How to cope with quarantine weight gain or loss when re-entering a post-pandemic social life.
We’ve spent over a year now living in our safety bubbles. With vaccines rolling out across the world in what feels like a race against the clock, the reality of returning to some semblance of normal pre-COVID life may be around the corner.
This next phase may come with mixed emotions. Relief that we made it through, excitement about attending social gatherings and celebrations again, and being able to safely hug our loved ones. At the same time, you may also be experiencing fear and discomfort about re-entering the world and seeing people in person due to the way your body has changed.
The discomfort of quarantine weight gain
If you’ve outgrown some clothes over the last year, you’re not alone.
Research suggests that over 40% of people have experienced steady weight gain of around 1.5 lbs per month through the pandemic. (1, 2) Unsurprisingly, an increase in food intake and reduction in physical activity has contributed to this statistic. In addition, it seems that more frequent sensations of hunger related to anxiety may also be playing a role, as reported by over 70% of respondents.(1)
Here are tips and strategies to help cope with pandemic weight gain without going on a diet.
4 tips for coping with quarantine weight gain
1- Pack away or donate clothes that no longer fit
Don’t forget the second part that is equally as important, replace clothing with items you feel good about. Nothing kills your mood like waking up and confronting a closet full of clothes that no longer fit. Not having anything to wear is going to make it too easy to decline an invitation.
Once you are able to overcome the discomfort of accepting a larger-sized body, restocking your closet with clothing that feels good can be a real mood booster.
2- Up your self-compassion game
If the thought of accepting a larger body angers your inner critic, try speaking to yourself as you would a child, pet, or beloved friend. Instead of using harsh judgement or criticism for any perceived inadequacies or shortcomings, approach your struggles with kindness, warmth, curiosity, and understanding.
Your body has gotten you through a pandemic, it’s had other priorities this past year and done a great job of delivering! Give yourself grace and check out Dr. Kristin Neff, the queen of self-compassion for more tips.
3- Engineer your environment with self-care in mind
This doesn’t mean completely removing cookies, chips, ice cream and other comfort foods from your house. Instead of leaving snack foods on the counter for easy access, store them away in a cupboard and leave a colourful bowl of fruit out instead.
There is a difference between ‘off limits’ and ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
4- Remove the guilt from enjoying food
Remind yourself that finding moments of joy in day-to-day life have a positive effect on overall health, and that food is a source of joy. Especially in a time when other sources are severely limited, it’s ok to eat for comfort.
Quarantine weight loss
With all of the talk about quarantine weight gain, it’s also important to acknowledge that this may not be everyone’s experience, and that depending on the context and motivation behind weight loss, it may not be a healthy change.
One study found that 60% of respondents reported being more preoccupied with food and eating through the pandemic, while half the sample reported an increase in exercise during the lockdown, and over two-thirds reported thinking more about exercise. All of these can be signs of an eating disorder which can sometimes (but not always) contribute to weight loss(3).
Stress and anxiety are at an all-time high which can cause your appetite to disappear and you may find yourself struggling to eat regular meals. Maybe you’ve had to take on additional responsibilities through the pandemic which has left you so busy that you often forget to eat. Access to food has also looked different as we have entered and exited various stages of lockdown, and lack of access to allergy-safe foods might be another contributing factor if you have struggled to maintain a healthy weight.
Here are tips and strategies to help nourish your mind and body in a health-promoting way.
5 tips for coping with quarantine weight loss
1- Set alarms for meal and snack times
Set alarms/calendar reminders on your phone at regular intervals to take a break to eat or at least grab a snack and multitask.
2- A done something is better than a perfect nothing
A reminder to take a break to eat isn’t slowing you down, it keeps you going. Say thank you to your body by providing it with much needed nourishment. Now is not the time for perfection – anything allergy safe will do just fine.
3- Consider convenience options
Take advantage of prepared meal delivery services if it’s accessible – having meals ready to go when experiencing a lack of appetite and little time makes it that much easier to take care of yourself.
4- Focus on liquids when appetite is low
Consider meal replacement supplements like Ensure or Boost, or make an allergy-safe smoothie at home with high calorie ingredients such as high fat dairy, coconut, nuts or seeds, oils, and avocado. Sometimes it’s easier to sip than eat when hunger cues are MIA.
5- Seek support
Restricted eating and compulsive exercise have been on the rise as people reach for ways to regain a sense of control in their lives as the world falls apart.
If you have trouble taking a day (or multiple days) off your workout routine, experience increasing fear of foods that are not allergens, or have noticed steady weight loss at a rate greater than or equal to 1 lb/week, seek out the help of your doctor, a qualified mental health professional, or registered dietitian.
Final thoughts on quarantine weight changes
Seeing and feeling your body change can be distressing even in the best of times. Shaming yourself or others for weight gain can be just as harmful as celebrating weight loss. Neither is good or bad in and of itself, it’s the context and behaviours that led to the change that are worth exploring. Remember that we are dynamic beings and that change is a sign of life!
If you’re struggling with negative body image or fear the return of social eating, check out part 2 of our series where we explore how to navigate both as we face re-entry.
Alida explains how intuitive eating is possible for people living with food allergies, the prevalence of eating disorders in the food allergy community and more.
- Anthony L. Lin, MD; Eric Vittinghoff, PhD; Jeffrey E. Olgin, MD; Mark J. Pletcher, MD, MPH; Gregory M. Marcus, MD, MAS. Body Weight Changes During Pandemic-Related Shelter-in-Place in a Longitudinal Cohort Study. JAMA 2021;4(3):e212536. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.2536
- Sánchez, E.; Lecube, A.; Bellido, D.; Monereo, S.; Malagón, M.M.; Tinahones, F.J. Leading Factors for Weight Gain during COVID-19 Lockdown in a Spanish Population: A Cross-Sectional Study. Nutrients 2021, 13, 894. https://doi.org/10.3390/ nu13030894
- MacKenzie Robertson, Fiona Duffy, Emily Newman, Cecilia Prieto Bravo, Hasan Huseyin Ates, and Helen Sharpea. Exploring changes in body image, eating and exercise during the COVID-19 lockdown: A UK survey. Appetite. 2021 Apr 1; 159: 105062. Published online 2020 Dec 3. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2020.105062
Alida is a Registered Dietitian and food allergy girl who is passionate about helping you master healthy living. She loves simplifying nutrition science into realistic strategies. She works with clients to find Food Freedom.