A Complete Guide to Unexplained Weight Gain After COVID-19.
It’s been nearly three years since COVID-19 hit, and many of us still feel the effects. COVID long-haulers experience things like brain fog, difficulty breathing, loss of smell and taste, persistent fatigue, and many other Post-COVID issues.
An often-overlooked Post-COVID-19 problem is unexplained weight gain. Many people call it ‘COVID curves’ or ‘Quarantine 15’, after the ‘Freshman 15’ trope of gaining weight in your first year of college. The name is a bit of a misnomer – most people gained more than 15 pounds, with an average weight gain during the pandemic of 29 pounds.
What causes COVID-19 weight gain, and how can you counter it?
Understanding COVID-19 weight gain
People gaining weight after contracting COVID-19 is a relatively common phenomenon – some people gained weight in quarantine even without getting COVID-19.
About 48% of Americans gained weight after the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study also found that people who are already overweight and/or living with mental issues like anxiety or depression were more likely to have gained weight.
While weight gain is a serious issue, another cause for concern is that overweight people are more susceptible to sickness than those at a healthy weight. They are more likely to contract more severe cases of COVID-19 and suffer severe health issues like heart problems and diabetes.
Adverse effects of weight gain Post COVID-19
Considerable weight gain can put a damper on your daily activities. Here are some common issues encountered by people who gained extra pounds during the pandemic:
Susceptibility to disease
Those who gained weight as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic became highly susceptible to disease. People with obesity. tend to have a larger chance of suffering serious health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
Unfortunately, having body weight, blood glucose, and fat levels beyond the normal range leads to a vicious cycle. This susceptibility usually leads to long COVID and even more subsequent health issues.
Reduced life expectancy
COVID-19 and the subsequent weight gain often affect overweight people severely, on top of their increased risk for other diseases. People with high body mass index have lower life expectancies because suffering from serious diseases often results to increased mortality rate.
Vulnerability to mental health issues
Obesity doesn’t just affect your physical health. Undesired weight gain during the pandemic can lead to mental health deterioration and unhealthy eating habits. Common issues related to weight gain include stress -eating, depression, and anxiety.
Possibility Of discrimination
People with obesity and high body fat are often treated with disdain by the general public, whether through bullying, workplace discrimination, or unflattering depictions in the media. While this topic needs more research, people who gained body weight during the pandemic may have experienced increased weight bias and discrimination.
Why you gained weight during COVID-19
The American Psychology Association reported that nearly half of American adults gained undesired weight during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Why is undesired weight gain so common during the COVID-19 lockdown? Here are some possible causes why:
Disruption to routines
A common reason people gained weight during the COVID-19 pandemic is the disruption of routine activities. Workplaces and schools shut down, forcing people to work and study from home. Public places like gyms and restaurants also closed down due to increasing COVID-19 infection, limiting your eating and exercising options.
Here’s how daily routine disruptions contributed to your weight gain during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Lack of exercise
Most gyms closed down early in the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting your exercise options. Many outdoor spaces were restricted to prevent COVID-19 infection, so you couldn’t even jog in the morning. This broke many people’s exercise habits, contributing to their subsequent weight gain.
Dominance of sedentary life
Working or studying from home means eliminating commutes. In turn, this means people don’t do simple physical activities like walking to their car or going up the stairs to class and instead spend most of the day sitting down. Reduced physical exertion means fewer calories burned, which leads to weight gain.
Eating habit changes
Another reason for weight gain during the pandemic is diet changes. We can see eating behavior changes like more snacking and preferring highly- processed foods among people stuck in lockdown, contributing to their weight gain.
Eating behavior and diet changes happen because it i’s harder to get groceries and prepare healthy meals. Instead, people buy instant foods and order from food delivery services whenever they eat.
Stress-induced hormonal changes
When you experience stress, you produce a hormone called cortisol that slows your metabolism. While it is essential in survival situations, it’s harmful when you ’are exposed to stress but physically safe as cortisol leads to weight gain.
When you pair increased stress with an unhealthy diet, the above-normal cortisol levels can increase belly fat – leading to a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Increased alcohol intake
Some people drink alcohol to cope with the stress of losing loved ones to COVID-19 infection, being fired from their job, and many other pandemic-related reasons. Unfortunately, increased alcohol consumption is also a major factor in weight gain among adults experiencing lockdown.
COVID-19 patients are susceptible to polyphagia or hyperphagia. Polyphagia is the feeling of extreme hunger and increased appetite that won’t go away even if you eat a lot of food.
Many things can cause polyphagia, from diabetes to anxiety. However, its underlying cause is the disturbance of pathways controlling food intake and energy balance, especially in your central nervous system.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 infection can cause central nervous system damage, leading to polyphagia – and it may persist even after you test negative.
How to lose weight after COVID-19
So, how do you lose weight after being in lockdown for so long or recovering from COVID-19? Here are several weight loss steps you can take:
1. Reinforce healthy sleep habits
The lack of commute during lockdown means people can sleep and wake up late with fewer consequences from work or school. However, this builds unhealthy sleep patterns that can persist to this day.
Lack of sleep impacts your appetite, and it only takes one night of inadequate sleep to damage your appetite control for the next couple of days.
The loss of appetite control happens because inadequate sleep increases the levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and reduces the levels of leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full. With the levels of ghrelin and leptin thrown off, you will have an increased appetite, and it will take more food to make you feel full.
2. Eat the right foods at the right times
Eating is as much about the when as it is about the what. Meal timing and portioning influence energy levels throughout the day, so it’s important to know when to eat big meals and when to eat small meals.
A good rule of thumb is to consume more complex carbohydrates like bread and oatmeal early in the day because they provide more energy and keep you fuller for longer. As the day wears on, you should eat less and reduce your calorie intake because you don’t expend as much energy for the rest of the day.
However, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. If you go to the gym in the evening after work, you can get away with eating a heavier lunch to ensure you have enough energy to exercise properly. Essentially, you should time and portion your meals depending on how active you will be throughout the day.
3. Make meals a family affair
Your eating speed affects your satiety – the slower you eat, the faster you will feel full. This happens because your brain has more time to learn that your stomach is full and send the message to stop eating, preventing excess weight gain. So, how does making meals a family affair help with this?
People who eat alone tend to eat faster because they often don’t have anything else to do. However, eating with family usually means engaging in conversation and doing other things besides eating, which helps you control the eating pace. Eating with family means you will feel full sooner and be less likely to ask for seconds.
4. Prioritize physical activity
During the COVID-19 lockdown, most of us became sedentary. We would sit around at home and only walk short distances between rooms, severely reducing our physical exertion.
Exercise prevents body weight gain and related conditions like obesity and diabetes. Moreover, frequent exercise can lead to improved brain health and a boosted immune system to prevent COVID-19 infection.
Consider increasing your physical exertion to induce weight loss and shed those COVID-19 pounds. You don’t have to commit to a gym membership just yet – starting small can lead to more consistent exercising.
Some good exercise ideas to reduce body weight and prevent diabetes include going up and down the stairs, running, and riding bicycles. However you do it, just try to move your body and burn the excess calories.
5. Stay hydrated
Drinking enough water is essential because dehydration can lead to elevated body mass index and obesity. Moreover, drinking water can make your body feel full, preventing you from reaching for a snack too often.
6. Monitor your body mass index
People often use body mass index (BMI) to determine obesity since it represents how much body fat you have. A good way to monitor your weight loss progress is to measure your BMI – a 5-10% loss is generally the sweet spot for the best health benefits.
Regularly monitoring your weight and body mass index helps you gauge your diet effectiveness and weight loss progress. If you notice you a’re not losing as much BMI as expected, you can try changing your routines and modifying your calorie intake.
However, BMI doesn’t work the same for everybody. BMI doesn’t account for bone and muscle mass, so people with heavier bones and muscles may be considered obese despite being at a healthy weight.
Other health issues caused by COVID-19
Putting on extra pounds and increasing body fat aren’t the only things that can happen to people affected by COVID-19 and the pandemic lockdown, regardless of their medical history. These other conditions can still happen long after the initial COVID-19 infection, and the Centers for Disease Control are still performing further research on countering these long-lasting symptoms of COVID-19 infection.
Here are some other conditions commonly exhibited by people with active COVID-19 infection as well as former patients:
Some COVID-19 patients exhibit cognitive degeneration and memory problems, often called brain fog. COVID-19 brain fog can persist months after the initial infection and often negatively affects the former patient’s mental health.
Loss of smell and taste
A common symptom exhibited by most patients of COVID-19 infection is the loss of smell and taste. It can be a long-lasting symptom that persists even after recovery from COVID-19. Some people report changes or complete loss in their sense of smell and taste, which also affects their appetite.
Depending on the person, this may lead to unhealthy weight gain as they try to eat more to taste their food or weight loss as they eat less because everything tastes bland.
In some cases, patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 patients suffer from two kinds of heart inflammation: Myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation) and pericarditis (heart lining inflammation). Common symptoms of heart inflammation include difficulty breathing, chest pains, and a faster heart rate.
Unwanted body weight gain is a common side effect of COVID-19 infection and being stuck in lockdown. An increase in body fat usually comes from unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise, and other factors. If left alone, weight gain caused by COVID-19 can cause high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, mental health issues, and other serious health problems.
Fortunately, you can counter COVID-19 weight gain by applying appetite control, increasing physical exercise, eating healthier foods, and other weight loss measures.
If you feel you are alone in your Post-COVID-19 journey, we are here to help. Know more about the support we offer and end your weight gain troubles by reaching out to us. Contact us now.