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 at High Point Wellness in Syracuse, 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, 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.”

Food as reward

It’s easy to say, ‘I’ll start tomorrow’ about losing weight; however, Jill Murphy, personal trainer and co-owner of Mission Fitness in East Syracuse, urges people who need to lose weight to begin right away.

“I think committing to yourself to start now is a great first step,” Murphy said. “Don’t wait until tomorrow, Monday, or after the holiday to begin taking steps to reach your goal. Start now.”

Ironically, some people who want to lose weight use food as their reward for working hard at losing weight. Or they may turn to food for comfort.

“If you feel the need to reward yourself go see a movie, get your nails done, buy a new shirt, or spend money on trying a new healthy recipe,” Murphy said. “Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of rewarding yourself with junk food. This will only set you back.”

Instead of treating yourself to an unhealthful food, pick up a produce item you’ve never tried before and research how to prepare it.

Murphy freely acknowledges that losing weight isn’t without cost. It will take time and self-sacrifice, such as getting up earlier to make time to exercise or forgoing a favorite desert if that would throw off a healthful eating plan.

“Take some time to think about what it’s going to take to lose weight and what sacrifices you’ll need to make, and commit in advance to following through with those commitments,” Murphy said.

She’s also a fan of accountability, since that can help keep those losing weight on track and to help analyze why they skip exercise or indulge in a treat. Murphy said that an accountability partner could be a personal trainer, friend, spouse, co-worker or neighbor but that person should be able to follow through.

Overall, she encourages those seeking to lose weight to believe in themselves and to do what they can.

“Don’t focus on what you can’t do, or what you once could do,” she said. “If you focus on what you can do, you’ll do a great job of pushing yourself with the exercise and you’ll enjoy the journey. If you focus on what you can’t do, or what others are doing that you’re not, you’re going to feel discouraged throughout the entire journey. So, focus on what you can do, do that, and I promise you’ll be successful.”