Learning from the data on COVID weight gain

Some recent data reveal insights into COVID-19 weight gain. It’s not everyone, and it’s not always 19 pounds, but it is real 🙂  And there are things you can do about it, if you fail into that category.

Many of us have had to shelter, quarantine, or reduce our time outside the house. Gyms are closed, less commuting means less walking overall, getting out to exercise is more complicated than before, and stress plus time near the kitchen can bring on compensatory eating. Researchers have suggested that self-quarantine may provoke depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and lifestyle behaviors that could provoke obesity in adults, and this is proving to be the case with some people.

A recent paper titled “Self-quarantine and weight gain related risk factors during the COVID-19 pandemic” described some very clear findings. Key points include:

• 22% studied gained weight (typically 5-10 pounds). 19% lost weight.

• Roughly 65% stated they increased eating because food was readily available, 73% reported giving into cravings, 52% said they were stress-eating more, 73% said they were eating more due to boredom, and 65% said they increased “snacking after dinner.”

Food instincts at work:

Of the 22% who gained weight, there was a significantly higher percentage of the total who reported they had the largest increase for “eating in response to sight and smell” (food availability), as well as eating in response to stress, and snacking after dinner. All three of these factors were not significantly reported by those who’s weight remained stable. This suggests they are three key drivers of weight gain.

Largest findings:

The study authors reported the largest risk factors for weight gain during self-quarantine are inadequate sleep, snacking after dinner, lack of dietary restraint (eating in response to available food, sight and smell), eating in response to stress, and reduced physical activity. Does this sound familiar to you?

The solution to all this seems obvious and simple: get adequate sleep, practice “dietary restraint” in the face of excessive available food, do not snack after dinner, alter your stress coping mechanisms, and keep an exercise regimen to maintain your metabolism. But simple is not always easy. Habits live deep in the brain, below conscious control, and willpower is not actually that powerful. It’s actually a sign of strength to ask for help when you need it. iDiet specializes in retraining your food brain to change habits and cravings, pointing them in a helpful, not harmful direction. Strategies for these risk factors and more are covered in the iDiet curriculum.

It gets worse:

In a poll of more than 1,000 U.S. readers of WebMD, nearly half of the women and almost one-quarter of the men in the U.S. said they’d gained weight “due to COVID restrictions.” With 70% of the respondents citing “stress eating” as a cause of their weight gain.

We know that weight gain is inflammatory, and inflammation is a risk factor for COVID-19 complications. Adding more weight adds to the risk factor. “Early on, we noticed that all of our patients who were immediately intubated at our institution and others had BMIs over 35,” says Caroline Apovian, MD, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center. “And they were younger.” Preliminary research published in The Lancet has also found this connection between COVID complications and excess weight or high BMI.

Data shared by the major diet-tracking apps show their users report consuming 36 to 60% more candy, bread, and pasta. Alcohol has also been a factor. In the WebMD reader polls, 21% of respondents blamed their weight gain on alcohol. Backing this up, retail sales statistics show alcoholic beverage sales went up over 50% in the early days of the lockdown.

But there is good news:

Everything we teach in iDiet works in the current circumstances. It’s actually a great time to focus on weight loss, because you have more control over your environment while at home, and less opportunities to “stumble across calories” while out of the house.

You have more opportunity to cook fresh healthy food. Eating out is a large source of excess calories, and you can curb that by cooking and meal-planning. Now is a good time to focus on shopping the perimeter of the grocery store to get more fresh vegetables and whole ingredients. Resolve to snack on vegetables, in-season fruit, and whole-grain rather than junk foods.

And even if COVID hasn’t caused excess wight gain, Dr. Roberts wants you to know that now is a great time to learn healthy weight management skills while we are still at home, to get ready for a brighter, post-vaccine lifestyle. So this is not just a time to lose excess weight, but a time to focus on incorporating healthier overall lifestyle choices, using the changes forced on us as a cue to do a lifestyle reset.

Don’t wait on your weight

Our informal polling at iDiet shows that while people are deciding whether, or when, to take an iDiet class, they gain an average of an additional 5 pounds before they sign up for a class. That’s 5 more pounds you’d need to lose once you start the class. So not procrastinating is doubly valuable to get to your goal — you get to start sooner and forestall additional weight gain.

We often hear that people put weight loss off, waiting for the perfect time to embark on a diet. It’s important to realize there is never a perfect time. As the old saying goes, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the 2nd best time is now.



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