Have you been packing on the pounds over the last several months? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.
Dubbed the “Quarantine 15,” the weight gain many have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic is a nationwide phenomenon.
While gyms and public parks have opened following lock-down mandates, many people have been slow to return to physical activity, either due to fear of becoming infected, lack of motivation or having developed bad habits while staying home.
Stress is a largely overlooked factor when it comes to weight gain or loss, as is the stigma attached to being overweight or obese, says Dr. Leah Whigham, director of the Center for Community Health Impact and an associate professor at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston’s School of Public Health in El Paso.
“Too often, people with obesity feel it’s a personal fault of theirs,” Whigham says. “Obesity is a chronic disease, similar to cancer, high blood pressure or heart disease. We don’t blame a person with high blood pressure or see it as a character flaw. Unfortunately, with obesity, we tend to blame the person and there is a high level of stigma.”
That stigma can add to the stress people are already feeling from having to work from home, care for children who are schooling at home and other everyday stressors.
STRESS AS AN INFLUENCER
“Stress influences eating patterns and behavior,” Whigham says. “When stress levels are high, you tend to be driven to eat different types of foods. We are biologically driven to eat comfort foods. Stress might even make you lose weight. People react differently.”
Dr. Benjamin Clapp, bariatric surgeon with The Hospital of Providence’s A New Me Barratric Center, agrees.
“Take this as an opportunity to reset your life, slow down and think about what changes you need to make,” Clapp says. “Focus on controlling your diet and the foods you bring into the house.”
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
Health care professionals like Clapp recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day – which can be achieved even without hitting the gym.
“I’ve never paid a dime to walk around the block or do light calisthenics,” Clapp says. “Your goal should be about 7,000 steps a day and a 30- to 40-minute walk.”
He adds that it’s important to consult your doctor before beginning a new fitness regimen and to always stay hydrated.
Whether your fitness goal is to lose weight or add muscle, there’s still plenty that can be done at home, says Orangetheory Fitness’ head coach Monica Holguin, a certified personal trainer.
“If you don’t have equipment at home, even activities that aren’t exercise, necessarily, can keep you active,” Holguin says.
She recommends climbing stairs or a small step stool for some light-to-medium cardio. Simple bodyweight exercises such as squats, push-ups, crunches and lunges go a long way to engage your entire body, she adds.
And it’s important to know that it’s okay to adjust your fitness goals.
“Trying to lose 20 pounds or gain 10 pounds of muscle might be a little tough at home without equipment, so being adaptable is important,” Holguin says.
While getting in those daily steps is important, all three experts agree: diet is by far the most important factor in maintaining or losing weight.
“You’re not going to out-exercise a bag of Cheetos and a soda every day,” Clapp says. “Little things add up.”
This article published in El Paso Inc. Magazine | Page 48 | Fall 2020