As countries around the globe attempt to “flatten the curve” of the novel coronavirus pandemic, many of us are hunkering down in accordance with shelter-at-home orders. While losing weight is certainly still doable during this time, a smart goal to focus on instead is maintaining your current weight.
“It’s normal to feel high stress and anxiety in the face of so many uncertainties, and you might even feel tempted to go into survival mode and toss your healthy food and lifestyle choices out the window,” says Dr. Richa Mittal, a weight-loss specialist based in Frisco, Texas.
The good news: It’s possible to combat stress-eating and couch-sitting to maintain your weight and come out of this experience even stronger — you just need the right strategy.
Similar to when you’re focused on losing weight, “maintaining your weight requires keeping track of how many calories you’re putting into your body,” says Gerald E. Nissley, PsyD. One of the simplest ways to do that is to set a daily calorie goal and keep track of your intake of food and drinks with an app like MyFitnessPal. Even if you don’t log every day, regularly checking in can help you stay on track and make sure you’re not over- or under-eating to maintain your weight.
Deviating from your typical routine during the pandemic can make your mood tank, but the reverse is true, too: Re-establishing a routine can help raise your spirits and ward off stress. Pro tip:Frame your day with a wake-up and wind-down routine, suggests Molly Carmel, a licensed clinical social worker. “This can bring comfort and normalcy at a time that feels so abnormal and uncertain,” she says. What’s more, getting enough sleep also helps keep your metabolism healthy, which can support your weight-maintenance efforts.
Creating healthy routines doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, consider a brief meditation or brisk morning walk to help energize you in the morning, and an easygoing stretch routine or hot bath to de-stress before bed.
It’s no surprise following a consistent schedule of healthy eating and exercise can help you maintain your weight over time, according to a study in Obesity. “When you have a set schedule, you’re more likely to incorporate healthy routines and habits on a daily basis — and consistency gets you closer to your goals,” says Carmel.
On a paper calendar or with an app, schedule meal and snack times throughout the day. Then, set reminders to help take the guesswork of when you should be eating and use the alarm bell as a cue to log your intake.
Another way to reduce stress and maintain your weight: Get moving at least once a day. “Our bodies crave movement and the feel-good endorphins that come with it,” says Carmel. As such, make it a point to put daily workouts on your calendar, too. With multiple YouTube videos, Instagram tutorials and free apps, there are plenty of ways to add variety to your new at-home workouts, she says.
It can be a struggle to stick with your workout schedule if you don’t have someone to keep you accountable, so partner up with a friend for a FaceTime workout, suggests Dr. Mittal. Even if it’s only a text check-in before and after you workout, you’ll get some much-needed social connection, a mood boost and added motivation. Plus, research shows working out with someone can compel you to push yourself harder than you would if you were solo.
Sticking with a healthy eating plan and exercise routine is especially difficult when so much is going on in the world. “Times are hard, so remember that you don’t have to manage this perfectly,” says Carmel. Rather than getting down on yourself when you skip a workout or consume extra calories, be compassionate with yourself. Remind yourself of the times you showed up to sweat it out and better controlled your portions in the past. Then, commit to getting back on track.
Stress can threaten your weight-maintenance goals by dialing up cortisol levels which in turn can trigger cravings for comfort foods. The fix: Find ways to de-stress by soothing yourself and leaning on others, suggests Carmel. For instance, you might include diffusing essential oils and playing your favorite music, listening to a guided meditation or podcast, taking a walk outside (while social distancing, of course), reading a book or calling a friend or family member.
During shelter-at-home orders, trips to the grocery store have to be more intentional, especially if you’re eating on a budget. Now’s the perfect time to cut down on processed foods and stock up on healthy staples like fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables as well as whole foods with long shelf lives like dry lentils and beans, recommends Mittal. Focusing on healthy eating choices and reducing temptations is more likely to help you maintain a healthy weight.
In the midst of such high-stress times, some impulsive eating is to be expected, but you can plan ahead by stocking up on nutrient-dense, low-calorie snacks. Where and how you store your snacks can make a difference, too, says Nissley. For instance, if you know you’ll eat a bag full of chips or a package of cookies in no time, opt for pre-portioned snack packs instead. “Keep them on an out-of-reach shelf or inside a cabinet instead of on your countertops or kitchen table,” suggests Nissley. This way, you have time to ask yourself first, “Am I really hungry?”
To cut down on grazing and avoid reaching the bottom of the chip bag in one sitting, make it a point to only eat when you’re free of all distractions, says Dr. Mittal. That means shutting off the TV, putting your phone down and stepping away from your laptop before you sit down to eat. Eating more mindfully and engaging all five senses, helps you recognize when you’re actually full and prevents overeating.
“Any step in the right direction is a reason to pat yourself on the back,” says Carmel. Stick with your workout? Prepare a healthy dinner? There are plenty of non-scale victories that can indicate improvement to your overall physical and mental health. Make sure to take a moment to celebrate steps forward and acknowledge your progress.