“Quarantine 15” is the new “Freshman 15” — which referred to students starting in college who end up with unwanted, extra pounds. Similarly, Quarantine 15 alludes to coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic with an extra 15 pounds. While Quarantine 15 is the brunt of jokes on social media and conversations with friends and family, weight gain is no laughing matter.

Weight is a sensitive topic. There are many factors that influence weight management beyond the physical, including psychological and environmental components. Therefore, joking about Quarantine 15 can have a serious psychological impact on those people struggling with their weight and body image. 

Why is it happening?

Weight gain during the pandemic can happen due to many reasons, including changes in routine and using food to cope with emotions like stress.

Pandemic-related changes have affected many areas of our lives. Our day-to-day routines have changed, including our usual eating and exercising schedules. These changes combined with the uncertainty of the times can bring increased stress and anxiety. Being at home, in closer proximity to food and unlimited access to the kitchen, can result in a recipe for emotional eating. Interestingly, stress can affect people’s appetite differently; some people may feel more hunger while others feel decreased hunger.

When dealing with so many changes, some people find comfort in eating. After all, there is research to support that highly palatable foods (foods high in sugar and fat) can activate the brain’s reward system, which may lead to overeating. Comfort eating may temporarily help us feel good while not dealing with the underlying emotional cause such as stress. It’s not that you can’t ever eat a food for comfort reasons, or bake your favorite dessert. But it is important to pay attention to any emotional eating and new daily habits that have developed during quarantine that may add to additional weight gain.  

What can we do about it?

Here are solutions to help prevent or address the Quarantine 15:

  • Focus on health, not weight. This may sound puzzling at first, but focusing on the number on the scale will not get you anywhere. Instead, focus on healthy habits and set achievable goals that can influence your weight positively.
  • Avoid weight-related jokes. Talking and joking about weight can add unnecessary stress. Instead, focus conversations on healthy habits like a new recipe you tried or an online exercise class you checked out.
  • Practice mindful eating. Be present and distraction-free in every eating moment. Before eating, ask yourself if you are hungry. If you are, think about what you feel like eating, how much you feel like eating, and so on. If you are not hungry, explore your feelings and think about non-food related actions you can take to help you manage those feelings.
  • Make a new routine for your ‘new normal’. Sticking to a healthy, balanced meal and snack plan can help manage blood sugar levels and prevent crashes, which could then lead to poor food choices. Plan to have three meals per day and a snack if needed. Time that used to be spent commuting to work can now be reinvested into preparing meals at home.
  • Get moving. Exercise is often seen only for burning calories, which masks the many positive health benefits exercise has on our bodies. Exercise is one of the best remedies for managing stress as well as improving sleep quality and improving mood. If medically cleared for exercise, aim for a daily dose of 30 minutes, five days a week of any exercise or activity you enjoy. It can be as simple as walking.
  • Create a healthy food environment at home. Your surroundings matter, especially what you keep in your kitchen pantry, refrigerator and counter-tops. Keep your healthy foods visible and easy to reach, while keeping other foods out-of-sight. If your work-from-home setup is in the kitchen, consider moving it to another area of your home.
  • Aim to have a positive relationship with food. Acknowledge the vital role of food as it provides fuel and nourishment to every cell of our bodies. Consciously practice balance and flexibility in your eating. Honor your hunger and fullness cues when eating. Learn about a healthy eating pattern that is ideal for your lifestyle to keep your body (including immune system) healthy during quarantine.
  • Learn from the experts – Baptist Health offers free virtual health education webinars on many topics including nutrition and emotional wellbeing. Join us by checking out events.baptisthealth.net and enter ‘virtual’ in the keyword search box.

About the Author
Lucette TalamasLucette Talamas is a registered dietitian with community health at Baptist Health South Florida. She holds a bachelor’s degree in food science and human nutrition from University of Florida and a master of science in nutrition and wellness from Benedictine University. With additional experience as a clinical dietitian, Ms. Talamas enjoys providing practical nutrition information to promote healthy lifestyles that can help prevent and manage chronic diseases. Her expert tips and advice have appeared in print and broadcast media, including The Miami Herald, South Florida PBS, CBS Miami, Telemundo and Univision. Active in professional nutrition organizations, Ms. Talamas received the 2018 Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year Award from the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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