Losing ‘COVID-15’ After Quarantine

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The “freshman 15” weight gain experienced by many college students shares some similar origins of the “COVID-15” pounds packed on during quarantine: mindless stress eating, availability of food, boredom, poor food choices and lack of exercise opportunities.

Plus, those who are working at home had little positive peer pressure. At the office, others would notice that second or third doughnut. Also absent at home are the lunchtime walking group, buying a healthful lunch at a nearby eatery and hitting the gym on the way home.

While working at home, it’s easier to binge on unhealthful convenience foods and stressful news updates. Familiar movies in the evening — instead of workout videos — offer comfort.

Despite the ease of gaining weight, it’s possible to shed unwanted pounds.

“Remain mindful and make conscious decisions about what you eat and how much you move,” said Mary Jo Parker, registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition & Counseling Services in Williamsville.

If you’re still working at home, she advises setting up a routine and a workspace that’s not in the kitchen, since food is too readily available.

Wherever you work, “stick with a meal and snack schedule to avoid grabbing food haphazardly throughout the day,” Parker said.

She said that it’s important to plan a healthful grocery list to keep stocked up on healthful foods for meals and snacks, with limits on extra snacks and treats.

Emphasizing whole grains, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and lean sources of protein makes a big difference in weight loss and overall health compared with eating so many convenience foods.

Parker also recommends substituting not-so-healthful cravings with healthful activities, such as reaching for a puzzle instead food during a mid-afternoon break.

“Exercise regularly with a schedule, indoors and out,” she said. “Physical activity also helps diminish stress and improves immune function, among its many benefits.”

Getting enough sleep can also help reduce release of stress hormones, “which are often a trigger to overeat,” Parker added.

To prevent overeating, Justine Anna Hays, registered dietitian and owner of Justine Hays Nutrition in Buffalo, encourages clients to fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables — fresh, frozen, canned and dried are all fine — because “they’re nutrient-rich and low in calories,” Hays said.

Many people drink many of the calories they consume. Even nutrient-rich juice still contains an average of 100 calories per serving. Instead of caloric beverages, Kim Fenter, doctor of naturopathic medicine, encourages patients to drink “an adequate amount of water, at least eight, 8-oz. glasses daily, or half our body weight in ounces of water.”

Fenter is a L.E.A.N Expectations Health Coach at Audubon Women’s Medical Associates in Williamsville.

She also encourages patients to “reduce carbohydrates in the form of sugar, bread and pasta. It is an important part of a healthy metabolism. Concentrate on the complex carbohydrates, and in moderation ‘sprinkle in’ the occasional treat.”

For example, a protein-filled breakfast such as an egg, turkey sausage or plain Greek yogurt can start off the day without simple carbohydrates such as the typical bagel, muffin or doughnut.

Phil Haberstro, executive director of the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo, likes to simplify weight loss as a “calories in versus calories out” equation.

“The challenge comes in the fact that the calories in side of the equation is always much higher than the calories expended by physical activity,” he said.

It’s easy to think that a casual stroll down to the mailbox and around the office is burning lots of calories; however, Haberstro said that walking an entire mile burns only about 100 calories for an adult — not even the caloric content of half a standard sized candy bar.

At his organization’s website, www.creatinghealthycommunities.org, fact sheets on physical activity can help users get a more realistic picture at the amount of physical activity they need.

He also directs people to the resources of the websites of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov), US Surgeon General (www.hhs.gov/surgeongeneral/index.html), and American College of Sports Medicine (www.acsm.org).

“They’re the most reputable and science-based,” Haberstro said.

In general, five days of the week, an adult needs 30 minutes of moderate activity to maintain weight and more to lose weight.

He also recommends resistance exercise, such as body weight exercises like squats and push-ups or using a weight bench.

“If you can maintain a reasonable level of muscle mass, that increases your daily burning of calories,” Haberstro said. “Muscles, unlike fat, use energy. Balance between a little cardio work and resistance exercise.”