We’re in very interesting times right now as the coronavirus continues to spread across the world.
More people are at home, and surprisingly, more people are turning to bariatric surgery
due in large part to the fact that being obese puts you at a greater risk for even greater health
complications from COVID-19.
Unfortunately, closed gyms and stay-at-home orders have also led to quarantine weight gain for
many people. In fact, in early November, the 38th Annual Meeting of The Obesity Society
focused almost exclusively on the consequences of this situation for people with obesity. But
one of the studies presented at that meeting raised an important question: What about people
who were trying to lose weight before the pandemic began? Or the people who’ve gained the
extra weight known not-so-affectionately as the “Quarantine 15”? How are they holding up?
Apparently, not so well. Almost 70 percent of people are having trouble achieving their weight
loss goals. You might have been losing weight at the start of your journey, but now it’s slowed
down or stopped altogether. What’s behind this roadblock? Read on to find out the reasons
why you’re not losing the weight — and what you can do to get back on track.
You’re bored and stockpiling food.
During a pandemic, a certain amount of stockpiling, or “grocery hoarding,” makes a bit of sense.
You want to have what you need and try to limit the number of times that you go out in public to
the store. However, having all that food around can be — no pun intended — a recipe for
disaster as it relates to overeating. After all, if the food is there, you’re going to be tempted. Add
in boredom from lockdowns and the problem is magnified and can lead to mindless eating.
So how do you prevent “boredom grazing” all while making sure your kitchen is stocked? A few
simple tips include:
● Stick to a regular schedule, and that includes scheduling meals and snacks.
● Prioritize self-care in your schedule, which can include meditation, warm baths, or
a hobby you can enjoy from home that doesn’t involve food.
● Don’t grocery shop on an empty stomach and stick to a grocery list.
You’re eating more than you think.
This might sound obvious, but studies consistently show that people tend to underestimate their
calorie intake — significantly. Even under the best of circumstances, it’s easy to eat an extra
100-200 calories a day through nibbles and bites, but during a pandemic, we’re even more
susceptible to mindless stacking that quickly adds up.
If you’re not losing weight, start by tracking your food throughout the day to make sure you’re
meeting — and not exceeding — your calorie goals for weight loss. A few calorie counters and
Keep in mind that it’s not necessary — and frankly, not healthy — to track your food for a long
period of time. Instead, track your intake for a few days every few months to get a feel for how
much you’re eating and adjust accordingly.
Binge-watching has become a new hobby.
It’s understandable. We’re all a little bit bored. And one thing people have been turning to (along
with food) is binge-watching TV shows and movies. However, a recent study found that the
increase is even larger for people who are already obese, and that’s not good news.
While binge-watching is a great distraction, spending hours a day promotes a sedentary
lifestyle, which can lead to weight gain. The more you sit, the less muscle activation you
experience, and the fewer calories you’re burning. When you’re inactive, you can lose muscle
mass and decrease your metabolism.
The solution is obviously to pop in a workout DVD instead of the latest season of The Office. But
little things can also help, like multitasking and cleaning while watching or taking a couple
minutes in between episodes to do some squats and push-ups.
You’re not getting enough sleep.
If you knew that adults with poor sleep have a 55 percent greater risk of becoming obese, would you try and get some more shut eye? You should, as sleep can greatly affect your weight, as skimping on this key factor can lead to making some bad decisions.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when people were starved of sleep, late-night snacking increased, and they were more likely to choose high-carb snacks. Plus, when you’re tired, you might forego exercise in exchange for a sugary latte or candy bar.
When it comes to your metabolism, researchers found that when dieters cut back on sleep over a 14-day period, the amount of weight they lost from fat dropped by 55 percent. It’s not that sleeping more will magically help you lose weight, but rather that not getting adequate rest hampers your metabolism and contributes to weight gain.
You’re not eating enough protein.
One of the most important nutrients for losing weight is protein — quality protein — and making sure 25-30 percent of your daily calories are protein can boost metabolism by 80–100 calories per day, all while helping you automatically cut down on empty calories throughout the day. It can also drastically reduce cravings and desire for snacking due in large part to protein’s effects on appetite-regulating hormones, such as ghrelin and others.
And last but not least, high protein intake can help prevent a metabolic slowdown, which can happen as a side effect to losing weight.
You can’t control your cravings.
If you’re frustrated that others aren’t struggling with weight gain during the quarantine — or even before this pandemic happened — take note that some people are genetically programmed to have a harder time dealing with cravings. A study found that some people are inherently better (or worse) at controlling the cravings that occur in response to stressful situations due to a genetic predisposition, specifically the stress hormone cortisol.
That doesn’t make the siren song of that fourth piece of pizza any quieter, but there are some things you can do to combat those cravings. First, take a deep breath and ask yourself if you’re truly hungry or just bored. Studies have shown a correlation between low heart rate variability (HRV) and uncontrolled eating behavior. High HRV means your body is fit and better able to adapt to your environment, while low HRV indicates that your body is fatigued, dehydrated, stressed, or ill. What they found was HRV was related to lower dieting success in people trying to reduce calories and higher uncontrolled eating in chocolate cravers. Long story short? Take a deep breath.
Second, subscribe to “out of sight, out of mind” with snacks, storing them in cupboards and drawers so that you’re not as tempted. Sounds obvious, but it’s backed by science. Finally, practice the “one and done” mantra, in that deprivation will only set yourself up for a binge. If you’re completely certain a swap — fruit for cookies, crunchy veggies for chips — won’t do the trick, have that cookie, but only have one cookie to clean out the craving and then get back on track.
You didn’t set a clear goal.
If your only goal is to “get thinner,” you’re only going to disappoint yourself, more likely than not.
This is really vague and it’s like saying you want something to eat for lunch. Not specific. Not a clear destination. You need a concrete goal to lock on to, otherwise you have no focus and no reason to start taking action — or to continue making progress if you’ve started towards this goal. What does a definite goal look like? Anything from, “I want to fit into my favorite pants again” or “I want to be able to walk three miles without stopping in under an hour.”
With a clear goal you can create an actionable step-by-step road map, setting yourself up for success.
You’re drinking too much.
We all need something to take the edge off, pandemic or not, and alcohol sales in stores were up 54 percent in late March 2020 compared to that time last year, while online sales were up nearly 500 percent in late April.
But making that drink alcoholic can be seriously impeding your weight loss efforts. Heavy drinking (more than four drinks per day for men and more than three drinks per day for women) have both been linked to a greater risk of obesity. And according to another review, even drinking in moderation may be associated with a higher percentage of body fat.
Higher intakes of alcohol are also associated with increased risks of chronic diseases, including fatty liver disease, heart disease, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes. In addition, it dehydrates you and can lead to increased consumption of high-sugar and high-carbohydrate foods for a pick-me-up to combat that fatigue. Not a great combination. To keep your risk in check, current guidelines recommend no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.
And remember that alcoholic beverages are generally high in calories, with the alcohol itself weighing in at seven calories per gram. But when you do want to drink, opt for clear liquids mixed with zero-calorie beverages to keep your calories — and weight — in check.
Exercise has gone to the wayside.
Are you moving your body every day? While a healthy diet is a great way to jump start your weight loss journey and maintain a healthy lifestyle, it’s also necessary to do cardiovascular activity and weight training of some sort to enhance your efforts. It’s recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. Because you’re trying to lose weight, it’s suggested you increase that activity to 300 minutes of activity each week.
The cardiovascular portion can be brisk walking, running, biking, swimming, or anything else done in a steady state that increases your heart rate. Strength training — critical for building muscle and burning fat — can be with free weights, machines, bands, or even body weight.
If you’re already making physical activity a part of your routine and still not seeing results or increased fitness, evaluate if it’s time to switch up your routine. When you do the same activity all the time, your body gets used to it and you plateau. With different activities, your body will have to work harder as it adjusts to the new activity. Working harder means that you’ll burn more calories when you work out — and lose more weight.
You’re too focused on dieting.
Yes, you want to lose weight. And yes, watching what you eat and exercising are the keys to success. But you can also be too hyper-focused in a way that derails your efforts. Because the fact of the matter is that dieting isn’t sustainable.
In one study, only 12 percent of participants who concluded a weight loss program had kept off at least 75 percent of the weight they’d lost after three years, while 40 percent had gained back more weight than they had originally lost. Another study found that five years after a group of women lost weight during a six-month weight loss program, they weighed 7.9 pounds more than their starting weight on average.
This may sound discouraging, but don’t be! The science is that strict calorie restriction and loss of muscle mass may cause your body’s metabolism to slow down, which makes it easier to regain weight once you return to your usual eating pattern.
The solution? Focus on a healthy lifestyle, not a number on the scale. Shift the focus from a strict diet to eating in a way that optimizes your health, continue to exercise regularly, and let weight loss follow as a natural side effect of a healthy lifestyle.
The Bottom Line
The truth is that weight loss still depends on burning more calories than you consume, but there are also a lot of factors that contribute to a weight loss plateau. Take note of your caloric intake, sleep, exercise, and your goals to see if there are areas you’re doing things that are keeping you stuck. Once you identify these roadblocks, you can create a step-by-step plan to help get you on track and smash your health and wellness goals.
If you decide that weight loss surgery is the best route for you, it’s important to find the right doctor. To find a bariatric physician near you, visit the MyBigLife weight loss doctor directory. Search over 10,000 profiles of weight loss professionals and find the ideal match to get you started and guide you through your weight loss journey.