If you’re like many Americans, you might be digging out your summer wardrobe—hello, shorts and sundresses—only to realize they’re feeling a little more snug than last year. Or maybe, they don’t fit at all. Being stuck inside for months, making do with home workouts while gyms are closed; not moving as often in our daily lives; with commutes and running errands; and all that banana bread baking has taken its toll.
Here we are, many of us facing the dreaded “Quarantine 15” weight gain along with the still very real threat of COVID-19. You know all that extra snacking and limited activity is to blame. So how concerned should you be? The truth is, pretty concerned.
“Significant weight gain can cause not only a lot of physical complications, but mental ones as well, such as depression, lack of confidence and loss of self-esteem, to name a few,” says Oscar Smith, a certified personal trainer who runs a fitness studio in New York City.
Feeling overwhelmed about where to start? Consider this your guide to taking off the Quarantine 15—or 10 or 5, or whatever amount of weight gain you’ve experienced during the last few months—the healthy way. Remember, it took time to gain this weight (considering there are 3,500 calories in a pound, you’d need to consume an extra 500 calories a day for 100 days to gain 15 pounds), so it will take time to come off, too.
7 Tips for Healthy Weight Loss
1. Don’t focus on the weight.
OK, so this sounds counterintuitive. You don’t want to have to buy all new clothes, after all! But here’s the thing: One of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re unhappy with their body lasering in on the weight they want to lose. “It may seem strange, but focusing on what you don’t want (the weight) will just keep you stuck in that weight,” explains Eliza Kingsford, MA, LPC, NCC, a psychotherapist and weight-loss expert. “Shifting your mental focus to what you DO want—confidence, empowerment, joy, fulfillment—is the first step toward getting you there.”
2. Watch your language.
Begin to become very aware of how you talk to yourself about your weight, and how you speak about others’ weight. Do you put yourself down? Do you degrade your body? Are you constantly judging other’s bodies (either good or bad)? Do you describe eating healthy as boring? Hard? Restrictive? This become crucial because your language is not only an indicator of your core beliefs, says Kingsford, but also a powerful messenger to your subconscious mind.
“These negative words create negative emotions, which create negative behaviors that keep you stuck in the negative cycle,” she says. To start, track your negativity throughout the day and see where you can replace negative with positive.’
3. Tweak your diet.
You know what they say: You can’t outrun a bad diet. “[Your weight] is about 75-80 percent what you eat, and 20-25 percent how much you move,” explains Lisa Harris, MS, RD, a registered dietitian based in Temecula, California. No matter how much you move around in a day, if you eat too many calories, you’re going to gain weight. Consider this: a 30-minute walk will burn about 150 calories for the average person. However, it’s really easy to eat 150 calories—or much more than that—in a matter of seconds. That’s why tweaking your diet is the first step toward losing weight. “You gain health in the gym and lose weight in the kitchen,” says Harris.
Take a look at your eating habits and select just one simple thing you can change. For example, say you’ve been snacking into the evenings; consider curbing your food intake by 7:00 p.m. (or, even looking into intermittent fasting). Try implementing that one new habit, then look at what else you can improve. You can also review your quantities and portion sizes, and aim to stick to the recommended guidelines.
Harris says gradually switching to a plant-based diet may help you lose weight and gain many health benefits, as plant-based foods are naturally lower in fat and calories than animal-based foods. That doesn’t mean you should go vegan all of a sudden, however. Rather than implementing a sudden change, which will shock your body during an already stressful and uncertain time, focus on eating as many nutrient-dense, whole foods as possible, and cutting out as much processed foods and excess sugar and fat that you can, says Kingsford. “This will not only help your weight,” she adds, “but also your immune system, your hormone levels and your stress response.”
4. Find an exercise routine that works for you.
The best way to get going is to simply get started. Make a plan or a routine and stick to it, says Smith. If you lack the willpower to get going, ask a friend or family member to do it with you. “Working out [with someone else] will push you both a bit more,” he adds. The best workouts for weight loss, according to Smith, are HIIT workouts, bootcamp, boxing or kickboxing, cross-training and triathlon training.
Don’t forget about exercises of daily living, too. Take regular breaks to stand up, stretch and maybe do a few sets of bodyweight squats to help you burn more calories throughout the day, especially when you’re working from home and sitting more often than usual, says Lori Michiel, a certified personal trainer based in Los Angeles.
5. Stick to it.
Schedule time to exercise in your calendar just like you would a Zoom meeting or appointment, says Michiel—and hold yourself accountable to show up. Even though this time is far from “normal” when it comes to our own routines, you can do things as you would have before COVID-19 to set yourself up for success, such as laying out your workout clothes the night before and preparing healthy meals in advance.
6. Start off slow.
Everyone knows the basic formula for weight loss is diet and exercise. But if you try to change everything all at once—say, committing to work out for two hours in the morning and cutting out all sweets—you’ll be setting yourself up for failure. The best way to approach taking off the extra weight is to implement doable, small changes for yourself, one at a time, until you’re back into a healthy diet and exercise routine. A reasonable goal for weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds a week, says Harris; so if you’ve gained 15 pounds, expect that it could take three or four months to take that off.
7. Give yourself some grace.
Even if you’re feeling uncomfortable with excess weight on your body right now, don’t be too hard on yourself. “This has been a really hard, unprecedented time, and people have reacted in a number of ways,” says Harris (cue the Cheetos, Oreos and homemade bread). She recommends reframing your mindset to believe that making positive changes in your diet and exercise routine now will help support your immune systems and health going forward. “You want to get your body in the best shape possible to keep you healthy,” she adds.