a bath, or spend time journaling. If you do eat, use low-caloric snacks with strong flavors (e.g., cucumber and seasoned vinegar salad).
  8. Find an accountability partner. Find a friend, a group, or a therapist to help keep you on track.

    Your performance will improve: When people know they are being held accountable by others for their actions, they will work harder. Research shows that when someone publicly shares their goals, they have around a 65% chance of success. However, having a specific accountability partner boosts that chance to 95%.    

These methods work. Willpower does not. Once high-calorie foods are in front of you, you are likely to eat them. This is true for all people with or without a need to lose weight. Period. Find what works for you, create your own rules and strategies, and track your success in a journal.

There are lots of applications such as Fitbit or MyFitnessPal that are great for tracking calories and exercise. We also recommend CaseKeepers as the tags make it great for tracking whether you followed your plan, it allows you to journal your thoughts, feeling and emotions, and it can remind you to do your physical activity.

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