For many, a side effect of staying home over the past couple of months because of COVID-19 has been unwanted weight gain. Dubbed “the Quarantine 15,” the added pounds are a byproduct of being less physically active and more inclined to deal with the stress of a pandemic by eating less healthy.
Ashleigh Woods, a trainer and co-owner at CrossFit WV in Charleston, said the Quarantine 15 has hit more than just the average American. It also affected people who exercise and maintain healthy lifestyles.
“Traditionally, people normally put on a little weight during the winter,” she said.
“Then around January and February, they get really gung-ho about getting fit.
“People made that commitment to get into shape, but then the lockdown happened.”
Dietician Whitney Long agreed.
“I think a lot of us just got out of our routines,” she said.
Fitness-minded people couldn’t get to their group classes or their gyms to work out, and while walking, running or cycling is touted as great exercise, not everyone enjoys logging the miles.
In the void of palatable options, people adapted to the new “new” of being shut in.
“Eventually you come up with new routines, if you’re stuck at home,” Woods said. “You slept in, you stayed up — and you ate.”
Millie Snyder, a healthy eating advocate and owner of The Shape Shop in Charleston, said many people had a problem with their diets before social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
“The pandemic didn’t help,” she said. “Because you’re bored, you put the time into making foods that you never make.”
Social media was filled with people posting about taking up breadmaking or trying out new desserts. And when it was finally time to put away the pajama pants and oversized gym shorts and return to work, the damage had already been done.
Eliminating the Quarantine 15
Adding pounds has always been easier than taking them off, but it’s not impossible, even if social distancing and avoiding public gatherings are still recommended, experts agree.
Long said a good step might be to simply return to your old, pre-lockdown routine. Eventually, the pounds may just melt off.
Woods suggested a more aggressive approach — throwing out the processed food, replacing it with wholesome food and keeping track of what you eat, one way or another.
“Before you can make any real progress, you have to take control of your diet,” she said. “It’s an easy formula. You have to use up more calories than you take in.”
Long agreed, but recommended avoiding quick-fix diets or extreme lifestyle changes.
“I’m not a fan of fad diets like Keto or The Whole 30,” she said. “They’re really restrictive and don’t address the question of what do you do when they’re over? If you get through one of them and haven’t gained the skills to maintain a healthy lifestyle, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.”
Long suggested making modest changes — drinking water instead of soda, eating more fiber through fresh produce and whole grains like oatmeal, and cutting back on dining out.
“I think you get into trouble when you make it all black or white,” Long said. “Make small goals. If you eat out a lot, say I’m going to cook at home three days this week and start there.”
If you’re going to eat out, Snyder said, the key is to make healthier choices.
Snyder touted the Mediterranean Diet, which focuses on higher consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while limiting some types of animal products and replacing animal fats with olive oil.
The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association recommend the diet as a way to reduce cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, but Snyder said just getting a diet plan probably won’t be enough for most people.
“You can buy the book online,” she said. “But you really need support. You need instruction and a little verbal hand-holding. We all need that.”
Support is available all sorts of places. Snyder does that through The Shape Shop. Long, a dialysis dietician, also sees clients privately through Wellness with Whitney.
April Weston Woody, owner of The Folded Leaf yoga studio in Charleston, started a Facebook weight loss support group of the like-minded called “Losing It!”
The group currently has 90 members. Woody started it, she said, in part because she also put on a couple of pounds during the lockdown.
“It’s been really great. We share diet tips, exercise and recipes,” she said.
Along with diet, exercise is a good way to manage weight.
Woods recommended finding a friend to work out with. Having a partner working on similar goals takes some of the drudgery out of beginning an exercise program, she said. It makes working out more social. Partners can encourage each other and hold one another accountable.
“Gyms are also opening back up,” she said. “You can find a community at the gym that will support you and keep you motivated.”
Group fitness can come in many forms.
“You just have to find what fits for you,” Woods said.
Woody said yoga was a great place for people looking to get into fitness or for people who think they’ve done it all.
“The common misconception is that yoga is easy,” Woody said. “It can be a gentle practice or it can kick your ass.”
She added that yoga can be a lifestyle encompassing both mind and body. Yoga teaches mindfulness, a discipline that focuses on being mentally present, which could help with something like overeating or absentminded grazing.
Long said making the choice to get healthier or drop those unneeded pounds should to be approached with some self-compassion.
Being overly zealous about the “right” weight or a specific clothing size, she said, can lead to disorganized eating, eating disorders and a lot of unhappiness.
“A lot of people think their weight should stay the same, but your weight changes during different parts of life and through different seasons,” Long said. “We aren’t meant to stay the same weight forever.”