Q:  Do you have any suggestions on how to lose the weight I have gained during the pandemic?

A: The weight gain many of us are experiencing is being dubbed “The COVID 15” to parody off the “Freshman 15” that we often hear about when new college students gain 15 pounds. While gaining the weight always feels a lot easier than losing the weight, there are many great suggestions on how to get rid of those unwanted pounds. Most importantly, these suggestions will decrease the risk of other health problems and increase your healthy lifestyle habits.

We can first recognize that there is a valid reason behind gaining those pounds. Research shows there is a common correlation between stress and weight gain. In fact, increased stress levels lead to a rise in the stress hormone, cortisol, which can result in an increased appetite. The pandemic has increased stress levels as everyone learned to navigate these new risks and changes to our daily routines. Lack of sleep can also increase hunger and lead to more cravings of calorie dense foods.

Make sure to include some stress relieving exercises into your daily routine. Some great stress relieving practices may include deep breathing techniques, outdoor exercise, meditation, engaging in art activities, safely visiting with friends, and listening to music. Consider trying one before bedtime to help with your sleep patterns.

In conjunction with an increase in stress levels, we have also been at home more, which can lead to more snacking, baking, drinking and mindless and emotional eating. Often, we are not even aware of how much we are consuming when eating while watching TV. One tip is to always plate your food. Do not eat directly out of the bag or fridge. Put the portion you want on a plate so you can be aware of how much you are enjoying.

Once you set a goal of losing weight, you can break down your goal into smaller more manageable steps. This will help you see results, which increases motivation. If your goal is to lose 15 pounds, set your first goal at losing 5 pounds and think through how you will achieve that goal. There are many small ways to make changes in your eating and exercise routines that will make a big difference in the long term for your health.

Consider meal planning for the week and include a plan for healthy snacks. It is easy to reach for chips and cookies when we do not have a plan for what to snack on. Fresh, non-processed foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, are an important part of healthy diet. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with whole grains, and quarter with a healthy protein.

Include exercise in your goal setting. Consider what you do already for exercise regularly and increase it gradually. Add more steps into your day and even use weights, if appropriate. Cans of soup or bottled water make great light weights and most people already have them in their pantry.

Studies show that people do better reaching their goals when they have accountability. Ask a friend to be your accountability buddy. Together, you can set goals and have weekly check-ins to see how you are both doing. A supportive friend not only helps to keep you motivated, but can also help reduce stress by having a regular social connection.

If you are not sure where to start, consider keeping a food and exercise journal for the first week. Write down everything you eat for the day and include how much water you are drinking. This will allow you to see your patterns and where you can make some changes. Increasing your water intake can reduce hunger, increase metabolism, and help with overall health. Remember to make small attainable goals that will support your larger overall goal.

Smaller changes will be more sustainable and not increase your stress. We are, after all, still living in a pandemic. Health should always be our guiding motivator, and sometimes that means going slow and being easy on ourselves.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org.

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