Losing ‘COVID-15’ After Quarantine

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The “freshman 15” weight gain experienced by many college students shares some similar origins of the “COVID-15” pounds packed on during quarantine: mindless stress eating, availability of food, boredom, poor food choices and lack of exercise opportunities.

Plus, those who are working at home had little positive peer pressure. At the office, others would notice that second or third doughnut. Also absent at home are the lunchtime walking group, buying a healthful lunch at a nearby eatery and hitting the gym on the way home.

While working at home, it’s easier to binge on unhealthful convenience foods and stressful news updates. Familiar movies in the evening — instead of workout videos — offer comfort.

Despite the ease of gaining weight, it’s possible to shed unwanted pounds.

Physician Az Tahir, who practices holistic medicine in Rochester, said that it helps to incorporate more movement into each day — and not just during a formal workout time.

“Exercise should be part of a lifestyle,” he said.

Exercise and stretching can help combat the weight-gain effects of stress. Tahir said he walks for half an hour before breakfast and half an hour before dinner to burn calories, boost his alertness and aid in digestion.

He also recommends substituting not-so-healthful cravings for healthful activities, such as reaching for the yoga mat instead of a cookie for a mid-afternoon lift and to reduce stress.

“When you’re at home or at work, every hour, do a yoga stretch, relax your back or neck,” Tahir said. “Many yoga stresses are very good. Just do it for two or three minutes. That will prevent back problems when working. You feel like a new person.”

He also advises to watch portion control, both with food and also with beverages.

“You should have something with zero calories as a filler, such as water,” he said. “You can drink it as much as you can. Drink half of your weight in ounces every day. Unsweetened tea, you can drink as much as you can. Apple cider vinegar has zero calories. You can take it as much as you can, as it has many benefits for losing weight and more than 100 other benefits.”

Jessica Kouzan, SNAP-Ed community nutritionist for Cornell Cooperative Extension Monroe County, said that it’s important to plan a healthful grocery list to keep stocked up on healthful foods for meals and snacks.

“If it’s in the house, I’ll eat it,” she said.

Instead, it’s important to “create a plan for meals you’ll make and try to stick to it.”

Emphasizing whole grains, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and lean sources of protein makes a big difference in weight loss and overall health compared with eating so many convenience foods.

Kouzan also said that portion size matters.

“Start with a smaller plate of food,” she said. “If you’re still hungry, go back and get more. If you have a plateful of food, you may feel you need to finish it.”

She confessed that pasta represents her “comfort food” that’s easy for her to overeat; however, beginning with a small portion and eating a side salad and roasted or sautéed vegetables helps her fill up on healthful foods while still enjoying her beloved pasta.

“Try to find foods higher in fiber can be really important,” Kouzan said. “Fiber gives us that fullness feeling. If you eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains, you won’t be hungry again within 20 minutes.”