While continuing covering COVID-19, I realized that I've been deviating from the core idea behind my blog – talking about healthy living and things like diets, nutrition, and exercise. So, today I would like to talk about nutrition in the context of COVID-19 realities. Lots of people are complaining of weight gain during this terrible self-isolation period, but I must say that in my honest opinion this time is just perfect for weight loss and I would like to talk about it today. We will talk about the motivation, the drawbacks and the shortcomings, fighting food cravings and many other things affecting our attempts to lose weight during these difficult times. Let's start with the motivation.
1. The motivation (or lack thereof)
Motivation is the key, right? And nothing destroys it the way uncertainty and isolation do. I hear people getting really bored and feel frustrated as there are so many restrictions on what they can do and so many things they cannot do just because lots of services and places are closed. Want to hit the gym? – it's closed! Want to go for a jog in a park? – closed too! Want to go to the beach? Well, same story here! Our means of positive reinforcement are limited and some of us feel like we are literally hitting the wall nowadays. In a way we are experiencing the classical model of depression – learned helplessness – no matter what we do, nothing seems to change the painful situation we are in.
Solution: Hope, yes, hope! This quarantine or self-isolation will be over and, believe me, it will happen rather sooner than later as, first, we seem to have flattened the curve already, and, second, no economy can sustain it for too long. So, the doors will start reopening, not all at once and it may take some time for certain places like gyms, but it will happen! So why not prepare for that moment now? You don't want to end up on the beach of your dreams several months from now and feel that you have wasted this period. So, I would say it's perfect time to lose weight as well as to do lots of other things you never had time for.
2. Lack of equipment or place to workout
That's another big reason or excuse I hear a lot – gyms are closed, you can't get on your treadmill, you can't go to your CrossFit or spinning class... That sounds like a big issue, but let's face it – it really isn't. I know, I'd love to go to the gym right now, but I can't, and I see some positives in that as crazy as it sounds:
- 1) Exercise doesn't help with weight loss1. I even made a video on that subject – there is plenty of research evidence showing that if anything exercise slows down the weight loss process. Not in a bad way, I admit – exercise has multiple benefits for your health and fitness level – but you don't need it to lose weight. You must simply focus on your diet and we will talk about it in a second.
- 2) You can get out of your routines, mix things up and unless you are a professional athlete who is training for a competition, you can use this time to try new things. Cycling for example, or you can work on bodyweight exercises, or on stretching or whatever other fun things you can think of. Many people are very rigid with their exercise routines to the point that their physical development becomes overly focused on one aspect of their physique or athleticism at the expense of others. Now you have time to try new things and to get more versatile and to become a better athlete in general.
- 3) Sometimes you need time to recover – your body definitely needs some periods of deloading. Of course, no one wants it to be forced on them and normally it should follow a period of extremely intense training, but in this case, you simply have some time to let your body heal itself. Most of us have some sportive injuries, joint pain here and there, and we can use these several weeks to let these ailments mend.
Solution: Based on everything I said - trying new things and focusing on your diet and sleep. You can and, in my opinion, should create a new paradigm of rest and exercise – meditate, try stretching, yoga, pilates, bodyweight exercises and, even if you decide not to do anything like that, you can simply rest and let your body recover and prepare for the new training cycle which will start when it's all over, which is likely going to happen very soon.
3. Food availability or abundance
This one is tricky, the food is definitely there, but the way we get it has changed drastically. First of all, the lines in grocery stores are minimally problematic, but all the restaurants are closed and only some of them work in a take-out / delivery mode. Is it bad? I don't think so – it's, actually, a perfect time to start cooking your own meals if you haven't done so before, especially given that you have a bit more time on your hands. Also, we don't have as many temptations as we used to have. My personal triggers were dinners with friends or going on a date, our hospital cafeteria and physician rounds with catered food, conference snacks, departmental dinners and other events, and going to the movies (I miss these restaurant nachos in Cineplex!). But now all these things are not available, and I don't have to worry about them.
Some of us might have a different kind of problems – people we live with are not following the same nutrition plan as we do. And it might be problematic indeed – you get tempted by the exposure to some nice foods that you probably like a lot, but at the same time you know that if you have them you'll break your diet. A lot of people give in and I know firsthand how hard it is. I have a couple of beloved relatives who came to stay with me for a short period of time and now they are stuck with me the months to come. They don't have much to do so they cook and it's very tempting to have some of their meals as they remind me of my childhood and my original home. As a matter of fact, right now, when writing yhis blog, I can smell something very yummy being cooked downstairs and my planned meal is hours away, so I have to distract myself somehow (so, I focused on the blog).
Solution: There are several – first of all, I don't think that food availability is a problem as there is no real food shortage, but if you experience any problems with going to your grocery store, say, there is a very long line or the times of operation have changed in such a way that it causes some inconvenience, you should start planning your meals and grocery shopping. Trust me, in the end of this exercise you will be much more effective with your time, budget and nutrition.
The next thing is abundance of food, either because your relatives or roommates are involved, or because you simply have stuff that you can't eat, and you are constantly craving it. I'll start with the latter – if you feel that you are going to give in, simply eliminate these food items. Yes, you can throw them away or give them to someone, especially if you live alone. That will solve many little (and not so little) temptations.
The issues related to your cohabitants are much more difficult to resolve and they, the relatives or roommates, often can sabotage your progress with ease. I would start with negotiation – have a family meeting, explain your goals and how you are planning to achieve them. Don't argue – usually it doesn't give much of a result, just tell your family members that this is your decision and you would appreciate not having a debate. In any case, the goal of the meeting is not to convince them of anything, but to ask for their support. The support might be in a form of separation of everything – supplies in your fridge, the cooking process itself and even meal intake. You can ask them to be mindful of your nutrition and food cravings. Be prepared that your family will unload a pile of bull on you such as "you don't need to lose weight", "try this thing (while suggesting something ridiculous)", "you can't be starving yourself to death", "but you need this and that (some food that you are trying to exclude)", "sometimes you can indulge yourself" etc. Be firm, again, don't argue, just stay on your course, it's an uphill battle and a tough one! Ideally, you could convince them to join you on your journey, but it rarely happens, and even if it does, they often tend to ruin the whole journey for you or at least making it much harder. Stay firm, don't get emotional and lead by example. In the end of the day, this journey is a solitary one, so being in self-isolation kind of helps.
In conclusion I would like to say that these are indeed difficult times and it appears to be hard to lose weight as so many things are out of ordinary and we all are stressed and have to adapt to new realities. But my point is that if we take a closer look at our current state of affairs we will see that we are in a perfect storm right now – we are isolated from multiple sources of food temptations and mostly have to cook for ourselves, most of us have more time on our hands to learn new skills and to try new approaches, and we can and should use this time to achieve our long-sought goals and come out of this stressful times better than we were before.
I hope that I convinced you to stay or to get back on track with your nutrition. There are many other things we can talk about and I will definitely discuss it in my next blogs and on my YouTube channel, so if you don't want to miss a thing, check it out and subscribe. I hope you'll like it – and, as always, you are welcome to leave comments and make suggestions.
Stay safe and strong,
1. Clark JE. Diet, exercise or diet with exercise: comparing the effectiveness of treatment options for weight-loss and changes in fitness for adults (18-65 years old) who are overfat, or obese; systematic review and meta-analysis. J Diabetes Metab Disord. 2015;14:31.