In the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, social distancing means more time at home. Whether you’re working from home, taking care of your kids or scrolling through the news 24/7, these disruptions and uncertainties can make sticking to your weight-loss goals that much harder.
“Stress, changes to your routine and more inactivity than usual are all factors to consider right now,” says Kaitlin Beaver, a certified personal trainer based in Asheville, North Carolina. “These are not easy times for most of us, so one of the best things you can do is be kind to yourself and try to stick with as much of a routine as possible.”
In this spirit, here are 14 ways to support your weight-loss journey when you’re spending more time at home:
Not having access to your gym, working from home in close proximity to the kitchen and feeling stressed-out naturally make weight loss more challenging. “Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that increases cravings for high-calorie comfort foods and sleep deprivation can drive up hunger levels and lower your metabolism,” says Dr. Craig Primack, a weight-loss physician and president of the Obesity Medicine Association.
Instead of trying to be a perfectionist (and getting down on yourself if you fail to reach your initial weight-loss goals), adjust your mindset. “Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can under your current circumstances and try to be patient with your weight loss,” says Beaver. Research shows self-compassion can help keep you on track for the long-haul.
“You have the power to use the extra time at home for good to jumpstart some healthy habits,” says Rebecca Guterman, RD. For example, maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to cook a new recipe, read more before bed or master a new workout move like a pushup or lunge. View this time as an opportunity to reflect inward and set new SMART goals, which can help your physical and mental health.
Instead of getting down about having to alter your regular routine, embracing an action mindset can help you reframe things in a positive way. For example, if you’re not feeling motivated to do an at-home workout, try harnessing the power of visualization, which can help cement healthy habits.
“Visualization is going to be especially important as you are embarking on a new routine that involves staying at home,” says Kim Chronister, PsyD, a clinical psychologist based in California. “Before bed, imagine yourself going through tomorrow’s workout in your home. Close your eyes, imagine what time you’re working out, how your body feels before and after — really feel yourself in the workout while you are visualizing. You will be more likely to actually engage in the workout the next day.”
To maintain some sense of normalcy and stick to your weight-loss goals, “try to keep up with your original workout schedule and healthy eating plan, and adapt as necessary,” suggests Liz Wyosnick, RD. For example, if you typically go to yoga twice a week before work, keep it on your calendar, set a reminder and attend a class online or with an app from the comfort of your home.
Social connection has been shown to improve overall health and just because you’re social distancing doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice those bonds. Now is the perfect time to reconnect with old friends, as well as make new ones. You can do this by sending a text or email to check in on someone, even if you haven’t spoken to them in a while.
It’s also a great time to make new friends by finding an online community with similar interests and shared goals. “To ensure you actually show up on schedule, ask another homebound friend to be your accountability buddy,” suggests Wyosnick. Together, you can log in to the same streaming service and cheer each other on with text reminders and video chat debriefs. You can also log your workouts on MyFitnessPal and celebrate each others’ wins that way, too. When used in a positive way, social media can help anchor you to your community and fuel weight-loss goals.
For more help staying on track with your weight-loss goals, consider reaching out to a virtual personal trainer or registered dietitian. “Your coach can provide you with accountability, support and personalized guidance through these uncertain times,” says Ryan Maciel, RD. Even some physical therapists are providing online appointments, which can help you stay injury-free.
If you’re struggling with all-day, all-night snacking, “the best way to support satiation and diminish the physical desire to graze is to make meals and snacks that include all three macronutrients,” says Wyosnick. If you’re meal planning on a budget (or just trying to reduce trips to the grocery store), low-cost, minimally-processed whole foods bought in bulk are your best bet, adds Maciel. Think: proteins like eggs, chicken, canned tuna, beans and tofu; high-fiber, filling carbs like quinoa, oats and whole-wheat bread as well as non-starchy veggies like cauliflower, cabbage, carrots and green beans; and healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and seeds.
“This unusual time can trigger stress-eating, but turning to food to cope is futile and often leads to guilt and regret later,” says Wyosnick. To avoid overeating, one of the easiest things you can do is keep tempting foods out of your house completely. “Another helpful strategy is to portion high-calorie foods like chips into healthy serving sizes rather than eating straight from the bag,” says Beaver. Now is also the perfect time to use a food journal like MyFitnessPal to track what (and how much) you’re consuming.
“One of the top contributors to weight gain for busy people is eating out at restaurants where portions are oversized,” says Chronister. “This is a great opportunity to reset your meal plans and even get creative with new recipes.” When you’re in charge of what goes into your meals, you can control even more factors to help you lose weight and reach your health goals faster. For example, you may end up eating less salt, butter, sugar and other less-than-ideal ingredients that restaurant chefs often add liberally.
In addition to helping you reach your weight-loss goals, setting aside time for meal planning can reduce food waste and save money. To keep meal planning simple, create a menu for the week with recipes that use similar ingredients. For example, chicken, broccoli and sweet potato can be used for roasted chicken breast with broccoli and sweet potato, a stir-fry and a pasta bake. To de-stress, indulge in healthy comfort foods that take little prep time, like cozy casseroles, slow-cooker meals and one-pot meals.
An appointment-free schedule should leave you with enough time each day to go for a walk or run in your neighborhood, do yoga at home or try a new bodyweight workout. If you normally exercise at the gym, try working out at your usual time, to stick with your routine. If you haven’t established an exercise habit yet, now is a great time to start one. “Use the built-in time that you normally commute for an extra workout,” says Guterman.
“Most workout studios have made an online platform accessible while physical studios are closed and there are lots of online resources for bodyweight workouts.” Remember, exercise “not only helps keep you fit and active but also supports your immune system and helps alleviate stress and depression.”
If you’re eager to be productive or exercise more while you’re home, what you wear matters and can actually influence your actions and attitude. “Researchers coined the term ‘enclothed cognition,’ which means what you wear greatly impacts your motivation and performance,” says Chronister. “Dressing like an athlete can significantly impact your likelihood of actually getting a workout in on a regular basis.”
Rather than sitting around in your pajamas, make a point to put on your work clothes during “office hours” and change into workout clothes for scheduled exercise time.
“While losing access to your go-to workout spot can throw you off course, you can build your own gym on any budget,” says Morgan Rees, an LA-based certified personal trainer and health coach. While some basic equipment can help when it comes to strength training at home (like resistance bands, a few sets of dumbbells and medicine balls), if you’re on a tight budget, you can also turn to furniture for support. For example, you can use a sturdy chair for a full-body workout. Beyond this, “bodyweight workouts require zero equipment and are effective for helping shed pounds and build strength, balance and stability,” says Beaver.
If working out from home means you’re also short on time to yourself, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are a great way to work up a sweat fast and burn extra calories, says Beaver. To boost your motivation (and multitask as needed), consider recruiting your partner or kids to join in with video group exercises online or walking intervals around your neighborhood or backyard, suggests Rees. Even a 10-minute HIIT workout helps you stay on track with your weight-loss and fitness goals.
“Take inventory of all of the opportunities for self-care that don’t involve snacking,” says Chronister. “For example, a hot bath can be used for meditation.” Figuring out ways to soothe yourself that don’t involve calories — whether that’s completing a puzzle or listening to a podcast — helps you unwind and prevents weight gain from stress-eating.
With additional reporting by Lisa Fields.