The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people’s health, both mentally and physically. One of the most notable impacts of that is weight gain, which can lead to various health problems. 61 percent of Americans say they experienced undesired weight gain during the pandemic, according to an American Psychological Association survey. “We’ve seen an uptick in pre-diabetes diagnoses since the beginning of COVID,” notes Dr. Elana Fedor, a member of Summit Health’s Internal Medicine team.
There are multiple contributors to this rise, she explains, but with some lifestyle changes, there are ways to combat it.
Why has weight gain surged?
“Many people’s lifestyles were completely disrupted,” says Dr. Fedor. Three factors, in particular, have contributed to this.
1. Less daily activity
“Home confinement has led to sedentary behavior,” says Dr. Fedor. “We used to walk to meetings or walk to the break room for a cup of coffee. Now people are working at their dining room tables and hardly moving around.”
2. Depression and anxiety
Stress over household economics due to job loss, working full-time jobs while teaching children, and lack of normal social interaction all contribute to mental health problems. “There’s a mental exhaustion to it all,” says Dr. Fedor, “which often leads to unhealthy food choices and decreases our motivation to exercise.”
3. Gym closures
Going to the gym is part of many people’s regular routines, so when workout facilities closed, these habits fell off.
How to lose weight (and keep it off)
Fortunately, weight gain doesn’t have to be permanent. You can take action now to prevent it from causing health issues in the future.
While cardio activities like running and biking are important, don’t limit your exercise to just aerobic activities. “Many people believe cardio is the best way to lose weight,” Dr. Fedor says. “But building muscle mass can help increase your metabolism. I encourage patients to focus on a balanced exercise program which includes aerobic exercise as well as muscle strengthening.”
Get plenty of sleep
“Sleep has a big impact on weight,” Dr. Fedor says. “Lack of sleep
raises cortisol levels, which prompts the body to store more fat.” Try to keep your bedtime and waking time as consistent as possible, so that your body gets into a routine of good sleep. Furthermore, regular exercise improves sleep patterns.
Consider seeing a nutritionist
“A nutritionist can help individuals find the right plan for them,” she explains. “People read an article about this diet or that diet, but it’s rare that it works perfectly. The idea is to find something sustainable—not a crash diet.”
Make healthy choices
Choose healthy snacks such as vegetables and fruit, and minimize alcohol if you are trying to lose weight as it adds unnecessary calories.
If you suffer from obesity, consider medication or a surgical procedure
While body mass index (BMI) is not a perfect metric, Dr. Fedor notes, it does serve as a general guide in determining obesity. For those who suffer from morbid obesity (a BMI over 40), surgery is an option, especially in the presence of co-morbid conditions, such as diabetes. Less drastic measures are available to those with a BMI over 30 (considered obese). “Some of these patients may benefit from pharmacotherapies to help jumpstart weight loss. This can be done judiciously under physician supervision” she says.
Get back to your doctor
Many people avoided going to the doctor during this past year because of stay-at-home orders and fear of COVID-19 exposure. “I’m finding patients haven’t seen a doctor in a year or two,” Dr. Fedor says. But with virtual appointments, even people who aren’t comfortable with in-person appointments have options. Consistently monitoring your health, she says, is one of the best ways to prevent future problems.