May 6, 2021
Tips for shedding the pandemic pounds
Diet and exercise experts are offering insights and guidance, as a recent study finds Americans have gained an average of two pounds per month during the past year.
“We’re all in the same boat,” said Heather Baptiste, a registered dietitian and senior health engagement strategist at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
“Many of us are working from home or going to school from home, we’re exercising less, and we have easy access to snacks throughout the day,” said Baptiste, who noted her own workspace is smack-dab in the middle of her kitchen, with temptation all around.
In addition, Baptiste said, “When stress hormones are high,” as they have been much of the past year, “our body tends to hold on to calories,” which means that even if we are eating the same healthy diet we always have, we still might gain weight.
Social media can work against us, too, observes Nicole Pizzi, a Blue Cross health engagement strategist and fitness trainer. “Some folks have used social media in the past year to celebrate drinking too much, eating unhealthy food, and refraining from physical activity, and that can make the rest of us feel like we’re missing out if we don’t do the same. Instead, I want people to empower themselves to engage in healthy behaviors and be confident in themselves and their goals.”
Both experts offer tips for doing just that:
Know your baseline
Keep a health journal for a week or two, recording when and what you eat and drink, and how you feel when you do (are you hungry or bored, sad or stressed?), when you exercise and what activity you do, how many hours of sleep you get each night, and your overall mood. “Often we don’t realize how much we eat and drink until we write it down,” Baptiste says.
Once you have the data, look for patterns and identify one or two key areas where you want to make a change. “Start slow, and don’t overwhelm yourself,” Baptiste says. “You want to set yourself up for success.”
On the nutrition side, looking to cut down, cut out or swap out snacks, processed foods and high-calorie beverages for a healthier option is a good place to start, Baptiste says. Another good change is getting up to move, breathe, stretch or go outside if you notice stress increasing, instead of grabbing an unhealthy snack. Even substituting 6-8 glasses of plain or lightly flavored water for high-calorie beverages can help prevent dehydration, headaches and fatigue.
On the fitness side, Pizzi notes, “Many people get tripped up on the number of days and length of time they need to exercise. To start, pick 1-2 times per week, do something you like to do and do it for however long feels good. From there, build safely, build gradually and it will become second nature.”
Have a plan
The more you can plan meals and movement, the more successful you’ll be, both experts say. Put your meals and snack breaks in your calendar, plan out meals for the week and make a grocery list and stick to it, Baptiste says: “If you don’t buy it, you don’t eat it.” She encourages people to buy fewer processed foods and more whole foods that are plant-based or are good sources of fiber or lean protein. “These foods make you feel more full and satisfied and can prevent you from wanting to snack.” Oatmeal or yogurt with some nuts is a great way to start the day, while snacking on veggies or fruit can boost energy instead of causing a crash. “I find that organic dried fruit helps curb my sweet tooth,” Baptiste adds. Pizzi also encourages people to schedule movement in their calendar: “If you see it on your calendar, you’re more likely to do it.”
Surround yourself with support
Stay connected with friends and family who support your healthy lifestyle choices and will help motivate you. You can also tell your primary care provider that you’d like to meet with a registered dietitian, who can help you identify healthy patterns you might want to adopt, Baptiste says. Some health plans, including Blue Cross, reach out to offer members with certain health conditions the option of speaking with a dietitian like Baptiste.
Change your mindset
Instead of looking at healthy habits “as a punishment for the choices you made last year, look at healthy eating, movement, a good night’s sleep as ways to take care of yourself,” Baptiste says. Pizzi concurs: “Movement is not selfish, and taking time for ourselves to move is not selfish. It’s self-care.” Both encourage clients to see positive changes as a part of a long-term plan to create a healthy lifestyle—not just as a diet or a few sweat sessions—and to accept that bad days will happen: “Don’t let a bad day ruin a good routine,” Baptiste says. “Try to focus on forming good, long-term healthy habits.”
Perhaps the most important piece of advice Pizzi gives her clients is that there is no one-size-fits all approach to health:
There is no handbook to our health. We all are on our own journey trying through trial and error to find what works for us. It is up to each of us to write our own handbook.