Your Health: The weighty consequences of the pandemic

According to a new American Psychological Association report, 40 percent of 3,000 adults surveyed gained an average of 29 pounds in 2020.

By David Marks

What happens when you stay indoors for an unprecedented amount of time, get a lot less sleep than usual, have no opportunity to exercise and face non-stop, overwhelming stress?

For more than 61 percent of Americans, what happened was unwanted weight gain due to the once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a new American Psychological Association report, 40 percent of 3,000 adults surveyed gained an average of 29 pounds in 2020. And 10 percent said they gained more than 50 pounds.

“I think almost everyone went into this pandemic with the idea that it would only last for a short period of time, so they were not careful with the habits they established, and those habits resulted in unwanted consequences with regard to weight,” said Matthew Swan, MD, Obesity Medicine Specialist, Primary Care Physician, AdventHealth Shawnee Mission.

Even without a pandemic environment, negative emotions may lead to a feeling of emptiness or an emotional void. Food is believed to be a way to fill that void and create a false feeling of temporary wholeness. This pattern is known as “emotional eating.”

It can cause feelings of guilt or shame, and lead to a cycle of excess eating and, of course, weight gain.

“The use of emotional eating to provide some sort of comfort undoubtedly affected the majority of the population. Those who have been using food as a way to cope with their stress unfortunately have been left with little in the way of other options or avenues to learn new habits for the time being,” said Swan.

Additionally, when you’re not getting enough sleep, you end up with a hormonal imbalance. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Denying your body that recovery will leave you feeling hungrier and more tired.

“We have all spent a large amount of time in our homes, resulting in people eating a lot more than they normally would. For those who are working from home, the office has never been closer to the kitchen which provides a near constant temptation for many people. It is almost like someone sat down and created a plan to make the population collectively gain weight,” said Swan.

Now is the perfect time to reassess our daily habits and get back to a healthier lifestyle. Even if exercise doesn’t feel like a priority, the benefits are huge. It relieves stress, boosts the immune system and reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. In fact, any physical activity that you can fit into your day – even a five-minute walk – will be helpful to keep your weight in check and brighten your mood.

As you begin taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle, it’s important to be kind to yourself. Remember, this isn’t an experience you’re going through alone. And it hasn’t been easy. The whole world is trying to cope with the past 18 months. So it’s important to remind yourself that even small progress is progress.

“The place that exercise really holds its own is with the maintenance of weight and mental wellbeing. Exercise maintains muscle mass, which is crucial for your resting metabolic rate, the calories you burn just being alive. It also has a positive effect on your neurotransmitters – helping you feel calm and well,” said Swan.

AdventHealth offers a variety of community wellness classes to help improve your body, mind and spirit. Learn more at AdventHealthKC.com/wellness.