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Have Americans gained weight during the Coronavirus Pandemic? Apparently, the answer is yes. A recent Eating Well poll found that 36% of adults had gained weight. All were being very honest in their responses, I’m sure! On average their gain was 12.5 pounds. A WebMD poll of over 1,000 Americans found that 47% of women and 22% of men said they had gained weight during the Pandemic.
The clothing industry is taking notice as well. The trend should be a good one as more weight means new clothes. Some manufacturers are adding larger sizes to their offerings. Perfitly, an app that helps shoppers see how something fits before purchasing it, says shoppers are re-doing their profiles in much larger numbers compared to last summer. More along the lines they see usually in January, after holiday eating results in weight gains.
This is not surprising news. Stress levels among American are high nationally. Normal, easily accessible stress-relieving coping activities like socializing with family and friends, attending faith-based services, and enjoying sporting and entertainment events have been severely restricted. Surging levels of COVID 19 cases and deaths in many areas make returning soon to these once routine activities seem unlikely.
There is a relationship between mind and body that is producing this national bulking up. Each time we experience stress our bodies produce adrenaline and cortisol, often called the “stress hormone.” They cause the body to dump glucose into our blood streams to give us energy. This is the fight or flight response. It helped our ancestors escape saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, short-faced bears, and other giant, hungry predators looking for a snack. We are thankful this mind-body process was so successful for our ancestors; else we might not be reading this. But in our modern life especially with very high stress levels, it leads to regular spikes in blood sugar levels and then to cravings, overeating, and weight gain.
One theme many mental health professionals including myself encourage in their clients, is to focus on what one can change. And not so much on the things we cannot change. We cannot change the societal and public health effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Nor can we change the human fight or flight response. But we can take actions that will help us break the stress-weight gain cycle. Here are some tips – see if any might work for you:
- Drink more water. Hydration is important for many health reasons, including managing stress. Stress causes us to confuse thirst for hunger. If you are suddenly hungry between meals, drink some water before reaching for a snack.
- Make exercise a daily priority (physician-approved exercise, of course). Exercise is a great stress reducer. Be intentional. Plan regular exercise that fits your lifestyle and health status.
- Give yourself permission to eat comfort foods – but – select healthier comfort foods as often as possible when you feel especially stressed and hungry. Examples of healthier comfort foods include popcorn, nuts, and tasty fresh fruits.
- Beside exercise, look for other stress-reducing daily activities that fit your lifestyle and health status. These may include gardening, yoga, meditation, reading, spending more time in nature, and many other simple and accessible activities.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Be your own best friend. Notice successes, however small, and encourage progress.
By the way, awareness is the first step and you just took it! Keep up the good work!
About the Author
Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, is the Chief Clinical Officer for Espyr. Norman has worked in the mental health field for over 30 years and is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health clinician.
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For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.