It’s been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic turned our “normal” lives upside down. For some, more time at home helped bolster weight-loss efforts. But just-released research indicates most people ended up gaining weight during the pandemic.
“With my clients, I see a mixed bag,” says Emily Timm, RDN. “For some, the lockdown experience has been eye-opening since they feel better physically with less restaurant food. For others, the isolation has contributed to extra snacking or comfort eating.” Plus, Timm says she noticed reduced activity with her clients across the board due to working from home and being out of normal routines.
“I definitely think it’s the exception not to have put on weight during the lockdown,” adds Sal Kassam, a certified personal trainer and founder at Red Pill Fitness. “Many people have put their weight-loss goals on pause. The inability to leave the house as often as they’d like, the demands of homeschooling, plus many workplaces expecting their employees to work longer hours have all contributed.”
That said, now that things are starting to reopen, it can be tricky to balance the desire to get back in the weight-loss game with the urge to celebrate having some freedom again.
First, it’s important to cut yourself some slack. “I think anyone who’s struggled shouldn’t be too hard on themselves,” Kassam says. After all, life has fundamentally changed. Reopening definitely brings some benefits for those interested in losing weight, but it introduces new obstacles, too.
Striking the balance between enjoying new freedoms and getting back on track is all about having a smart strategy. Make sure you’re taking the precautions advised by state and local government, and whenever possible, employ these expert-approved tips:
“If you kinda sorta have a plan, then you’ll kinda sorta have results,” says Ramsey Bergeron, certified personal trainer and owner of Bergeron Well-Being. “Have specifics in mind of what you want your weight loss to look like.” Bergeron recommends setting SMART goals to hold yourself accountable. But beyond that, get clear on why exactly you want to lose weight. Giving yourself a strong “why” makes staying consistent more likely.
When your favorite spots have been closed or mostly doing takeout for a year, it’s understandable to feel like you want to eat out every night. Setting some clear parameters on how many meals you’ll go out for each week can help, notes Kia Khadem, a clinical exercise physiologist, nutritionist and online personal trainer. “Whether it’s one, two or three, as long as you have a plan in place for how many meals you’re eating out, you have a better chance of sticking to your plan on the other days.”
“I think it can be hard to keep focused on goals when you’re celebrating coming out of a traumatic experience,” Timm notes. “The lockdown was a collective trauma, so I think the attitude around getting together with other people will be celebratory for a long time, and with celebration comes food.” Because the weather is about to warm up in most places, Timm encourages backyard get-togethers with home-cooked meals that prioritize healthier options.
Temptation may be high for some in the early stages of reopening, but this time also brings certain advantages for people who want to lose weight. “Fitness centers and gyms will be open, which will help people incorporate more exercise into their lives,” points out Chrissy Arsenault, RD. Plus, it’ll finally be possible to start re-establishing a routine that feels good.
Most important, we’ll get back to our social lives. “Health is so much more than what we eat,” Timm says. “Health is also how we eat, and social connection is essential to our well-being and managing stress. When we manage stress, we’re able to be more focused on our goals since we’re taking care of ourselves.”
On the practical side, making an entree selection before you head to a restaurant can help you avoid making a decision when you’re caught up in the moment, Bergeron says. “Plus, online menus are usually much better about listing the nutritional information than the menus you get when you arrive. Take a look and make a conscious choice before you walk out the door, and you’re more likely to stick with it when you get there.”
Social support is key when it comes to successful weight loss. “I recommend telling your friends that you have a weight-loss goal you’re working on,” Khadem says. “If you’re upfront with your social circle, they’ll understand if you want to pick a healthier place to eat or if you decide to skip drinks or dessert.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself and engage in positive self-talk,” Arsenault advises. “Your body has been under tremendous stress over the past year. At the end of each day, reflect on one thing that worked really well for you or gave you something to smile about.”
Also, if you do splurge on a night out, for example, don’t shame yourself and throw your hands up in defeat, Bergeron says. “Realize it’s been a while since you’ve been out, you’re only human, and next time you’ll try to make a healthier choice.”
“As things start to reopen, people will be quick to want to achieve results,” Arsenault says. She’s predicting a boost in interest in fad diets that promise quick weight loss. “It’s possible to lose 15 pounds in a month, but can you sustain it,” she asks. Instead of going for something extreme, Arsenault encourages taking the slow-and-steady approach of making small, sustainable changes that add up in the long term.
Make progress every day while you work on mini fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps or learning to track macros. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.