It’s been eight months since COVID-19 hit, and a side effect for many has been weight gain — the result of returning to comfort foods, a lot more snacking, a lot less exercise, stress, depression, and anxiety. Now the holidays have added a whole new dimension to gaining weight. But here are some tips on how to bounce back from these months of binging and get started with a healthy new relationship with food.

Reasons We Eat

We all know that we eat for reasons other than just hunger. The average American gains anywhere between seven and 10 pounds between Halloween and Valentine’s Day. If you already gained 15 (“Quarantine 15”), then you could potentially gain a total of 25 extra pounds by next February. Between the stress of COVID-19 and the holiday season, many people are finding reasons to eat and are gaining weight, so it’s important to get restarted on your healthy lifestyle now.

Five pounds of fat

How to Restart a Healthy Lifestyle

1.  DON’T vow to “go on a diet”. A “diet” vs. a lifetime eating plan can make you fat. A diet can be counterproductive. Diets are often associated with the Three D’s: Deprivation, Defeat, and Depression. These emotions can trigger a cycle of compulsive overeating, food obsessions, and emotional eating binges.

Most diets focus on weight (that is, chasing that elusive number on the scale) and not on how you feel. Diets are things you’re driven to get on, but can’t wait to get off. Your eating plan needs to be something you can follow and enjoy for a lifetime.

Routine dieters usually start diets on Mondays or at the beginning of a new year. Consequently, they eat uncontrolled portions of their favorite “fattening foods” vowing that they’ll never eat them again. The “now or never” mindset often results in gaining more weight before the weight loss journey begins.

2. DON’T beat yourself up for “being bad”. Avoid dwelling on having gone back for seconds (or thirds) and/or indulging in your comfort foods. Beating yourself up because you “went off your diet” will only bring on negative feelings of failure, guilt, and frustration, which trigger the ‘emotional eating cycle’. Focus on what you LIKE about yourself. Stop the negative self-talk.

3.  DON’T starve yourself or overly restrict your calories to “make up for being bad” or to compensate for the excesses. Starving yourself, that is, consciously and severely restricting calories, will drive you to want to eat everything in sight and will ignite the cycle of binging all over again. Extreme caloric restriction and crash dieting diminish muscle mass. Since your heart is a muscle, you can compromise heart function. 

4)  DON’T punish yourself with a workout. Workouts are meant to reinforce positive feelings, i.e., increased energy and greater psychological well-being, not negative ones. Also, don’t negotiate calories with exercise. 

5)  DON’T dwell on past lapses. Stop recollecting what you ate with regret and guilt. Move on. Learn from your behavioral drift. Otherwise, don’t look back unless you plan on going that way.

6)  DO eat mindfully the next time you eat. Stay in the present. You’re not distracted by the TV, computer, or phone, and you’re focused on your food.

7)  DO acknowledge your achievements. At the end of each day, ask yourself what you did to get you closer to your goal and acknowledge that achievement — no matter how small. These are the kinds of thoughts that will propel you forward and sustain your motivation.

Karen’s Fit Tip: Losing weight is not a sprint, but a slow and steady lifestyle change. Rapid weight loss almost always results in rapid weight gain. Focus on progress, not perfection.

Karen Owoc

I’m a Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Clinical Exercise Physiologist certified by the American College of Sports Medicine, KRON 4's weekly health expert, speaker, and author of my book on functional longevity, “Athletes in Aprons: The Nutrition Playbook to Break 100".

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