With the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the turmoil create multiple problems like weight gain and stress for our patients. A lot of our patients are working moms and they are now teaching, working from home, and never getting a break. 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.
Stress is being caused by a variety of factors including; kids being home, online school, job loss, and general anxiety about the state of the world which is causing some women to have irregular periods, therefore irregular hormone levels. This is because stress can cause the ovaries to shut down and estrogen levels to drop which can cause a variety of symptoms like mood swings, vaginal dryness, headaches, trouble multitasking, and more. Estrogen regulates adrenaline & the adrenal gland, a lack of estrogen creates random shots of adrenaline which feels like a panic attack and can cause high blood pressure. Women need to come in to be seen if they are feeling this way. We can help get you back on track.
Aside from stress and hormonal issues, it’s easy to see how you might gain weight during the pandemic, especially if you are spending most of your time at home. Comfort food recipes have been trending on Google. (There is so much baking going on, supermarkets can’t keep flour in stock.) A lot of people have found themselves thinking that an extra cookie sounds good and who cares? It’s quarantine, right?
No one has done an actual assessment of how COVID-19 has impacted the nation’s weight—in fact, there is data showing that some people are actually losing weight. However, COVID-19 has created a perfect storm for people who were already struggling with their weight because life has been disrupted in a major way.
Gym/park closures have disrupted exercise routines, and stress has escalated for people who found themselves suddenly unemployed or parents who suddenly had to work at home while simultaneously teaching their children. Lots of people have had to postpone medical checkups and physicals. This is unfortunate because getting health updates like blood pressure and cholesterol numbers can motivate patients to think about their weight.
How has the pandemic led to weight gain?
Additional stress can have an impact on weight. We know that obesity’s causes are multifactorial and that stress is involved. Not only are there organic body changes, but we turn to food as a way to cope with stress.
According to Dr. Morton, says Artur Viana, MD, clinical director of the Yale Metabolic Health & Weight Loss Program, “There are also metabolic changes associated with the ‘fight-or-flight syndrome.’ When you’re stressed, your body will sense it, and it will not give up any calories when it thinks it needs for energy for running away or combat.” Inflammation is also a primary factor, however, we do not know if inflammation leads to weight, or if weight leads to inflammation. It’s most likely a combination of the two.
Is obesity a risk factor for COVID-19?
According to Dr. Morton, there is now yet another reason for people to prevent their weight from getting too far out of control. That reason is that obesity is associated with serious complications in people with COVID-19.
“We know obesity is a big risk factor—not just for COVID, but it also caused problems in people with H1N1 and severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS],” he says. “We’ve known this for a long time. It’s being demonstrated right now even more because this virus has been so pervasive.”
According to the CDC, severe obesity increases the patient’s risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which is a dangerous breathing problem and a serious complication of COVID-19. Additionally, people with severe obesity are more likely to have other health conditions that can increase the severity of COVID-19.
Furthermore, Dr. Morton is also concerned about the effectiveness of a COVID-19 vaccine for people with obesity, if and when one is proven to be safe and effective for the general population.
“We’ve learned over the years that traditional flu vaccines do not work as well in people with obesity. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that the immune response is altered because of the weight and the inflammatory changes that occur,” he says. “I think as we develop a vaccine, we need to make sure that patients with obesity are over-represented in the trial, because they are at high risk, and we need to have a vaccine that is going to work for them.”
Is weight loss necessary and possible?
According to Dr. Morton, losing 5-10 pounds during the pandemic is entirely possible. The first step is getting on the scale at least once a week. Dr. Morton was surprised at how few patients have weighed themselves during the pandemic even though he believes that weighing yourself can be both therapeutic and diagnostic. The National Weight Loss Registry, an organization that tracks people who have lost significant weight and maintained the loss, has shown that people who weigh themselves consistently are more likely to keep their weight down.
Come back next week for part two where we will be discussing effective strategies for shedding pounds during the pandemic.