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How many of us can say that covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns and restrictions have positively impacted our lives and, more importantly, our waistlines? It’s been a tough year! Not just emotionally but physically and, more importantly, mentally. According to Medical News Today, 22% of adults have reported weight gain during the pandemic. However, before we become too self-critical and try every diet or tik-tok trend, there can be very different reasons for this, including stress, lack of routine, mental health and lack of exercise and I will be honest and say I am all of the above. Mentally, this last lockdown hit me hard. The weight I’d kept off suddenly crept back up, but mentally and emotionally, I wasn’t prepared to throw myself back into an unsustainable eating plan while juggling homeschooling a child with special needs, dealing with another social isolation and suddenly having weekly covid-19 testing thrown into our family mix. Now, a few months have passed, lockdown restrictions are easing, I’ve had my first vaccine, and the weather is just that little bit nicer that I’m ready to think about me again, and you should too. This post is about post-lockdown weight gain: Steps to help to manage and reverse it.

Purple dumbbells in hands of positive sportswoman
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

How has lockdown impacted our diet and lifestyle habits?

With the country being told to stay at home, work from home, many staff furloughed, some over a year, it can be easy to see how we’ve developed habits from regular snacking to increased alcohol consumption and a general relaxation of physical fitness. With gyms, leisure and recreational venues being closed for most of the last year, I, for one, didn’t want to commit to a monthly gym membership to find that it remained closed. So many of us sought alternatives and home gyms, online fitness apps, regular walks or runs became part of our daily routine.

Lockdown 2.0 (Post Christmas) happened, the weather was awful, we were back to homeschooling, and the thought of having to actually physically change out of my pj’s didn’t interest me. For a while, mentally, every day was a duvet day because the post-Christmas blues felt even more real than the baby ones and reaching for bad foods, well, in my case, not caring what I was eating. I think we’ve all been struggling with this lockdown, winter months are hellish but add a global pandemic to the mix, and it’s a tsunami with a mixture of less sleep, less physical activity, less motivation to even think about cooking over a take-away. But let’s not feel bad about this. There are ways to get ourselves back on track.

Factors, such as less sleep, less physical exercise, and eating more, may contribute to what many refer to as the “quarantine 15,” referencing the weight gain that many people experience during the pandemic.

Daniel Bubnis – Medical News Today

The relationship between mental health and obesity is complex

Firstly, we’ve had a tough year. Try not to be too hard on yourself. It’s not always easy to prioritise our mental health when socially we are restricted from how we perceive normal. The Priory Group explains the links between ‘food and mood’, which has always been a trigger for me. Often not eating when associated with trauma but when emotional not caring and often going the opposite. It is suggested that signs and symptoms of poor nutrition are often linked to mental health recovery, considering the effects that mental health medication can have on weight. We need to consider food that is better for our well-being.  

Woman Eating Strawberry in the Kitchen
Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels

Obviously, not everyone coming out of lockdown will be obese. However, people experiencing depression had a 58% increased risk of becoming obese now or sometime in the future. Diet and lifestyle changes should be first-line interventions for managing weight. Improvements in dietary intake and relationship with food will likely result in reduced weight gain and improved mental health. As the NHS suggests, it is one of the many hidden causes of weight gain. People who suffer from depression and anxiety are more likely to gain weight over time and become obese than people who don’t.

When Exercise Doesn’t Work

How many times have you heard, “If you want to lose weight, eat less and exercise more”? The only problem with this approach is that it doesn’t work. Honestly, I could write a book about how it doesn’t work! However, it did when I was in my 20’s. In fact, after my first pregnancy, I lost a stone doing just that, but like many others (esp women), once I hit my early to mid-thirties, suddenly that two pounds a week was now becoming barely half a pound to a pound. We blame ourselves and ultimately hit the gym or workout routine harder to find that it makes no difference. However, when you were younger, or the first time you tried to lose weight, what worked for you will, over time, adapt. Your body will naturally adapt and will no longer appreciate calorie deficits. It will, in fact, do the opposite and store.

Like so many of you, I was confused, frustrated and irritated that walking 30 – 50 minutes nearly every day was not shifting anything. Doctor Google told me that if I walked, I would lose weight. My GP didn’t want to know; their suggestion is to take a pill that makes you leak orange goo if you overeat fat. No, thank you! So I looked at my diet, grew frustrated again when medical professionals told me I was consuming too many calories and spent most of last year trying out different exercise apps, everything from yoga and Pilates to HIT workouts. It really shouldn’t be this complicated.

Steps To Help You Manage & Reverse It

If you are like me and you’ve got to the point, then you say. “That’s it; I’m going to spend the rest of my life overweight or unhappy with my body!” Let’s back it up a little – during my research; I found many tips and tricks that will help you lose that post-lockdown weight gain and support you in keeping it off. Firstly, there is a way to be healthier and feel better about yourself without driving yourself crazy counting every calorie or spending hours sweating at the gym. Here are a few things I have found you can do to lose weight successfully:

Follow a Plan, Have a Plan and or an End Goal

You are probably thinking, it’s obvious I need a plan and/or an end goal. Where do you start? You could join a slimming group; Weight Watchers and Slimming World are the most popular, and obviously follow a weight loss plan with support will encourage you to stick at it. I have had a love-hate relationship with such plans but have been following Weight Watchers in recent years. However, I feel that generally, there should be a weight loss service that doesn’t require a monthly or annual subscription. If like me joining a slimming group either face to face or online isn’t for you, there are alternatives like Weight Loss Resources. It does have a monthly subscription, but it gives you access to meal plans, tracking, exercise tracking, a forum, weight loss buddies and challenges to log your success. It is one of my favourites for counting calories and holds me accountable.

If you can’t justify paying for a monthly subscription, there are free alternatives. My favourite is https://www.calculators.org/health/weight-loss.php. Their calculator tells you how many calories you need to maintain, lose or gain weight safely and supportively and how many lbs you can lose per week. All while exercising to support weight loss. They have other calculators to help with your journey and some excellent supporting advice.

Small Targets

To keep going, it is best to set yourself small targets with rewards at the end. Perhaps, to lose a certain weight by date or event, and reward yourself with a weight loss gift, doesn’t have to be food-related. Maybe a new item of clothing or accessory. I also find writing everything down really helps me keep track of everything I’m eating and drinking; I also like to meal plan when I can. This isn’t always possible, but I attempt it.

Is There a Medical Reason for Not Losing Weight

Sometimes, things don’t work in our favour. You’re following a healthy weight-loss plan, you are eating well, exercise is part of your routine, you are getting adequate sleep, but still, your weight remains the same. I’ve been there. Did you know there are medical conditions that made it difficult to lose weight or that the medication prescribed for that condition is a hidden culprit? Sometimes, though, the stubborn weight that won’t go away results from underlying medical conditions. If your body’s internal processes aren’t functioning correctly, that can have a widespread impact on other bodily functions — including your ability to lose weight.

I am not a medical professional but if you feel that this could be an issue, please first consult your Doctor. They can run blood tests and other supporting tests to rule this out. I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cysts a few years ago.

Blue Tape Measuring on Clear Glass Square Weighing Scale
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Reduce your cortisol levels

We are busy people, we are constantly running around, our daily lives just appear to be more stressful than those of our parents especially if you have children. This stressful lifestyle can increase our bodies’ production of cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol, is healthy. It’s not all bad but too much stress and our body makes too much cortisol and this can inhibit weight loss and often make you feel drained and irritated. If I could have one of those pick flashing arrows point directly at me, I would!

There are five things you can do to lower your Cortisol and your stress:

  • Get enough sleep, if you aren’t sure how you sleep. Consider using a sleep app or a fitbit type device to help you.
  • If you work from home, take regular breaks and get fresh air. Maybe have a coffee outside for five or ten minutes.
  • Take a leisurely walk in the afternoon or early evening – you should aim to walk at least 30 minutes
  • Take some time out for some relaxation type activities. Yoga, pilates, mindfulness are great to do before bed.
  • Drink less caffeine – especially in the afternoon. Maybe switching to decaf coffee after lunch.

Summary

I know you were probably expecting me to tell you exactly how to lose weight. But really, until you manage and understand the underlying causes, it will continue to be a battle. I have spent many years suffering from anxiety and stress, I like I do with most things, pushed it aside in the hope it would go away; it didn’t. I realised last year during Covid-19 that I dealt with my feelings and my stress that my battle would continue. So, I have been speaking to a counsellor since March and, from a different perspective, a woman’s health physiotherapist. Due to the tension in my back, resonating my stress. It’s early day’s, but I wanted 2021 to be able to heal me.

If you are currently in the middle or ready to embark on your own self-healing journey, either weight-wise or mentally, you shouldn’t feel pressured to lose your post-lockdown weight gain if you aren’t ready. Please let me know in the comments below how you’ve overcome the post-lockdown blues?

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