With the holidays fast approaching, this hardly seems the time to be thinking about losing weight. On the contrary, this is actually the ideal time.
The turn of the calendar to a New Year, especially after the kind of year that was 2020, brings about pressure to redefine who you are and how you live your life. There is a self-imposed pressure each New Year that you must reinvent yourself into a better version of who you are. While this is all strictly psychological, a recent global survey does confirm that many Americans do need to reevaluate their lifestyle choices after packing on the pounds under the guise of the “COVID 15” this past year.
Findings from a new survey, published in the journal Obesity and highlighted in a recent New York Times article, show that the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have negatively impacted the health and wellness of many Americans. One in three people reported significant weight gain this year and more than half of those surveyed reported elevated levels of anxiety and sleeplessness. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, one in two women and one in four men in America have reported an average weight gain of 15-pounds, hence the term “COVID 15”. Research shows that the majority of people turn to fad diets and short-term exercise in an attempt to reverse these trends.
Simple diet and exercise is not enough
In order to truly change patterns of weight gain, you must change the way you think about eating and exercising. There are strong, psychological elements to gaining weight in times of stress and those cannot be ignored if you want to bring about impactful, lasting change in your life.
The “COVID 15” occurs in response to a pattern: You feel stressed about the state of the world so you turn to food for comfort, otherwise known as emotional eating. You start to gain weight. You cannot sleep at night because you are stressed or anxious. You exercise less because you are tired from a lack of sleep. You eat more to soothe your stress and because you are at home more often, with easier access to food. Then you become more anxious and depressed because you have gained weight, yet you continue to soothe that stress with more food. And the cycle continues …
While diet and exercise are necessary components of a successful weight loss program, you will also have to change the way you think in order to create sustainable change. The following six tips are a guide to help you get started.
- Mindful eating
Emotional eating is the chief culprit of the COVID-15. Mindful eating is the best approach to combat emotional eating. You must learn to eat when you are actually hungry and not just to soothe your emotions. How do you do this? By paying close attention to how you feel when you want to eat. You can use a journal if this is helpful to you but you must acknowledge the feelings you experience when you want to eat and channel that energy through something other than food if you’re not actually hungry. In order to discourage emotional eating, you must find another outlet to channel those emotions. Some suggestions are through exercise, playing a game with someone in your household or even by yourself, taking a shower or any activity that distracts your mind from food and comforts your mind in other ways. Doing this repetitively will help to teach you to eat only when you are physically hungry and not when you are feeling sad, anxious, bored or stressed. There are healthier ways to deal with those emotions that do not have to involve food. Emotional eating is a learned behavior and can be un-learned.
- Change a diet into a lifestyle
One of the biggest reasons diets fail is because they are not sustainable. Instead of putting yourself on a strict eating regimen and denying yourself all the foods you have come to love, create a healthy eating plan that includes the occasional indulgence. Teach yourself that just because you have dessert does not mean that you have failed. It means you are rewarding your healthy choices. But you must make healthy choices the majority of your diet. There are many dietary choices out there, you just need to find one that you like and can maintain. The Mediterranean Diet, for example, is just one way to sustain a healthy lifestyle through eating whole foods, fruits and vegetables, nuts, seafood and olive oil without denying yourself meat, carbs and dairy. This lifestyle is often cited as a healthy choice because those who follow it boast a deeper appreciation for nourishing food, resulting in longevity and vitality. Keeping a food journal or using one of the many apps to log what you eat and how much you exercise can help you to be accountable to yourself and allows you to analyze your choices. If your new choices are not working after two or three weeks, create a new plan. There are many healthy eating plans out there. Just don’t give up.
- Understand that your body is a machine
Your body works hard for you. Think about the functions of your body, such as the many organs and muscles. You need to fuel the machine that is your body in order for it to run smoothly and effectively. If you fill your tank with sugary or processed foods, you will find you have low energy levels and will quickly run out of steam. Your body does not know how to use processed foods, whereas if you consistently make healthier choices, such as whole foods and raw foods as they come from the earth, your body can maximize the nutrients from those foods and work more effectively for you. You will make positive changes to your metabolism and help your body to burn the calories you are ingesting instead of storing them as fat. Understand that through feeding your body properly, with what it needs to function, your mood will be enhanced and your energy levels will increase. You will want to exercise because you have the energy and the motivation to move. The better you feed your body, the better you will feel, guaranteed. Make sure you include hydration as well. Drinking enough water each day is a vital part of your healthy lifestyle.
- Change your relationship with food
Understand that food needs to nourish you physically and psychologically. Think about your connection to the earth and understand that whole and raw food comes from the earth. Understand that every choice you make has a direct impact on your body. Think about your heart health, about keeping diabetes and cancers away, think about your cholesterol levels and other heathy factors that can often be determined by your diet. Sugar, for example, cripples the immune system which is the last thing anyone wants right now. What satisfies a quick craving now can turn into unhealthy habits and eventual health conditions later on. It is not worth the sacrifice to your health. Understand that you have control over what you put in your body and the outcomes of those choices can only be positive if the choices you make are healthy ones. Healthy food is also delicious when you find what works for you.
- Learn how to avoid traps
Identify food traps and learn how to avoid them. For example, never shop when you are hungry. This will always lead to poor food choices because you are already thinking about a quick fix when you get home. Instead, fuel your tank before you leave the house. This will prevent stops for fast food, protect you from making poor choices at the supermarket and from snacking in between meals. Plan your grocery list ahead of time and do your best to stick to what is on your list, focusing on healthy, whole food choices. During the holidays, it is easy to fall into the trap of sweets and drinking your calories. By eating healthy foods before you join your family and friends for big meals, you will be less inclined to make poor choices outside of the home because you planned accordingly. Use small plates when dining out and don’t bring home left-overs. You can read more about how to survive the stress-triggers of the holidays on our Blog here.
- Don’t think of exercise as a chore
Many people consider working out a chore and it doesn’t have to be. This is another area where you need to change the way you think about losing weight. Moving your body is another vital element to keeping healthy, losing weight and making sure your body runs the way it should. Exercise is not a job and it doesn’t have to be hard work every time. There are many ways to get exercise without traditional workouts. Try to incorporate fun ways to move into your daily routine and you will find that you’ll want to do more as you become more fit. A few suggestions include:
- Interactive video games, such as virtual boxing, dance games, and many other virtual sports.
- Jobs around the house that need to be done anyway, such as vacuuming, gardening or washing the car – these all burn calories.
- Dance to music that you love.
- Walk your dog – they are great motivators!
- Make an outdoor scavenger hunt with your family.
- Interval workouts that vary in length – use a time that works for you.
Like anything, the hardest part is getting started. But once you change the way you think about getting fit, losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you are on the right path to creating a life-long healthier you.