Staying at home due to COVID-19 for the past few months has been a challenge for all of us, and weight gain is an unforeseen consequence that many people are now dealing with. You might have noticed that the scale is suddenly reading higher than expected, or maybe your waistbands are feeling just a bit tighter. You might have even noticed higher blood glucose levels for no apparent reason.
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Reasons for weight gain
One way that many people have been coping with living in lockdown is by turning to food for comfort. It’s not uncommon to eat more or to eat less healthy foods during tough times. Social distancing can cause anxiety, boredom and loneliness, and what better solution than reaching for those two favorite friends, Ben and Jerry?
If you’re not a stress eater, your weight gain might be explained by the challenges in finding, affording, and/or shopping for food. Michelle Dart, a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist of Dart Health Coaching & Consulting in Syracuse, NY, says, “Those who can get out to a store are rushing to get in and out and don’t feel they have time to check nutrition labels. Or, someone else is doing the shopping for them. They may not be getting the healthiest options. Plus, there is increased food insecurity right now with people being out of work.”
Excess calories combined with decreased or a lack of regular physical activity can impact your weight, too. With gyms being closed and concerns about going outside for walks or bike rides, you’re probably not burning as many calories as you usually do.
Weight gain is also linked with disrupted sleep. Research indicates that shortchanging yourself on sleep can increase appetite and hunger, possibly due to an impact on hormones that help to regulate hunger. Plus, not getting enough sleep increases fatigue later on, possibly leading to less physical activity.
Getting back on track
The good news is that the lockdown is lifting in many parts of the country. While we still need to continue with the usual precautions of social distancing, wearing face coverings, and frequent hand washing, most of us can start to slowly get back to some semblance of normalcy. In the meantime, it might be a good time for you to begin to focus on self-care behaviors and work on dropping some of the weight you’ve gained. If so, here are some tips to help you get started.
Add back structure
Going to work or school, volunteering and socializing gives structure and routine to our days. If all of that has gone by the wayside, you might be feeling a little (or a lot) out of sorts. That can lead to mindless eating, which, in turn, can pack on the pounds. Even if your schedule is different now, try making a point to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at regular times each day. The same goes for snacks. If you usually eat a snack, plan for it as you would your meals. If snacking isn’t your thing — but you’ve been doing it anyway — consider keeping a water bottle close by and sip on that if the urge to snack strikes. Or, choose low-carb, low-calorie foods to munch on, such as carrots, celery or radishes.
Speaking of water, make sure you’re drinking enough. We often eat for so many reasons other than actual hunger. Reaching for a glass of cold water can distract you from those reasons and curb the desire to eat. Plus, drinking water helps to fill you up. Sparkling water can do the same. If plain water bores you, give it a flavor boost by adding lemon, lime or cucumber slices, or try flavored seltzer water. Go easy on sports or energy drinks and iced coffee and tea; if you’re not checking the Nutrition Facts label, the calories and carbs quickly add up. In addition, many of these beverages contain caffeine, which can make it harder to fall asleep.
Get into a good habit of planning your meals ahead of time. Decide what you’ll have for your meals, if not for the week, then at least for a few days. Doing so will a) make it easier to put together a shopping list and b) lessen the chance of constantly ordering takeout. Another perk: Meal planning lowers the risk of being overweight or obese, according for a 2017 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Check out the American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Food Hub for inspiration.
Watch portions and read food labels
Portion control is a must if you’re aiming to keep your weight and your blood sugars within a certain range. Calories count, even when it comes to healthy foods. If you’re not inclined to dust off your food scale and measuring cups, go for simpler methods such as eating off smaller plates, using your hands to gauge portions and using the Plate Method. For how-to’s, visit the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When it comes to reading labels, “People are not taking their time to read Nutrition Facts labels,” says Kelly Robers, RDN, CDCES, Clinical Exercise Physiologist and owner of Nutrition Education Specialists in Phoenix, AZ. “This might be affected by what is available at the grocery store. If their usual brands of certain foods aren’t there, this may change the carbohydrate content of those foods. Take the time to look at the serving size and the total carbohydrates,” she adds.
Veggies and protein first!
A simple way to approach your meals is to eat your vegetables and protein foods before eating the carbohydrate foods on your plate. Doing so can help lower post-meal glucose and insulin levels in people with type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in the journal Diabetes Care in 2015. Switching up the order in which you eat your foods may help you lose weight, too. How? Vegetables are high in water and fiber, which help fill you up. Protein also helps curb the appetite and can slow stomach emptying, so you stay fuller, longer.
We get it. It’s just so easy (and way more fun) to eat meals while binge-watching your favorite Netflix shows. But when your focus is on catching up on Stranger Things or paying attention to your Zoom meeting, you’re more likely to eat fast, eat without awareness and ultimately, eat more than you realize. Take a real break when it comes to meals and snacks, and practice mindful eating. Mindful eating entails eating slowly and without distraction, along with paying attention to physical hunger and feelings of fullness. Learn more about mindful eating here.
Find ways to be active
If going to your fitness class is out of the question now and you’re not big on walking outside with people around you, don’t despair. There are other ways that you can fit some exercise into your day. Check out online workout videos — many are free of charge. HASFIT and Leslie Sansone’s YouTube videos are great options. Climbing stairs in your home, marching in place while watching television and yes, doing housework are other great ideas for burning calories and helping out your blood sugars at the same time. Susan Brongiel, MSN, CDCES, at Centegra Health System in Crystal Lake, IL, emphasizes how important movement is for keeping blood sugars and weight in good control. “I typically encourage breaking it up into two 15-minute sessions, or even 10-minute sessions twice daily. Also, chair exercise is also great if mobility is an issue.”
It’s easy to lose all sense of time when you’ve been home 24/7. But having a schedule for meals, work, play and sleep are key. Just as you make time for eating and working, it’s worthwhile having a consistent bedtime every night. Staying up all hours of the night or taking extending naps during the day can really throw off your sleep cycle. And as we mentioned above, disrupted sleep can lead to weight gain (or make it harder to maintain your weight), as well as impact your diabetes control. Pick a reasonable time to go to sleep and an hour or so before bedtime, start winding down. That means turning off electronic devices, taking a warm bath or shower, sipping on some chamomile tea and taking some deep breaths. If worrying is keeping you up at night, write down your thoughts before you climb into bed to help clear your mind.
Paying attention to your glucose levels, whether you use a meter or CGM, can help you spot patterns of highs and/or lows. Elaine Moser Reynolds, RD, CDCES, in Sacramento, CAm states that, “People have time on their hands, so no excuse not to look for patterns in food choices, sleep, physical activity, stress management and BG response. These all impact weight management.”
If you’re feeling like you need some support or guidance to help you with your weight or your diabetes management, reach out to your healthcare team. They may not be able to meet with you in person, but many health centers and outpatient programs are now providing telemedicine visits and phone calls in place of face-to-face visits. Staying connected as much as you can with family and friends can also keep you motivated and encouraged to work on your health goals.
Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read “Coronavirus and Diabetes: What You Need to Know,” “Healthy Eating During Hard Times” and “Avoiding Coronavirus With Diabetes: Stock Up and Stay Home, CDC Says.”