If you found that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic lockdown triggered unwanted weight gain and you’re struggling to get back to a healthy weight again, you can be assured that you’re not alone.
Life in recent times brought a realm of new challenges to the day-to-day lives of millions of people in the UK and worldwide, disrupting our daily routines and isolation taking a toll on both our mental and physical health.
With unprecedented events this past two years including people having to stay at home for weeks on end, gyms and fitness studios closing, comfort food recipes trending and medical check-ups being postponed, many have understandably gained a little extra weight.
Being overweight puts you at greater risk of developing some potentially serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and atherosclerosis (where fatty deposits narrow your arteries), which can lead to coronary heart disease and stroke. Moreover, it has been widely reported that obesity increases the severity of the COVID-19 illness.
With almost two-thirds of adults in Scotland overweight or obese, having the tools to tackle unplanned weight gain can be extremely useful. Below, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub examines some of the key factors associated with quarantine weight gain, suggests ways to modify your routine, and shares weight management tips and strategies.
WHY HAVE I GAINED WEIGHT DURING LOCKDOWN?
Trying to keep some semblance of a regular routine against the backdrop of a global pandemic is certainly testing, but it’s not the only cause of quarantine weight gain. Some possible reasons are highlighted below.
Changes to Mental Health
The most common psychological symptoms related to lockdown include depression, stress, low mood, irritability, insomnia, anger and emotional exhaustion.
The physiological changes that occur as a result of these symptoms – for example, a surge in levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol – can increase cravings for sugary, fatty food while at the same time slowing your body’s metabolic rate (the rate at which you expend energy at rest).
Lockdown also changed the way we interact with people, reducing physical contact with others and leading to an increased sense of social isolation.
Some people try to combat their emotional distress by overeating to create a sense of fullness. Additionally, lonely people have higher circulating levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin after they eat, causing them to feel hungrier sooner.
Less Physical Activity
Many people adjusted to a more sedentary lifestyle during lockdown, and not just because the local gym was closed. Much of the low-level activity we don’t consider – during the commute, in the office, at lunchtime – was taken out of the equation, which means burning fewer calories per day. It might not seem like much, but it all adds up.
More Processed Foods
Inadequate food supplies were an ongoing issue during lockdown. High numbers chose to stock up on longer-lasting frozen and processed foods – often high in salt, sugar and saturated fat – and eschew fresh fruits and vegetables to cut down on unnecessary trips to the supermarket. Additionally, spending so much time at home can also cause you to dip into the biscuit tin more often due to stress or boredom.
HOW CAN I SHED THE POUNDS I HAVE PUT ON?
If you’re concerned about weight gain, the tips and strategies that follow will give you tools to manage your weight sustainably. The key is to focus on making changes across four pillars: diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management.
Recognise Why You Want to Lose Weight
While weight loss is a common goal shared amongst many, often there is another emotional element behind it. For example, perhaps you feel that losing weight will boost your self-confidence or you may want to minimise the risks of a health condition.
The source of your motivation is an important factor in getting results; if you’re in it for the wrong reasons, you’re more likely to lose your way. A good starting point is to assess your lifestyle and reshape your priorities, recognising and acknowledging what your motivation for losing weight is.
With restrictions now lifted, make the most of every opportunity to be active, even if it’s just getting out of your chair to stretch every half hour. Taking regular short active breaks can make a huge difference over the course of a week.
There are so many benefits to increasing your movement throughout the day. Getting to 10,000 steps a day can drastically increase your metabolism and burn extra calories.
Cut Out the Sugars
Not only will cutting added sugar from your diet help you lose weight, but it may help protect you against chronic diseases and boost your overall health.
Society has developed a habit of eating high sugar, processed foods, especially during lockdown. Try cutting down on these foods, and fill your basket with fruits and vegetables instead. If you have spare time and enjoy cooking, you could search the internet for healthy recipe alternatives to your favourite sweet treats.
Get Plenty of Quality Sleep
The essence of adequate rest and recovery can’t be overstated. Not only will you have more energy to tackle your next workout, but getting quality sleep boosts production of tissue-repairing growth hormone, making you stronger and leaner.
It’s a good idea to turn those electronic devices off at least an hour before bed, and aim for between seven and nine hours in order to keep your energy high.
Work Out With a Friend
Setting fitness goals with a friend can motivate you to stay on track. A recent study found that that 95% of those who started a weight loss programme with friends completed the course, compared with 76% of solo exercisers. The friends were also much more likely to keep the weight off afterwards.
Having a training partner will be far more enjoyable and provide some much-needed accountability.
Establish a Routine
Set a daily wake-up time and bedtime, and try and stick to it as much as possible. Mapping out healthy meals for the week can help you stay on track, and scheduling workouts into your diary makes you less likely to skip one.
Life is full of surprises that can stop you from eating healthily or sticking to your training. Having a routine will help you handle these surprises.
Perform Compound Movements
To burn maximum calories, perform exercises that require several muscle groups to work together at the same time. Exercises that involve multiple joints and muscles will require more energy to perform and build the strength to prepare you for everyday life. Examples of these would be a squat or a row.
Strength training also leads to an increase in muscle mass, which in turn gives your metabolism a boost.
Eat More Protein
A higher protein intake reduces your total calorie intake. Eating more protein contributes to greater feelings of satiety after eating, and will contribute to the maintenance of muscle mass.
High protein foods include lean chicken, lean pork, fish, lean beef, beans, lentils, low-fat yogurt, milk, cheese, seeds, nuts and eggs.
Take Your Time
Changing your daily routine may be especially difficult at the moment due to the challenges brought about by the coronavirus crisis. As such, it can be a good idea to make improvements gradually, being prepared to be flexible and being kind to yourself along the way.
A slow and steady approach will be much safer and more attainable. There are no prizes for losing weight quicker than your friends.
Reduce Alcohol Consumption
As well as the high calorie content, drinking alcohol interferes with the way your body metabolises food. Your body can’t store alcohol; stubborn fat tends to form around your middle if you are a frequent drinker.
Drinking alcohol also damages your ability to absorb vitamins, minerals and nutrients. It’s vital to reduce your alcohol intake if you want to see good results. Equally, it’s also really hard to train with a hangover. For more tips on cutting down on alcohol, click here.
Find What You Enjoy
Weight loss becomes far easier when you enjoy the process. If you don’t enjoy walking, listen to a podcast or play music while you do it. If you find it hard to get motivated to head out for a run, try a socially-distanced gym class instead.
There are many good ways to exercise, but you’re much more likely to stick to it if you’re having fun.
Stay Consistent and Be Patient
When you’ve found out what works for you, stay on track, have faith in yourself, and the results will follow. Once you have a good plan in place, stick to it as much as you can. Remember, it can take a little time for results to be visible.
Too often people start with good intentions but after a few days fall back into bad habits. To help avoid this, you could write down a plan every Sunday for the following week so you are prepared.
Bespoke health improvement support and information within Cumbernauld can be obtained by contacting NHS Lanarkshire’s North Locality Health Improvement Team on 0141 779 8199. The Health Improvement Team provides a range of groups, activities and services which aim to promote wellbeing, assist with weight management, help with smoking cessation and increase physical activity.
Further advice and guidance in relation to diet and maintaining a healthy weight can be gained by visiting the NHS inform website.
Meanwhile, Cornerstone House in Cumbernauld hosts a range of groups and classes that can aid with weight loss, including Slimming World, All in Fitness and Cumbernauld Traditional Taekwondo Association.