In last week’s blog, we talked about how with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the turmoil create multiple problems like weight gain and stress for our patients. We are recommending patients get back on a healthy routine by finding exercises that you can do at home and following a diet that works for you. In this week’s blog, we will be discussing effective strategies for shedding pounds during the pandemic.
If you need to lose 10 or 15 pounds, it is possible—even with the changes and restrictions of the lockdown. The first step is to come up with a plan. Dr. Morton recommends building new routines around what he calls the four pillars for weight loss: diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management.
“You have to have routines. You can’t just be sailing along, hoping for the best. Start with the fundamentals,” he says. “That means getting up in the morning, taking a shower, getting breakfast, and having a plan for the day. Purpose gives direction, and it helps when it comes to weight.”
One or two pounds a week is a reasonable, healthy weight-loss pace, Dr. Morton says. “If you want to cut back by 500 calories a day, that might mean you are exercising the equivalent of 200 calories and cutting out 300 calories in your diet.”
Here are some strategies patients can implement:
1. Create a daily routine.
○ Set a daily wake-up time and bedtime.
○ If you can, plan your meals ahead.
○ Dress up for work every morning—if you wear sweatpants or other loose-fitting clothes every day, it’s easier to overlook weight gain.
2. Renew your interest in food and cooking. If you are home more than usual, like most people, you can spend more time cooking healthy foods.
○ Dr. Morton says, “When you are eating foods you like, you can learn to get a taste of fullness from taste as opposed to only the quantity of food.”
○ It might be helpful to meal prep, at least the protein portion of your meals.
○ Be sure to include a balance of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
3. Think about how you are eating.
○ Portion control: If you’re having trouble try using a salad plate instead of a dinner plate. You can also drink a big glass of water before you eat, or wait about 15 minutes to see if you’re still hungry before you grab seconds.
○ Eat proteins first, because they will make you feel fuller. Too many carbohydrates can cause blood sugar swings and leave you feeling like you have less control over your appetite.
○ Shop carefully. If you think you’ll eat a whole package of cookies in one sitting, don’t buy that type of cookie.
4. Schedule regular exercise. If social distancing keeps you from your usual gym session or exercise classes, try other forms of activity, such as hiking or an online workout class.
○ According to Dr. Viana, exercise is not the main factor for weight loss, but it plays a role in keeping weight off once you lose it.
○ According to Dr. Morton, weight loss can also help with mood and joint pain.
5. Get a good night’s sleep. There is a lot of evidence that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight. This means you should be aiming for seven or more hours a night, depending on what your body requires.
6. Decide how to manage stress. People of faith who get support from others in their religious community face a particular struggle right now, as congregating in large groups raises the risk of infection. However, you can set a regular time for prayer at home and take long walks. Meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practice can also help.
○ Alcohol can seem like a way to calm stress, but it is not helpful for stress management or weight loss. A glass of wine is similar to a candy bar in the way that it contains a lot of calories and the nutritional value is very low. Alcohol can also disturb your sleep and make you dehydrated, which promotes late-night binge eating.
7. Calculate your BMI. Once a patient knows their weight, they can determine their body mass index (BMI) easily at home.
○ The BMI index is a height/weight ratio that will show the patient where they fall within the weight spectrum. A person is considered underweight if their BMI is below 18.5, healthy if BMI falls between 18.5 and 24.9, and overweight if it is between 25 and 30. When BMI reaches 30, the person is considered obese and those people begin to have an extremely difficult time losing weight without medical intervention. There are multiple programs and options for people in need such as medication, endoscopic procedures, and surgery.
Should you just give yourself a break?
Should you just go easy on yourself right now? It’s a question that has been coming up a lot. According to Dr. Morton, “Everybody’s got a tipping point with their weight. A lot of people know this—when they get to a certain weight they start to have problems like reflux or joint pain. I would say it’s fine as long as you are in a normal weight range, but if you are getting out of that range, I would do something about it.”
If you are still in a normal weight range, an extra few pounds may not have an impact on your health. However, if you are overweight or obese, losing 7-10% of your weight can have a positive impact on various health conditions.
Whatever your weight goals may be, now is a good time to assess your lifestyle and focus on all the things that keep you healthy. Take some time to reshape your priorities and decide what to do about food and exercise with all the additional challenges of the pandemic.
While you want to have a plan, you do have to make it sustainable and make allowances. There is no reason to be rigid about it, unless you are chronically obese. Obviously, if you are trying to lose weight you shouldn’t have macaroni and cheese every day, but it can be okay in moderation.