Confession 8: Oops, I gained the COVID-19 Pounds: 5 Tips to Pandemic Weight Loss

“You’re a nutritionist!” one of my more direct pickleball friends reprimanded during our socially-distanced water break. I had pointed out that absence of play during the pandemic somehow caused my leggings to shrink. With public courts shut down for months in the Pacific Northwest, it was my first time back.

Judge if you will; I am not alone. We players lost our favorite form of exercise as we knew it during the pandemic, finding ourselves dinking around the house with more access to the pantry. Drop in some situational blues from lack of social interaction, and you have a recipe for unintentional weight gain. Dietitian or not, I’m going to cut myself some slack this time.

Luckily for me I knew what to do. Here are a few of my favorite tips for weight loss that have worked for myself and others.

#1 Rid yourself of the sabotage.

Is your problem sugary drinks? Do you have a pantry full of nutrient-empty snacks “for the kids”? Do you keep a candy stash? Has your alcohol intake increased during COVID? I find it best to rid the home of temptations if at all possible. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that occasional indulgences are an important part of life if you enjoy them. Planning is key to overdoing indulgence. If you avoid having your favorites handy, you can’t mindlessly grab for them in a weak moment.

#2 Eat only during the day.

It doesn’t get simpler than this. As one form of intermittent fasting called time-restricted eating, this has become trendy for good reason. It’s what humans are meant to do! The 2017 Nobel Prize for Science was earned by researchers who discovered the enzyme that controls circadian rhythm. Since then, nutrition researchers have used the information to find that many diseases and weight gain can be prevented just by restricting eating to daytime hours.  

For general health and weight maintenance, I recommend no more than a twelve-hour eating window, fasting during the other twelve, five days each week. For example, I choose to fast from 7pm-7am. For weight loss, I recommend an 8-9 hour eating window, for example fasting from 6pm-9am. And by the way, true fasting means everything besides water. It’s about allowing the liver and other organs to rest and repair, which they cannot do while processing caffeine, artificial sweeteners, etc.

#3 Choose a healthy diet plan.

In a dietitian’s world, this means choosing a plan that is not excessively restrictive so that you can get the nutrients your body needs. It’s especially important now to keep the immune system robust. Plant-strong, high-vegetable plans such as Mediterranean-style diets offer an abundance of nutrients, while the built-in benefits of high fiber and low calories promote weight loss.

#4 Start your meals with raw vegetable appetizers.

Do you ever notice that once someone starts to cook a meal, you begin to feel hunger? That’s a digestive-system hormone kicking in, often triggered simply by the thought of food. Some people are tempted at that point to find a snack to tide them over, which often leads to poor choices. Outsmart your body by keeping a prepared veggie plate in the fridge for easy access when the pangs begin. By filling up on those, you’ll fill up on nutrients before you’re tempted to over-portion the less nutrient-dense foods in your meal.

#5 Find an exercise partner

COVID-19 took our favorite form of exercise away from most of us. While play may not yet be back to the way it was, it helps to encourage each other to keep moving so that we stay court-ready. Using the accountability of a court-buddy with similar health goals increases success rates. Try going on routine walks “together” while chatting on the phone or challenge your pickleball pals to complete favorite workouts found online. One hour of heartrate-increasing exercise almost every day is recommended for weight loss. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is especially effective.

Muscle-building is also helpful for weight loss. Higher muscle mass burns more calories, even while resting. In addition, if you’ve been moving less, you have lost tone important for court safety. Many muscle-increasing exercises needed for court-readiness including squats, lunges, and push-ups, can be done at home with no equipment.

Regarding the Holidays

Everything is different this year, including celebrations. This can be used to a weight-loss advantage. There will certainly be fewer parties to attend, which means fewer of those end-of-year temptations. It’s a great opportunity to try out new recipe traditions that are both delicious and healthy, so that you can get back to feeling your best.

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