To no one’s surprise, we’re all struggling to be healthy right now. More than one in four people are fighting weight gain tied to the pandemic, according to a recent study in the medical journal Obesity. Another national survey released this week found 63 percent of Americans are struggling to stick with healthy habits during COVID. “Normal routines have been flipped upside down, more people are working from home so they are not walking to and from their office, they have easy access to their refrigerator, and they’re bored. What do we all do when we’re bored? Eat,” says Sydney Spiewak, a clinical dietician in East Hartford, Connecticut. So what are we to do about it? What weight loss plans work on the COVID 10?
First, recognize the kind of weight you’re dealing with. Your pandemic weight gain is different than pounds that have slowly piled on over the years. When you gain weight over time, your body establishes something called homeostasis, or a metabolic set point. In everyday language, that means your body settles in at a higher number on the scale and alters your metabolism to keep you there. So when you cut calories to try and drop pounds, your metabolism slows the heck down and fights you every step of the way.
But the weight you’ve gained during COVID is more a consequence of circumstances than long-term habits or metabolic shifts. “If you work from home it’s easy to fall into a pattern of doing things when you feel like it,” says Julie Stefanski, a licensed dietician in Morrisville, North Carolina, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “A random routine often means that you avoid or delay cooking a meal—suddenly you’re ravenous and there’s nothing prepared.” The result? Eating whatever is easy and quick: Namely chips, dips, frozen pizzas, and other less-than-healthy fare.
The good news: None of these behaviors are so deeply entrenched than they are hard to change. You just need to know where to start. Use these guidelines to get yourself back on track—fast.
1. Focus on Now
“Getting back on the bandwagon can be tough—especially after a few months of letting yourself go,” acknowledges Spiewak. “But don’t put it off, because the longer you delay, the less motivation you’ll have.” Start by think about what you can eat right now to get your diet back on track. “Look at each day as a new opportunity to do your best in terms of your health, exercise, and nutrition,” she adds.
2. Start with Soup
Filling your belly with a broth-based soup before the main course can take the edge off so you don’t dive headfirst into a calorie-laden steak. (Some weight-loss experts also suggest drinking a tall glass of water before a meal.) What you don’t want: Beer, wine, or your usual cocktail. With its high calorie content and inhibition-loosening powers, alcohol is not your friend when you’re trying to lose weight, says Spiewak.
3. Get a Slow Cooker
The big advantage here: You’ll be cooking with less fat, while making life easier. Basically, you can toss all the ingredients in the pot and leave them while you go about your day. “Look up one or two slow cooker or instapot meals for this coming week,” says Stefanski. “Purchase all the ingredients you need and choose a day that you’ll prepare that recipe. Getting a few well-balanced meals in your rotation can help even out less-healthy meals or snacks.”
4. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Cliché but true: If you don’t see it, you’re less likely to eat it. “If you’re tempted by certain foods and eating when you’re not physically hungry, move that food out of sight,” says Stefanski. “If you’re wired to finish the entire family size bag of chips if it’s in your lap, help yourself out and sit down with a smaller portion rather than the whole bag or container.”
5. Rise and ’Cise
Early bird catches the worm—and also reaps greater metabolic gains from exercise, according to a recent study in the journal Cell Metabolism. Researchers found that people who exercised first thing in the morning burned more fat and sugar than those who worked out at night. If you’re really not functional in the morning or you’re on kid patrol and a workout isn’t possible, make a point of choosing a time of day when you’ll break a sweat—and stick to it. “Schedule your workout on your calendar as an appointment,” says Stefanski. “When we try to fit in exercise haphazardly, it often doesn’t make it on the schedule at all.”
6. Join the 500 Club
A pound of your flesh is equal to 3,500 calories, meaning every time you reach a deficit of 3,500 calories in your diet compared to what you usually eat, you’ll drop a pound. If a pound a week sounds good, you’re looking to shave 500 calories a day from your meals (500 x 7 = 3,500). To bump that weight loss up to two pounds a week, add exercise: Burning 500 additional calories daily by working out, along with shaving 500 calories through diet, gets your total up to 1,000 a day.
7. Quick Calorie-Incinerating Moves
So how do you burn 500 calories as fast as possible? Here’s the breakdown:
- 30 minutes: Run (1-minute sprint, 1-minute jog; repeat)
- 40 minutes: Jump rope
- 45 minutes: Strength training (bodyweight exercises including pushups, sit-ups, burpees and planks. Do not stop between moves)
- 50 minutes: Cross-country skiing (if you happen to live in snowy climes)
- 55 minutes: Raquetball/tennis (you don’t need a court or a partner, just a wall in the house you can whack a ball against)