How's your weight doing these days? If you're like many people right now, you may have packed on a few extra pounds since the Covid-19 pandemic started. Some are calling it the "Quarantine 15", but it's a real concern as entire lives have being disrupted and health is at the forefront.
According to the American Psychological Association, 42% of Americans report an unexpected weight gain during Covid, with the average gain being 29 pounds! Gyms have been closed or restricted, and people are home much more than they used to be, surrounded by temptation and television.
Since the pandemic started, I managed to lose some weight, but then put much of it back on during the winter months. That, coupled with my tax season stress and busy schedule has been disaster for my waistline. So it's time to start another challenge.
Stress depletes brain reserves and willpower, and there's stress everywhere today as people worry about how to avoid getting sick, pay bills, and move on with their lives. People are eating more, and going for comfort foods high in sugar, fat and salt- the three horsemen of bad nutrition and great taste. No wonder many of us are packing on the pounds.
Like many, I've gained weight since passing age 40 as my body slows down and appetite doesn't. I like food and have struggled with weight for most of my life. But now the stakes are higher.
One of the worst demographics for Covid is overweight people. Those with a body mass index (BMI) of over 35 are much more likely to require a ventilator if hospitalized. My BMI today is 32.5, which classifies me as obese. BMI is a helpful number that most closely measures how overweight you are, while your weight in pounds isn't comparable. BMI-s of 18-25 are considered healthy, while 25-30 is overweight. Over 30 is designated as obese and over 40 is morbidly obese.
The average BMI for the United States has been on the rise, sitting at about 29.5 before the pandemic hit. I would bet that it's gotten higher since then. My goal for the next two months is to somehow get back down below 30, which is a stretch for me. (I've been at 31-33 for the last 10 years.) Being overweight can increase chances of getting cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and mental illness, and our increasing waistlines are a concern for the entire public health system.
This is the first of a series of essays on healthy weight in the age of Covid-19. Mind you, even after the pandemic is over, obese people have to face the facts that extra weight raises the likelihood of a whole host of health issues- from cancer to heart disease to mental illness. For many of us it's a lifelong struggle with high stakes. I will post different angles as I proceed through the challenge. For my first one, I give weight loss tip #1:
1- Become accountable to someone who is supportive of you. In many cases if your friends and family are also overweight, it's nearly impossible to make much of a difference. Eating habits are some of the toughest ones to break. Cravings for certain foods at certain times is like an addiction, and you need help to help in weak moments, even if you have temporary failures. Most people cannot do this alone- you need some kind of backup to keep you on track and motivate you.
Groups like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are great at this kind of thing but they cost money, and once you stop getting the reinforcement, you can gain the weight back. It is not an easy problem.
For this month, I am relying on a group known as Diet Bet. I put up a certain amount of money and agree to try to lose 4% of my weight in 4 weeks. If I succeed I split the pot of money with the others who meet their goals. If I fail, I lose the money but hopefully learn some things in the process. During the 4 weeks I can post progress reports and get helpful pointers from the group leader.
Another accountability safeguard is this blog, and the people who read it. I will be posting my current BMI with every blog entry on this topic and feel free to call me out if I don't make progress. I am also letting friends and family know about this and hope to help others as I go along.
Like it or not, we are all social creatures. We tend to look to others for validation and support. You are more likely to eat like and weigh as much as the people you're around every day. If you take your habits more seriously, it will have a cascading effect on people that are around you. They watch you and your actions more than you may know. Make yours a good example, and you will improve yourself and the world immediately around you.