Diets are notoriously hard to maintain – even under ordinary circumstances. But now that so many of us are practicing self-isolation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic – and have unlimited access to our refrigerators – sustaining healthy habits can be nearly impossible.
Some have labeled this unique, weight-related challenge the “Quarantine fifteen” (a riff on the “freshman fifteen”) or “the Covid-19.” More than a trendy buzzword, a survey of over one-thousand Americans by webmd.com found 22 percent of men and 47 percent of women gained weight during lockdown, suggesting the virus and self-isolation are having an effect on our waistlines.
While this current pandemic is devastating, we at Premier Medical Group find it is also an opportunity to reflect, regroup and recalibrate our lifestyle choices. Good diets lead to a variety of positive health outcomes. Starting and sticking to a diet takes careful planning, so here are some helpful tips to diet while self-isolating.
Why Dieting During a Pandemic Matters
During a crisis – or a moment of great societal and cultural change – it can be easy to overlook our personal health. As we outlined in a previous post, Covid-19 has led many to not be proactive about their medical concerns. While we may believe our weight is not an issue today, the stakes are far too great to let it go unmanaged. Poor diets have been connected to unhealthy weight gain and increased risk of often serious conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and osteoporosis, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
On top of that, research suggests obesity raises a person’s risk of hospitalization or developing a severe illness from Covid-19, according to study cited on webmd.com. While weight did not appear to be a factor for those over the age of 60, those who are younger and have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 to 34 were twice as likely to be admitted to a hospital or acute care, researchers said. And those with a BMI of 35 or greater were three times as likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit.
How Self-isolation Can Make Dieting Harder
Dieting itself is difficult. According to a 2018 Washington Post article, an estimated 45 million Americans embark on a diet each year, and as few as 5 percent succeed. There are innumerable reasons dieters revert to old eating habits, as a 2018 Vox article explores. Our jobs are a factor, as are our surroundings and families. But for the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on the particular set of issues related to self-isolation. Chief among those: reduced physical activity and greater consumption of calorie-rich foods, according to a Mayo Clinic physician. During a crisis, there is a greater chance Americans are buying foods that have a longer shelf life, which tend to be both highly processed and less nutritious.
And then there are our mental states to consider. Just like any crisis or pandemic, Covid-19 can create a great deal of stress. As the US Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, “Fear and Anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children.” Reactions can manifest in a number of ways: difficulty sleeping or concentrating; worsening of chronic health problems or mental health conditions; and – not the least of which – changes in eating patterns.
“Stress eating,” as some have labeled it, is backed by research. An article published by the Harvard Medical School explains it this way:
- Short-term stress fires up the body’s fight-or-flight response, which can temporarily curb our appetites
- Long-term stress, on the other hand, leads to the release of the chemical cortisol, which can increase our appetites and potentially motivate us to eat
- Studies of humans and animals suggest stress activates the desire to eat foods that are high in fat and sugar
How to Choose and Maintain a Diet During Quarantine
While there are any number of ways to start a diet, here is just one route. Make a pact with yourself that the success or failure of your diet won’t simply rely on “will power,” or your own internal strength to overcome urges. Diets are better understood as part of a larger set of lifestyle choices, as a recent article in Psychology Today outlines. Support yourself with these tips:
- Before dieting, learn how to motivate yourself and to persist through cravings
- Make a list of reasons why you want to lose weight
- Create time to eat slowly and thoughtfully while sitting down
- Ask a family member or friend to help you stay accountable
- Get to the root of why you’re craving food and ask whether or not food addresses this underlying issue
- Recognize that making a mistake in your diet isn’t the end but simply a hurdle before can get back on track
Additionally, take steps to address factors that are specific to self-isolation. Our weight is tied to any number of items, chiefly what we consume and our levels of physical exercise. Whether or not a diet worked in the past or you’re embarking on a new one, consider that your physical activity may be significantly reduced and your diet may have to adjust to make up for this. (Naturally, an alternative is to remain active, and we strongly suggest you observe safe social distancing guidelines.) Finally, take a personal inventory of your own anxieties at this moment. Practice stress-reducing techniques that work for you to better prepare yourself to stick to a diet. Here are a couple tips from the CDC:
- Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories
- Breathe deeply, stretch or meditate
- Exercise regularly
- Get lots of sleep
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
- Unwind and take time to do activities you enjoy
- Safely connect with others
Get Support From Premier Medical Group
Whether you need support or are seeking guidance, trust the team at Premier Medical Group. Our highly trained and experienced physicians are here to help you design a diet that fits your lifestyle and needs. Call us today to schedule an appointment. Premier’s doctors are consulting patients via Telemedicine and in person.
WebMD Poll: Many Report Weight Gain During Shutdown
Eat healthy, move your body to avoid ‘the COVID-19’
Packing on pounds during COVID-19 and how to turn it around
The Big Number: 45 million Americans go on a diet each year
Why do dieters succeed or fail? The answers have little to do with food.
Why stress causes people to overeat
Importance of Good Nutrition
10 Tips to Stick to Your Diet
Obesity New Risk Factor for Young COVID Patients