Forgive yourself, and start walking toward a healthier you.
For those of you who have put on the Pandemic Pounds or added several new COVID Curves, you are not alone. Alarmingly, the American Psychological Association has recently published that almost half of all adults in their survey now have a larger physique. In fact, 42% of people reported gaining roughly 15 pounds (the average published was surprisingly 29 pounds but that included outliers) over the past year. Interestingly, 20% of adults in this survey lost about 12 pounds (I am surely not in this group). Clearly, there is a relationship between stress and weight change. In addition, one in four adults disclosed an increase in alcohol consumption, and 67% of participants distressingly revealed that they have new sleeping patterns.
This past year has brought about what has been called the 'new normal.' Social isolation and inactivity due to quarantining and remote working have sadly contributed to the decline in many people's mental and physical health, as demonstrated by the widespread changes in people's weight, alcohol consumption, and sleeping patterns. Gym closures, frequent ordering of unhealthy takeout, and increased time at home cooking and devouring comfort foods have had a perceptible impact. In addition, many people have delayed routine medical care and screening tests over fear of contracting Covid-19 during these visits. Unfortunately, the 'new normal' has now placed too many people at risk for serious health consequences, including heart attacks and strokes.
Luckily, we now seem to be embarking on a new 'new normal.' Widespread vaccination with the highly effective Covid-19 vaccines will afford us the safety and the opportunity to start incorporating productive changes into our new daily routines. With that being said, how does one transition into this 'newer normal?'
Stop being so hard on yourself. What's done is done. Forgive yourself. This has been a trying year and the important part has been getting through it. Stop fixating on your weight gain (or weight loss) and your new state of physical deconditioning as this is now not helpful. In other words, it is time to reboot.
Steps 2 and 3
Stop eating as much and start walking more. (I know, easier said than done). Although there are many popular diets, whether it be Atkins, ketogenic, paleo or intermittent fasting, at the end of the day, it probably just comes down to the number of calories one eats and drinks. In fact, many studies have consistently shown that most diets are not sustainable, as people tend to regain the initial weight loss by the one-year mark. Perhaps the best new diet should be called the 'step calorie' diet. In addition to decreasing your portion sizes (and eating more nuts, which tend to be filling), start a protocol of fast walking or the equivalent for at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week. If you can't dedicate a block of time, try incorporating your exercise regimen into your schedule. City dwellers should try walking to work, or at least part of the way. Drivers should try parking in the farthest possible spot and walk from there.
Start sleeping more (except while reading this column). Not only does sleep deprivation increase your body's stress hormone cortisol level, which may contribute to several other health problems, but research has also demonstrated the importance of an adequate amount of sleep (my goal is 8 hours nightly) in successfully losing weight. In one of these studies, the people who slept more actually felt less hungry while awake when compared with those that were sleep-deprived. Maybe we should all try going to sleep 30 minutes earlier each night (of course, that would mean 30 minutes of less snacking for me).
By Dr. Marc Eisenberg
Dr. Marc Sabin Eisenberg, M.D., F.A.C.C. is an associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. He is co-author of the book "Am I Dying?!: A Complete Guide to Your Symptoms and What to Do Next" and co-host of the "Am I Dying?!" podcast, which provides light-hearted advice for the hypochondriac in all of us.