Ever hear about the COVID 15? 

Also known as the “Quarantine 15,” it refers to the pounds gained (or lost) many of us experienced during the COVID-19 outbreak and quarantines. Likely due to the increased levels of stress pretty much everyone’s been living with, a recent American Psychological Association study found a majority of US adults experienced undesired weight changes since the pandemic started. 

Of that group, nearly half said they gained more weight than they intended to. 

A change in our weight is always somewhat disappointing, especially when it happens over a fairly short period. That disappointment, combined with ongoing stress, can put anyone into a cycle of weight gain, beating themselves up, and abandoning the healthy habits and workout routines we may have carefully cultivated for ourselves. 

Fortunately, there are some easy things anyone can do to develop a healthy, effective routine. First, let’s look at why stress drives us towards food.

Group of people wearing Covid 19 masks.

What’s Stress Got To Do With It? 

There are plenty of reasons stressed people turn to food for comfort, and a lot of it has to do with how we’ve evolved. 

Stress responses evolved in humans to protect us from predators. Thankfully, most of us don’t have to be worried about being eaten by say, a lion on our way to and from work, but the stress response has stayed with us. Instead of being chased down by bears or saber-toothed cats, we’re hunted today by bills, massive workloads, concerns about our families, and worries about global pandemics. 

The problem is, our bodies interpret all those things as direct threats to our existence, which is why we feel like we’re under attack while we’re stressed out. Our brain starts by kicking our adrenal glands into action. These glands cause the body to release a rush of hormones, which include adrenaline and cortisol. 

Adrenaline and cortisol are good things. Adrenaline gives us the energy for the fight-or-flight response; cortisol helps the body repair if it’s injured. But when stress turns chronic and you feel like you’re always under attack, these hormones can interfere with the body’s normal functions … and even change your habits. 

Why Stress Can Drive Poor Eating Habits 

High levels of cortisol in the body seem to drive us to consume hyperpalatable foods, which are loaded with salt and fat. A better word for hyperpalatable foods might be comfort foods. 

While tasty and comforting, comfort foods like mac & cheese, ice cream, and pizza aren’t good for us. Aside from containing high levels of salt and fat, these foods are very calorie-dense, meaning even a small amount is packed with calories. 

Plus, our bodies appear to digest food more slowly when we’re stressed out. Stress and cortisol also seem to grow belly fat and even reduce muscle mass, which means we burn fewer calories when we’re resting. 

Stress is good in some amounts, believe it or not. Eustress is the positive stress you feel when you’re doing something that excites you, like competing in a game or asking someone out. But as we’ve seen, bad stress – which we’ve all experienced more than our share of – is harmful and can throw even the most carefully curated self-care routine out of whack. 

Don’t stress – here’s how to get back on track. 

Lose The Quarantine 15 With 5 Easy Steps 

It can be tempting to throw in the towel after unwanted weight gain, especially after you worked hard to keep it off before quarantine. Don’t – giving up is just going to add more stress to your life, and as we’ve seen you don’t need it. 

Instead, just adopt a few healthy habits that’ll change your relationship with food and eating. While far from a magic cure for weight loss, these habits will get you back on the road to your best self: 

Get A Routine Going: Don’t just set regular mealtimes. Block out some time for snacks – healthy snacks, though. If you snack wisely, you can contribute to a weight loss plan. Finally, whatever you do, don’t eat off your schedule. Live by it. 

Take A Drink First: By “drink,” we mean water. Human beings sometimes have trouble distinguishing between hunger and thirst. A lot of diets recommend drinking a glass of water before deciding on a snack, which is great advice. You might be surprised when that craving was just thirst. Best of all, some apps can help you track hydration routines – and remind you to drink water. 

Shop Wisely: This can be tough if your local market is experiencing shortages, but when you’re restocking your pantry focus on healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood. Need a treat? Consider low-cal, protein-rich ice cream substitutes instead of the usual choices. Remember, if it’s not in your refrigerator you can’t eat it. 

Talk To Yourself: When the urge to snack comes on, ask yourself if you’re really hungry. Stress isn’t the only thing that can fire up an urge to snack – boredom contributes, too. Instead of grazing, maybe find something else to occupy yourself with. Do some exercises, call up a friend, take a walk outside, or do anything else that’s not snacking on food. 

Eat carefully: Measuring out portions is a pain, but it can help in the long run. Take cereal: how much are you pouring in your bowl every morning? How much sugar are you adding to your coffee, anyway? It pays off to practice portion control, even if you’ve been careful about what you buy at the store. 

As we said, these aren’t miracle cures for weight loss. But combine these with a solid exercise plan, and you’ll lose the quarantine 15 in no time. 

Man and woman drinking water.

Have A Fat Bulge That Just Won’t Leave? Consider CoolSculpting™ 

Even the best diet and workout plan sometimes can’t fix stubborn bulges. If you’re near your desired weight but want to smooth out an edge or two, consider Sculpt Spa, Las Vegas’ leading provider of CoolSculpting™ and other non-invasive body contouring solutions. 

Offering a comfortable, judgment-free spa setting, Sculpt Spa features body contouring, infrared saunas, aesthetic injections, and more. There’s no better place to chill, binge your favorite show, or catch up on some reading while becoming the best version of yourself. 

See for yourself – contact a Sculpt Spa expert today.