Concerned About Quarantine Weight Gain?

Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and the recent pandemics has been involved in significant changes in our day-to-day. There’s a global disruption of our lifestyle and healthy habits.

Many of us have suffered the effects of unemployment and isolation at home.

Our daily routines have changed radically, and the perceived stress levels have increased exponentially.

All of this makes people vulnerable to sedentary behavior, overeating, and what is now known as the quarantine effect.

People are gaining considerable weight, which adds to the already concerning trends of obesity before COVID-19.

Obesity and heart disease are actually potential risk factors in this COVID 19 pandemic situation. They increase the chance of severe manifestations of coronavirus disease. However, is there a way to change this trend?

In this article, we’re giving you a review of the causes of weight gain during the COVID 19 quarantine. They are essential because they will mark the way for us to change this trend for the better. Then, we’re giving you weight loss tips during quarantine based on each one of these causes. Lastly, we’re covering the importance of staying healthy and how it became a challenge after coronavirus.

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Cause of weight gain during quarantine

By reviewing the causes of weight gain during quarantine, we’re also identifying the problem. This is the first step to make a change and reverse the current trend.

So, if you’re concerned about quarantine weight gain, consider all these possible causes.

They are based on a recent study that evaluated people during self-quarantine. 22% of them gained 5-10 pounds during strict social isolation. And, according to the survey, these are the most prevalent causes (1):

Reduced physical activity

Whether or not you practice sports and exercise in your day-to-day, quarantine affects your physical activity levels. Most people do not exercise at home. They prefer to do it in the gym. Some of them would only feel encouraged to play soccer and other group games. But one way or another, physical activity levels tend to decrease in athletes after quarantine. 

 What about the average American? They usually do not live a very active and healthy lifestyle, but quarantine makes it worse. Before COVID-19, we frequently moved from one place to the other. On our way to work, to the grocery store, or only waiting in line at the bank.

But after quarantine, social isolation reduced our walking and standing time. We’re seated or lay down most of the day, and we use more delivery services instead of going to the grocery store. All of these changes reduce the number of calories we burn every day. Thus, we’re more susceptible to weight gain.

Lack of dietary restraint

Combined with the reduction of physical activity, we also tend to eat more, without a limitation. We don’t have the temptation to eat junk food after work. But we still have a variety of delivery foods that recreate the same scenario.

 Being at home is also not a good idea for some who want to remain fit. Especially if they have a nearby refrigerator and no self-control. Thus, people have a higher tendency to eat without restraint or a schedule.

Another problem has to do with diets and registered dietitians. Most people think that dieting only works when they are actively exercising. Thus, with the gyms closed, they are not as inclined to looking for professional help to regulate their diets.

Inadequate sleep

We would think that having more time at home helps people regulate their sleep. In theory, this would be the case, considering that working impairs sleep, especially for shift workers. But the reality is a bit different. People stay home during pandemics, but they do not regulate their sleep-quite the opposite.

Most of us have a similar sleeping schedule and the use of electronics at night keeps us awake. It actually modifies our melatonin secretion and delays our bedtime. In the same line of thought, not exercising and reducing our physical activity levels also has a deleterious effect on sleep.

On the other side, we have people that do suffer an alteration in their sleeping patterns. But this change is not usually beneficial. They have more time at home and wake up very late in the morning.

Oversleeping may be helpful for people with sleep debt. But after a few days, it becomes an additional source of risks. Studies show that sleeping too much is not only associated with obesity. It also increases your cardiovascular risk.

Snacking after dinner

Having more time at home usually increases the number of meals and the number of snacks we eat every day. This increases our calorie intake and predisposes to obesity. One of the additional snacks that primarily causes weight changes is that consumed after dinner.

Snacking after dinner has been identified as one of the leading causes of weight gain in quarantine. It involves not only an additional meal but one that precedes a long period of inactivity. Thus, the consumed calories are more likely to be transformed into fat tissue.

Another aspect of this after dinner snack that contributes to weight loss is related to its nutritional composition. It is rarely a healthy snack or nutritious foods, and usually includes processed foods and junk food. Instead, it contains simple carbohydrates and saturated fat. Thus, they do not only contribute to weight gain. They may even increase our cardiovascular risk in the process. 

Eating in response to stress

This particular problem is prevalent in anxious people. It is also known as emotional eating and causes obesity and severe overweight in individuals with or without eating disorders.

In some cases, it can be considered a symptom of eating disorders. But during coronavirus pandemics, it is just another effect of being isolated, stressed, and nervous.

As a part of our survival system, food triggers the release of endorphins. These feel-good neurotransmitters counter negative sensations that arise in response to stress. Thus, it is easy to fall into the trap and find food a source of instant gratification.

You might not realize you’re actually eating in response to stress. As a matter of fact, you may not even know you’re under stress. But if you consider your eating patterns and volumes and find a significant increase during quarantine, this is a likely cause.

Since you’re not probably burning extra energy, there’s no reason for your body to ask for additional calories. But if you do mistake anxiety for hunger, the effect will be excess calories and extra pounds. 

Stigmatization and the “why try” effect

Most of us are aware of weight gain during quarantine. We don’t actually need a study to tell us there’s weight gain when we experience it first-hand.

That’s why there are recent social media posts and memes about weight gain during quarantine. A recent review and discussion on the topic include this as another cause of COVID 19 weight gain. The authors mention that many of us may be experiencing a “why try” effect.

In other words, we are all exposed to these social media posts. They are usually not flattering and represent obese people as lazy and unclean. Individuals with a propensity to gain weight feel stigmatized. Their levels of self-assurance and self-confidence are undermined.

Then, they start believing that there’s nothing they can do against this trend. If they were gaining weight before the pandemics, now they’re even worse.

 This is a complete portrait of how the mind is also a potent tool for or against our goals and aspirations. It should also make us reflect on the nature of the posts we’re sharing in social media, and their effects on ourselves, the people we love the most, and unknown users we will probably never meet (2). 

Tips for weight loss during quarantine

As noted above, there are many causes of weight gain during quarantine. But once you identify what is affecting you, it is easier to fix the problem. Here’s a list of tips you can consider:

Recommendations if you reduced your physical activity levels

  • Try calisthenics and home exercises. They are not necessarily difficult or challenging. And even a short period of activity is better than nothing.

  • You can even hire a personal trainer to supervise your home workouts and keep you motivated.

  • Taking out your dog for a walk in most countries is allowed, even during strict quarantine and with a face mask. Use this time to complete 30 minutes of brisk walking every day.

  • Try active sitting instead of the conventional chairs and desks. Using active sitting stools and standing desks, you will activate your core muscles and legs without even noticing.

Recommendations if you’re struggling with your dietary habits and snacks

  • Even during quarantine, you can hire a professional nutritionist or a dietary advisor. They won’t make the same body measures they usually do, but they can still elaborate a complete meal plan you can implement during social distancing.

  • Try to stick as long as possible with three healthy meals and two snacks without frequent fridge visits.

  • Avoid having available sweets and fizzy drinks in the refrigerator. Do the same thing if you have a weak spot for beer and spirits.

  • Keep healthy food and snacks at hand, especially those with plenty of fiber. For example, you can try kale chips, dark chocolate, apple slices, or Greek yogurt with berries. Indeed, you shouldn’t overdo with snacks and turn them into meals.

Recommendations if you have inadequate sleep patterns during the quarantine

  • Firstly, it is essential to give your body enough time to settle before going to bed. Try to turn off all electronic devices and engage in relaxing activities. You can do it 30 minutes to one hour before bedtime.

  • Even if you’re not going out, make sure the sun shines in your room early. This will reset your melatonin secretion and help you synchronize your inner clocks.

  • Increase your physical activity levels. It will not only help you to burn more calories. In the process, your sleep pattern will also improve significantly.

  • Try to avoid oversleeping and napping for more than 30 minutes. You may also want to program your alarm if you’re struggling to wake up in the morning.

  • If you’re still oversleeping and have a hard time regulating your sleeping pattern, consider depression as a likely cause. It is normal to feel depressed or anxious in this situation.

Recommendations if you’re eating in response to stress, anxiety, or depression:

  • Most people do not detect or have difficulties in accepting they are eating in response to stress, anxiety, or depression. So, you should first congratulate yourself. 

  • Even when you know there’s a psychological problem, the mind places many barriers. Thus, you will be tempted to underestimate this cause. Do not yield and give importance to your feelings and emotions.

  • Look for the triggers of increased stress, anxiety, or depression. If you recognize them, try to do something accordingly. Mindfulness techniques, meditation, practicing your hobbies and using essential oils and relaxation techniques can be interesting choices in your favor.

  • Do not hesitate to look for professional help. There’s nothing better than listening to the opinion of a professional. This will also help if you feel identified with stigmatization and the “why try” effect mentioned above.

Staying healthy physically and mentally

COVID-19 is a severe health concern for many nations worldwide. But the implications are far-reaching and complicated. The current situation has affected us, not only in the physical realm. Our mental health is also severely affected.

Patients with coronavirus and suspected cases feel afraid and apprehensive. Those in strict quarantine feel lonely, bored, and angry. To make things worse, the treatment of the infection includes corticosteroids, which worsens cases of insomnia.

The uncertainty, persistent depression, and continued sense of danger have a profound psychologic consequence. The number of panic attacks, psychotic symptoms, and the number of cases of self-harm and suicidal tendencies have increased as reported by various sources (3).

That’s why it is important to stress that both physical and mental health is fundamental to stay healthy. Even if you’re very apprehensive and looking for ways to strengthen your immune system, a little calm will probably be your best strengthening technique.

Otherwise, your levels of cortisol (stress hormone) will rise without a restraint. This hormone prepares your body for an immediate physical fight at the cost of your immunity. Stress and anxiety suppress your immune system and make you more susceptible to viral loads.

Similarly, it prepares your body for survival, turning on the energy-storing devices in your body. More fat will be stored in your belly as an attempt to keep your body prepared for future events, even if you don’t need such a thing. In contrast, by keeping mentally stable and calm, you can help your body and your immune system. They will be more prepared for the battle, especially if you get infected (4, 5).

To balance the equation during these difficult times, we should strengthen the connection between mind and body. We can achieve such a thing by using meditation, mindfulness, and breathing techniques.

If you have free time in your schedule, practice yoga, tai-chi, and similar disciplines. They may give you the peace of mind you need to go on while toning your body and increasing your physical activity levels.

By combining these recommendations with a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle, the current pandemics will not catch your body unguarded.

Conclusion

Quarantine weight gain is a fact. We have experienced it first hand, and studies talk about it, even in small children and healthy adults. If we want to deal with this type of problem, it is crucial to evaluate the causes and find alternatives and solutions to each one of them.

According to recent evidence about weight gain during the pandemics, the causes are varied.

One of them is not having enough physical activity. The lack of dietary restraint is another important cause. Inadequate sleep can contribute significantly to overweight. Snacking after dinner and increasing the volume of food you eat influences weight gain.

Eating in response to stress is another urgent problem we need to evaluate. And finally, feeling we can’t do anything about it may undermine our self-efficacy and self-confidence.

It is possible to tackle all of these causes by being more mindful, looking for alternatives to exercise and eating healthily, and searching for professional help.

Sources

  1. Zachary, Z., Brianna, F., Brianna, L., Garrett, P., Jade, W., Alyssa, D., & Mikayla, K. (2020). Self-quarantine and Weight Gain Related Risk Factors During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice.
  2. Pearl, R. L. (2020). Weight Stigma and the “Quarantine‐15”. Obesity.
  3. Debnath, M., Berk, M., & Maes, M. (2020). Changing dynamics of psychoneuroimmunology during the COVID-19 pandemic. Brain, behavior, & immunity-health, 5, 100096.
  4. Brietzke, E., Magee, T., Freire, R. C., Gomes, F. A., & Milev, R. (2020). Three insights on psychoneuroimmunology of mood disorders to be taken from the COVID-19 pandemic. Brain, Behavior, & Immunity-Health, 100076.

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