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Get back on track after gaining pandemic weight

June 30, 2021 | Weight Loss | Healthy You

two women smile at each other as they enjoy fruit

You aren’t the only one who gained weight during COVID. Give yourself grace. Then begin your reset.

Not surprisingly, many people gained weight during the pandemic.

“The pandemic disrupted our routines and habits—from eating patterns and getting take-out more often to missing out on workout routines to pressures of family and juggling work and kids schooling at home,” she said. “Our world was turned upside down,” said Kelly Peterson, RD, a registered dietitian and the coordinator for PeaceHealth’s bariatric program in Springfield, Oregon.

“Most of us were just trying to survive the stresses of the pandemic,” Kelly said, “It’s easy to make judgments about weight gain and there’s no need to. The first thing I’d emphasize is that there’s no need for shame.”

Weight gain happens. “It isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed,” she said. "It is difficult to make positive changes from a place of shame. Contrary to popular opinion shaming does not motivate ourselves or others.” The important thing is to give yourself grace and then find ways to get back on a healthy track.

Start small

Here are a few meaningful, healthy actions to help you gain control and restore balance:

  • Start meal planning. Meal planning prevents us from having to make last-minute decisions about food. It is difficult to make healthy choices at the end of the day when we are already hungry. Pick combinations of your favorite veggies, fruits, lean proteins and healthy fats. Stock your fridge and pantry with the supplies you need to stick to your plan. Shop from a list and avoid going on an empty stomach. Don't just cruise the aisles.
  • Get into new physical routines.  Walking is always a winner…even if it’s just a few minutes around the block or around your yard. If you’re ready for something more challenging, consider light jogging or a class in yoga, tai chi, boxing or barre. During spare moments in your day, touch your toes or do a couple of squats or wall pushups. You can also grab a resistance band or household item to build strength.
  • Find distractions. As the weather warms up, go outside. Dig in your garden or hike in the woods. Stay busy with projects and activities that don’t revolve around the kitchen. Except for when you’re planning meals, do what you can to keep your mind off food. Watch Dr. Lindsay King’s webinar on stress-eating.
  • Embrace the basics. Studies show that drinking plenty of water and getting solid sleep make a major difference in weight loss. So make these two activities easier and more fun for yourself and your loved ones. You might try putting berries or a sprig of mint in your ice water or follow a special bedtime routine to settle you down for the night.
  • Find an accountability buddy. This could be someone who knows your goals that you can check-in with, (like a friend or even a dietitian!). Or it could be an actual walking or meal-prep buddy. Many of us are motivated by being around others who are also trying to change habits, especially after we've been so isolated during the pandemic.

Strive for consistency

Whatever new habits or routines you choose, it will be important to be as consistent as possible, said Kelly. “This will help you get into a new rhythm that can help you feel more in control and calmer.”

“If you can’t do an activity every day, do it two or three times per week and then build on what’s working for you,” she said.

If making and checking lists helps you feel good, go ahead and track your progress with an app or on paper. And celebrate your wins.

Above all, be patient.

If you still struggle with extra weight after making healthy changes, talk with your primary care provider. There may be underlying medical conditions or medications causing the weight gain or retention.

Finally, depending on how much weight you want to lose, you might also be interested in the medical and surgical weight loss programs at PeaceHealth.